Experienced hunters enter the field confident of finding game. For new hunters, gaining that confidence — knowing the where, when, how and why of hunting — is often the biggest barrier to success.
That’s the idea behind the Novice Hunter Program, a new Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) effort to help recent hunter-education graduates master the basics of pheasant hunting. The brainchild of Northeast Regional Manager Steve Yamashita and his staff, the program enjoyed a successful launch in 2013 and is currently underway for the 2014 seasons.
“Our hunter education curriculum is great at teaching the basics of how to handle a firearm safely,” said Area Wildlife Manager Mark Leslie, a lead instructor in the novice program. “This program adds a whole new dimension, from pheasant biology to hunting strategies to the importance of working as a team during a successful hunt.”
“We were amazed at how much we learned and how much we know now, which makes it even more exciting to begin this hunting adventure of ours,” said 45-year-old Gracie Marquez of Greeley, who took part in the program with her four kids. “You could not put a price tag on it.”
Students start with morning classes before moving to the field in the afternoon. There, they practice safe hunting skills (using dummy ammo) and watch trained dogs work pheasants planted in the grass. The final station is the trap range, where students learn the fundamentals of shotgun shooting, then step to the line to start breaking clay pigeons.
Click below to view a photo montage of a recent NHP Event. Photos by Jerry Neal/CPW.
But class is just the first part of the program. Later on, students can sign up for additional shooting clinics. During pheasant season, CPW leases special Walk-In Access properties just for their use to give them a place to practice their new skills in an unpressured setting. Finally, students can go on mentored hunts, hunting alongside experienced CPW staff and volunteers.
Growing up in Iowa, 25-year-old Brett Larson was surrounded by great pheasant hunting.
“But I never had anyone to show me the ropes,” said the 25-year-old Denverite. “Without any guidance or experience, hunting can be a difficult sport to approach as an outsider. This class really helped eliminate that barrier.”
“The fact that it took the typical workshop model and expanded it to include actual mentored hunts later in the season was unexpectedly awesome,” said Christy Wyckoff, 33, a graduate student at Colorado State University. “I feel like I actually have a clue as to how to attempt hunting, and can build on the class and the field skills now.”
A critical element of the Novice Hunter Program model is the strong partnership with Pheasants Forever, whose volunteers assisted with all phases of the program and were essential to offering mentored hunts. “You can’t say enough about them,” said student David Deupree, 61, of Lakewood. “They rocked.”
Another innovative element of the novice program model is the focus on tracking and evaluation. Students received surveys before and after class to measure changes in their attitudes toward hunting. CPW will also track students’ license-buying habits for five years to evaluate how successful the program was in turning them into hunters.
While the program was originally designed to recruit youths, CPW found that it attracted plenty of big kids too. About 40 percent of the 150 students were under the age of 16. But another 40 percent of students were between the ages of 30 and 60.
“I held a firearm for the very first time 18 months ago,” said Vinnie Basile, 37, a Broomfield educator. “This fall, I successfully harvested roosters with confidence. I’m now in love with pheasant hunting and can’t wait to get out again. My young son is also eager to come along and start learning everything I know.”
“The next generation of hunters is eager to learn,” Leslie said. “The generation that we missed is just as excited to get out there.”
Click here for further information about CPW’s Novice Hunter Program, or to sign up for upcoming classes.
This story written by Theo Stein.