Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
11 August 2009 Issue

Youth Hunts
By [email protected]

At the turn of the current century hunting was a popular sport/industry/sustenance method in the US. At the time nearly 30% of all Americans hunted. As our society changed from an agricultural base to an industrial/service base and more people moved from rural areas to urban areas, the number of hunters declined. With the ban of market hunting in 1920, the industry of hunting, as it was then practiced, ended.

Hunting declined dramatically, not just because of these reasons, but because our wildlife resources were devastated by hunters. After many years of closed seasons we entered the era of "modern wildlife management" which breeds animals for hunters use. Hunting reemerged after WW2 as a pastime. A hobby, or a "sport." It has evolved into an industry again, but different from the earlier market hunting industry.

However, hunting is again on the decline. Today's generations of children question the "sport" of killing and are distracted by numerous other past times that were not available to their grandparents and parents. Since 1980 hunting license sales have declined from 20 million to 14 million in 1996. Today less than 7% of our population hunts. The industry needs to indoctrinate more participants in order to assure its survival.

In recent years a practice to do this is the "youth hunt." Youth hunts are sponsored by hunting clubs and game departments. They typically allow only children under age 16 and require that each youth hunter be accompanied by an adult who does not hunt.

Aside from indoctrinating children to a cruel pastime, the youth hunts sponsored by game departments frequently use taxpayer funds, public land and public employees to conduct them. Youth hunts are typically free of charge and frequently do not require participants to be licensed. These "breaks" are given to encourage participation by youngsters. Apparently the hunters know they would rather spend their money on Nike shoes, video games or the latest CD.

These hunts are generally conducted quietly so as not to arouse the locals and are kept low key.

With this in mind, AR activists infiltrated a youth hunt in Illinois last year in order to gather evidence of what goes on at these hunts. This is rather easy to do as will be explained.

These hunts in Illinois are conducted on public land...state parks. During these hunts these publicly paid for parks are closed to all persons except hunters. Game wardens are posted to prevent entrance to anyone but hunters. Anyone protesting this use of public funds and public land will be arrested for "hunter harassment." The hunts themselves are conducted well behind the quiet appearance of the entry to the park.

In 1998, we infiltrated the youth hunt at one of these parks and can report on what we found being done on OUR property.

The youth hunts are conducted on 8 state parks around the state. Hunters are limited in number and are selected by drawing. There is no fee to apply, no limit on the number of applications that can be submitted and no fees to the youths when they hunt. The hunts are conducted by the IL Dept. of Natural Resources. IL DNR receives over 70% of it's funding by means other than hunters and fisherman. General taxes, mining fees, lumber royalties, user fees and even gasoline tax make up the bulk of DNR funding. Even the supposed "hunter" funds, such as the PR tax (Pittman-Robertson), and FOID (Firearms Owner ID) card fees are actually paid by all firearms owners, whether they hunt or not. Yet these parks are closed for a two month period each year while the hunters have their fun.

We duly applied for, and received, a permit for the youth hunt at Chain O' Lakes State Park. This was held the second Sunday of November, 1998. In order to attend our applicant needed a hunting license. He also needed to attend a hunter education class. This was done in September. He needed no license or class to apply to hunt. Adults accompanying the hunters do not need to be licensed.

The permit directed us to arrive at the designated park and register by 8 am. We arrived at park headquarters, also used as the Region II district office, early. On the way in, we were greeted by three Conservation Police Officers (CPO's) at the front gate. They checked our permit and allowed us in. CPO's are the game wardens of IL. Hired to protect the resources, IL has a force of 100 CPO's, less than one for each of the state's 102 counties. Approximately 25% of this force is used for a two month period to protect the exclusive use by hunters of the state's 8 public parks open to hunting. After the youth hunt, the parks are open to general permit hunting until December 31 each year.

Upon arriving our "hunter" signed in and his license was taken. This was replaced with a bright yellow, numbered, back tag. A license plate for his back. He was asked which area he would like to hunt in. Each hunter is assigned an "area" where he must remain during the first hour of the hunt, after that he may go anywhere in the park. I thought this curious, but found out why later.

This park is limited to 45 youth hunters. Each had at least 1 adult with them. Hunters ranged in age from 10 (IL has no minimum age to hunt) to 15. Mostly boys, but a few girls were present. Mostly male adult companions, but a few females. The park headquarters has a dining room and breakfast kitchen. All the hunters met there after registering.

Promptly at 8 am, the park Manager, Ed Rodack, introduced the program. We would get a presentation from a hunter education instructor, a CPO and a "dog demonstration" before hunting.

