Waterfowl Heritage Days
Hunting opportunities for youth hunters hit an ultimate high with the introduction of a youth mentored waterfowl hunt. The idea came about when the federal government (yes, you read this correctly) agreed, albeit with coaxing from the provinces, to declare the first week in September as Waterfowler Heritage Days. This is a special week prior to the opening of the regular waterfowl hunting season that is dedicated to youth hunters, aged 12 – 17 who have passed the Manitoba Hunter Safety course. During this week they can hunt with an adult mentor, without purchasing a provincial game bird licence or a Canada migratory game bird hunting permit or stamp. Only the youth hunter can hunt waterfowl; the adult mentor is there to aid the youth hunter and cannot carry a firearm in the field or hunt migratory game birds during this special one week period (check the Manitoba Hunting Guide for full details).
When the federal government first introduced this concept in 2000, anti-hunting groups attacked the federal government for being involved. However, many hunting organizations and individual hunters telephoned, wrote letters and e-mailed their support of Waterfowler Heritage Days. It was through this action that the Waterfowler Heritage Days was saved for the youth of Canada. Manitoba led the way by introducing a structured event where young hunters first go through a safety and familiarization exercise prior to the actual hunt. One of the main goals is to provide youth with the opportunity to experience waterfowl hunting; in particular, youth who may not have family or friends that can take them hunting or are experienced waterfowl hunters.
Although not widely known, the background as to how the mentored hunts in connection with Waterfowler Heritage Days started in Manitoba is rather interesting. It all started with a casual conversation between Rob Olson, President of Delta Waterfowl Foundation and Reg Wiebe, Hunter Education Coordinator, Manitoba Wildlife Federation. The topic of duck hunting and lack of hunter numbers was the “flavour of the day” and many discussions concerning the lack of hunter numbers had taken place with no real thought put into solutions to the problem. Both Rob and Reg agreed that the Waterfowler Heritage Days presented a great opportunity to introduce a structured mentored waterfowl hunt. The feedback from some individuals was not entirely positive. Concerns over liabilities and a lot of “what-ifs” were expressed. At this point, both Rob and Reg agreed to ignore all the “nay-sayers” and just go ahead and organize a mentored hunt based out of Delta and use the MWF Outdoor Education Centre as a staging area for the pre-hunt safety review and shooting practice. The rest is history.
Initial planning meetings included individuals from the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, Manitoba Conservation, Delta Waterfowl, and Netley Marsh Waterfowl Foundation who had conducted some mentored youth waterfowl hunts with organization members and their families. To date, through the combined efforts of these and other organizations, local wildlife associations and landowners, mentored youth waterfowl hunts have been held at Oak Hammock Marsh, Delta Marsh, Netley Marsh, Whitewater Lake and Minnedosa. The list of locations is expanding into more areas every year.
A partnership of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, Manitoba Conservation, and Delta Waterfowl has resulted in a very successful endeavour. Support from Manitoba Conservation has been nothing short of exceptional, as is the corporate support extended to this program.
All hunt locations participating in the mentored waterfowl hunts offer a pre-hunt component where young hunters are required to demonstrate safe firearms handling. Once a location and time is decided upon, arrangements are made to introduce the young hunters to their mentors. A session on safe firearms handling is held and from there, new hunters practice shooting at clay birds and are given some pointers by experienced volunteers on how to improve their shooting skills. After a lesson on shotgun patterning, there is a session on waterfowl identification, and in most locations, a session on decoy setting and a somewhat noisy session on using duck or goose calls. Last, but not least in the pre-hunt session, there is a trip to meet the landowner (where permission to hunt has been obtained in advance) and scout for birds.
The young hunters eagerly look forward to the morning waterfowl hunt, and probably for the first time, getting them up very early in the morning is not a problem. They help with getting the gear out, setting up blinds, and setting of decoys. Mentors are instructed to control the ammunition for young hunters and limit them to one shot only per bird. Safety is of utmost concern.
Once the hunters return from the morning hunt, a bird cleaning demonstration is conducted. Once new hunters are familiar with this procedure, all the birds are cleaned and properly prepared for the barbeque or the freezer. Some locations offer young hunters a chance to taste their birds prepared with some tasty recipes supplied by mentors.
If you would like to participate as a mentor (we always need more mentors!) or as a new young hunter, contact the MWF office at (204) 633.5967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.