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Idaho mentored youth deer hunt a success

From the Idaho Department of Fish and Game

-- Last fall the Idaho Department of Fish and Game joined forces with local Salmon Region landowners to host the second annual mentored youth deer hunt.

The area's first mentored hunt began just over a year ago with encouragement from ranch manager Mike Kossler of Eagle Valley Ranch. He suggested the youth deer hunt as a way to get children involved in the outdoors and help control deer numbers. So Ryan Hilton, a conservation officer with Idaho Fish and Game, worked with Kossler to organize Salmon Region's first mentored youth hunt with two children getting a chance to harvest their first deer.

Because of the program's success the first year and the positive feedback from the community, plans were made to provide more youths the unique opportunity. "After hearing about the mentored hunt last year, several landowners offered access to their land, which allowed us to expand the program," Hilton said.

In addition to Nikos and Val Monoyios of Eagle Valley Ranch, Paul and Dale Edwards, Kenny Rogers, and Ben Jones also granted access to their properties for the mentored youth.

To identify youths interested in participating in the program, Fish and Game worked closely with several middle school teachers and hunter education instructors.   After only mentoring two kids the first year, eleven excited youths headed out hunting last fall one-on-one with an adult mentor. Ten of the 11 participants harvested a deer and for eight of the young hunters, it was their first.

Although the program could not succeed without the cooperation of the landowners, so many others helped make the second year better than the first. "The community support for the program has been outstanding, and many individuals have stepped forward to help in a variety of ways," Hilton said.

For example, Jim Bockelman, owner of Arctic Ice, was a mentor for two of the youth. Mark Oliverson, a hunter education instructor and dentist at the Salmon Dental Center, paid for the hunting license, deer tag and meat processing fees for one youth as well as acting as the mentor to four of the 11 youths.

In addition, Mike Kossler of Eagle Valley paid for the license, tag, and processing fees for one deserving young hunter, and Pete Hanson of Pete's Custom Meats and Chris Enzi of Rocky Mountain Custom Pack both offered to process a deer free of charge. Paul Smith of Service Grocery sold the Fish and Game two rifles at an exceptional price and hand-loaded and donated several boxes of ammunition.

As for the youth, the experience seemed to ignite a passion for the outdoors and the hunt. Austin Wegner was one of the hunters lucky enough to bag his first deer.

"It was incredible! I loved sneaking around and looking for deer," he said. "My favorite part was when I shot the deer, even though I was so nervous, I got it in one shot."

When asked whether other youths would enjoy the mentored hunting experience, Wegner said: "I know they would. To get a chance to go out with the Fish and Game and learn how to hunt and take care of a deer when you shoot one is just awesome."

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