The hunter education instructor was up first. His presentation focused on safety and stressed that killing was not important. He had some volunteers come forward and demonstrate safe ways to carry firearms, how to unload, load, etc. He then went through the "10 Commandments of Firearms Safety."

The CPO was next and covered the "site specific" regulations. The hunters would be allowed to kill male (rooster) pheasants ONLY. All these birds were stocked here and they only stock male pheasants. "So much for hunters controlling populations," I thought. They STOCK more birds for hunting. "So much for hunters promoting larger populations of animals" was my next thought. They only stock males. So much for wildlife restoration. This is clearly a place and kill system for hunters at taxpayer expense.

The "dog demonstration" was next. This was conducted at the rear of the building. "May we video tape this?" I asked the park manager. "Sure, no problem," he answered.

The dog demonstration was horrific. In the presence of over 90 persons, uniformed state employees took pheasants from crates, spun them to make them dizzy, tucked their heads under their wings and placed them in weeds 50-60 ft. in front of the crowd. Hunting dogs were then released to find the birds that had just been placed. Volunteer youth hunters loaded shotguns and followed the dogs to the birds. When flushed, the birds were killed or wounded to the cheers of the crowd. We kept the camera running.

Now it was time to hunt. We were dispersed to our areas. We were told that birds had been planted in each of the areas. I was still curious as to the one hour restriction, but would soon learn. We hooked up with one of the dog breeders that had done the demonstration. We would hunt behind a pair of German shorthair pointers. These men volunteer their services to act as guides for persons who don't have dogs and to promote their breed, of course.

We arrived at our area, met our guide, and prepared to hunt. We were directed to begin hunting at 9:20 am. We had to check out no later than 4 PM. At the designated time our hunter loaded his gun and started into the field behind the dogs. Immediately we began hearing gunshots throughout the park. Within 15 minutes our guide's dogs had found and pointed 4 birds. Two had flushed and flown back toward the parking area saving our hunter the embarrassment of "missing." One flew low, too low to safely shoot because of the presence of the dogs, the other presented a safe shot and our hunter cleanly missed. Imagine that. Well, it happens. We hunted another hour in our area and didn't see any more birds. The shooting gradually diminished over the next hour until only an occasional shot was heard. Obviously, most of the pen raised birds were near the parking areas and were quickly killed or missed.

We said we would go on to another area. We thanked our guide and went on. We saw dozens of hunters leaving the park. For most of the youths the "hunt" was over in less than an hour. They had spent more time in the presentations than "hunting." With the hunters thinned out, we were now allowed anywhere.

We ran into another group of hunters at the next hunting area. They had two youths with them. "May we join you?" we asked. "Sure," was the answer. We asked if it was OK if we videotaped the hunt. They agreed without question. They had a Golden Retriever. Beautiful dog. Our hunter joined the group and we followed along, camera rolling. We hunted parallel to a road. The hunters spread over a 40 yd. area. After a few moments the dog got very exited and the adult handler told the hunters to be ready, the "dog was hot." Another group of hunters was hunting the opposite direction on the other side of the road. A bird flushed and flew across the road toward the other hunters. A hunter from both groups fired at the birds...and the other hunters. We were all peppered with shot, but the range of about 70 yds. made the impacts rather harmless on our clothing. A pellet in the eye at that range could easily have injured someone. The bird was missed. The adult companion on our side was outraged. He began yelling at the hunter that had shot (not our guy). Deservedly so, I thought. The hunters had shot in an unsafe direction and over a road to boot, an illegal act. But the tirade was not about safety or was about MISSING!!!! "How could you miss????!!!!!" came the screams. The cameras were rolling throughout.

We saw, and taped, more. But this seemed the order of the day. Public land, public employees, pen raised birds, unsporting and illegal behavior. All documented to be released to the public that paid for all this.

I recommend that AR activists check into youth hunts in their area. Stop in the local gun shops and ask about them. Call your state game agency and ask about them. Most game departments have monthly magazines which have all the dates of youth hunts and usually include postcards for applying for a permit. At the very least you can apply for permits. Apply as often as possible. Collect all the permits you can. Each one you receive denies a hunter the opportunity. If you want to go as far as we did, you can expose this activity in your area. The public gets a lot more interested when they find out what they are subsidizing.

At the very least we can reduce the number of hunters allowed to do this. Maybe we can end the practice, at least on public land. If so, maybe we can interest a few more youths in something besides staged hunts with tame birds at public expense.

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