Fall is just around the calendar corner, and for many people it’s a time of year that signals the start of Oregon’s fall hunting season. I recently joined two groups of hunters trying their hands at special pheasant hunts designed just for them across some of Oregon’s premier wildlife areas.
I traveled to the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area near Eugene to see and learn as youngsters tried it out for the first time.
It’s mid-September, and a time when most folks are just beginning their days. But Greg Gittins, his 15-year-old son, Joe Gittins, and their friends had been burning up daylight for hours. They had hiked and hunted for miles across Fern Ridge Wildlife Area’s tall grass and corn fields.
Greg told me with a chuckle that he and his son had been looking forward to the day for weeks: “Joe popped up at six o’clock this morning, and he never has that kind of energy so early in the morning. This hunting event helps him develop desire and interest in the outdoors, and it’s also something we can do as a father-son activity.”
The Gittins — like scores of other families — recently showed up at Fern Ridge for a special Youth Pheasant Hunt sponsored by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The father-son team hoped to make some memories of time together in the great Oregon outdoors as they trekked across the hundreds of acres at the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area near Eugene.
The unique program offers youngsters who have completed their ODFW Hunter Safety Education course an exclusive day of pheasant hunting, just for them. Each youth hunter must be accompanied by an adult who acts as a mentor for the day-long event. “It’s all about letting the boys be outdoors, be active and have fun and maybe have several opportunities to get birds, too,” noted the elder Gittins.
Safety is a must on the ODFW Youth Hunts. In fact, the agency provides everything young hunters might need. “We provide all of the safety gear: hunter orange vests, caps and shooting glasses at our events,” said Kevin Roth, assistant manager of the state wildlife area. “The youngsters should wear solid walking shoes or boots, plus wear heavier clothing that will protect them from wet grass – especially in the morning.”
Hunter orange is required for everyone who walks afield! In fact, when I joined the Gittins, it was mandatory that I don a hunter orange vest and cap, plus shooting glasses. Safety first!
I also learned that there are many other ODFW-sponsored Outdoor Clinics – not only for youth hunters, but for women too.
“Becoming an Outdoors Woman” is an outdoor skills class that we recently joined at the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area near Camp Adair. We watched as a group of women learned more about hunting through hands-on skills training that included firearm safety, hunting techniques and how to hit what you aim at.
Experienced instructors from ODFW offered lectures on firearms and led the students through a number of exercises in proper gun handling and safety. They helped to build confidence in the newcomers with an atmosphere of trust that paid off with relaxation and fun.
“The Outdoor Clinics have many subject areas to choose from including fishing, crabbing, mountaineering and hunting throughout the year,” noted hunting newcomer Michelle Dennehy. “They’re designed for people like us — people who are new to the sport, maybe a little bit nervous about handling a firearm and don’t want to be rushed or pushed or anything like that.”
“Outdoor Skills Clinics plant a seed of interest,” added Rick Hargrave, an ODFW Manager. “If the class leads to more hunting or fishing, that’s great, but if it leads to just getting you outdoors, that’s even better. We’re hoping that it just stays with that heritage of Oregon.”
EE Wilson offers nearly 1,800 acres for hunters, fishers, hikers and cyclists to explore throughout the year. Mike Moore, the wildlife area manager, said that the site was a military training facility during World War II and that today that mean side benefits for the visitor.
“We’re so accessible,” he said. “The road system the Army left behind offers easy access for people who want to ride bikes and horses, and it’s also really A.D.A.-friendly. People who require a wheelchair find it a lot easier to get around here than some of the other public wildlife areas.”
Today, the area offers wetlands for wildlife, a stocked fishing pond to cast lures and a wildlife exhibit area where you can see many of Oregon’s upland birds on display.
Meanwhile, back at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area, young Joe Gittins had a heart-stopping encounter with a pheasant that made a clean getaway. Nearby, Larry Black and his young son Hunter also enjoyed a day afield together. Larry noted that while they had successfully harvested a rooster pheasant, “We don’t have to get anything to have a good day — we just have a good day being out. It’s a great day to get my son away from home and video gaming. This is really a good way to spend the day with your kid.”