Teaching future hunters to shoot — with a camera

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In 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that the trend in outdoor activities for the years 2001-2006 showed decreases in hunting (-10 percent) and freshwater fishing (-14 percent).
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the current trend shows kids are spending as much as seven and a half hours a day or 53 hours a week with television, computers, video games and cell phones. This is generally “inside time.”
On the surface, that data may paint a pretty bleak picture when thinking about connecting today’s youth with their natural world. But look deeper and the answer becomes clear. The Kaiser report demonstrates that our youth are captivated with technology. But the fish and wildlife service survey also shows an increase of 35 percent in nature photography. By combining those two facts, we can use technology, through digital media devices, as the catalyst to connect kids to nature through the lens of a camera.
I started hunting when I was 8 years old. In 1958 I was a third grader and that October I shot four pheasants and one mallard with my Stevens .410 double barrel.
My dad was my hunting and fishing partner and nature mentor. He taught me how to cast and how to tie a jig on my fishing line. He taught me how to arrange a set of decoys and blow the right notes on my duck call. He also taught me how to enjoy the beauty of a sunrise and the peacefulness that surrounds it.
I became interested in wildlife photography in high school. It didn’t replace my hunting; it extended it to 12 months a year. To a photographer, seasons never close and lands that may not be available to hunters are usually available to photographers. When I’m on a photo outing I use all the hunting skills my dad taught me as a kid. A background in hunting has made me a better photographer and a background in photography has made me a better hunter.
We can reverse the trend of kids losing interest in outdoor activities, by reversing the strategy. I became a hunter first and that led me to an interest in photography. What if we help kids become photographers first? Could it spark an interest in hunting and fishing?
I recently teamed up with a group of volunteers to conduct a Youth Bowhunting workshop at Itasca State Park. It may be best known as the headwaters of the Mississippi River or as Minnesota’s oldest state park, but it is also known for its programming initiatives. The diverse staff included a retired forester, three active Department of Natural Resources wildlife specialists, a former educator with 4-H and others.
The day’s schedule included a brief history of bowhunting and the changes in equipment, instruction in shooting safety and etiquette, target shooting on an official range, an elevated stand and from a ground blind. While one group was shooting, another group was instructed in scouting techniques before taking a hike to identify food sources and search for deer trails, tracks, rubs, scrapes, and beds. Because it was early August, we had to enhance the area with a mock scrape, a rub on a sapling, and even a fake blood trail. As the participants walked in search of deer sign, we talked about the value of trail cameras as we inventoried the trees along the trail. We let them select a good location and then attached a camera so they could see how to set the proper height and angle. As we continued our walk and they found the rub and scrape, they stopped to photograph them with their digital cameras and smart phones. I discussed how their camera can be an effective scouting tool. By photographing such things as deer droppings, rubs, scrapes and beds hunters can draw detailed maps of their hunting areas. It helps make wise choices for placing deer stands.
A wildlife photographer becomes a student of nature. Whatever the photo subject, paying attention to its habits – what it eats, when it eats, where it rests, and when and where it migrates are all taken into consideration when planning a successful camera outing. Hunters understand the value of the same information in planning a successful gun or bow hunt.
It all ties together so let photography be an important part of hunting throughout the seasons and make sure you fill the role as nature mentor for our youth.  ♦
Steve Maanum is a retired teacher who has used his backgrounds in science and language arts as a foundation for his nature writing and photography. As an outdoor communicator, he strives to help others make nature connections through his family-style nature photography workshops and his presentations in schools and at young writers’ and artists’ conferences.

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