- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The last weekend in September will be one to remember for eight young deer hunters.

At least that’s what the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department is hoping.

The eight hunters each will have the chance to harvest their first deer from private land in Lyman County as part of a new program led by Conservation Officer Brian Ridgway.

The idea, he said, is to find some kids between the ages of 12 and 15 who didn’t grow up as hunters and don’t have the opportunities to get out in the field and then take them hunting with their parents.

“We’re looking for those kids that don’t come from hunting families,” Ridgway told the Capital Journal (https://bit.ly/2ag3WWN ).

The Youth Deer Camp, as it is being called, will call the Snake Den Lodge near Presho its home base for the weekend of September 24-25. The Snake Den normally is a pheasant hunting operation and will have some pheasant hunters taking advantage of South Dakota’s preserve hunting season that weekend, said Casey Griffith who runs the hunting side of the Snake Den’s business.

“I think what they’re trying to do is great,” he said of the Youth Deer Camp. “Our economy is largely based on the outdoors and hunting.”

The young hunters will get lessons on hunting safety, shooting guns ranging from .22-caliber pistols to shotguns and rifles, Ridgway said. And if everything goes according to plan, the hunters will get to learn how to field-dress a deer too.

They’ll do all of this with at least one of their parents or a guardian in tow, Ridgway said. Ultimately the goal is to not only hook the kid on hunting but their parents as well.

“Everything that the kids do, the parents will do too,” Ridgway said.

One exception to that rule will be harvesting a deer, he said.

Everything each of the kids need for the hunt will be provided for them, Ridgway said. That includes an Alps Outdoors pack full of hunting gear. Each of the hunters will get a mentor that will act as a guide during the two-day hunt and will be able to borrow a rifle if needed.

“If they really needed a shirt we’d provide that too,” Ridgeway said.

The hunters will be spread out over property owned by the Snake Den lodge and a few neighboring landowners, Ridgway said. They’ll be set up in blinds with their mentor and parent and will be looking exclusively for whitetail deer does.

The Youth Deer Camp fits right into the GFP’s participation in the national R3 program, which aims to recruit, retain or reactivate hunters as a way to grow the base from which most conservation funding in the U.S. flows.

Ridgway, who came to South Dakota from Missouri, where he also worked as conservation officer, had participated in a similar deer camp program in that state. Those programs were pretty successful so, Ridgway said, he thought it would be worth a try here too.

In South Dakota kids can start hunting at the age of 12. Between that age and the age of 15, Ridgway said, appears to be a critical time for recruiting them into the hunting lifestyle.

“It seems to be about that pivotal age that they decide that’s what they want to do with their lives,” Ridgway said

Parents or kids interested in the Youth Deer camp must apply for the opportunity. Applicants will be asked a series of questions and will be selected to participate in the camp based on their answers. Each hunter selected will be provided a South Dakota youth deer hunting license in addition to three meals and equipment for the hunt.

For more information and to apply, contact GFP conservation officer, Brian Ridgway at 605.734.4578 or [email protected]

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Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, https://www.capjournal.com

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