Mentoring programs teach youth safety

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — When Chad Tussing’s daughter, Elisa, got her first deer two seasons ago, she was excited and ready to get back in the field.

That excitement led to getting another dear last season, and even more excitement about the possibilities of the upcoming season, the Rapid City Journal reported .

The love of hunting had started to grow inside the heart of Elisa, and she found that out, even though she isn’t 16-years-old yet and can’t get her hunter’s license.

South Dakota Game Fish and Parks has been providing a way for children like Elisa and anyone else ages 10-15 to try the sport before investing in a license and a hunter’s safety course: mentored hunts, a program where a mentor goes out with a youth between 10-15 to hunt during a youth season and try to teach safety and develop an interest in the sport. (Pennsylvania has a similar program.)

Tussing, who is the director of Outdoor Campus West, said children who participate do not have to take the HuntSAFE classes before going on a mentored hunt.

“It is a program designed to introduce kids to hunting at a younger age,” he said. “Some people think hunter safety class is a barrier, and we think it s a valuable class that teaches a lot of skills, but if they are under the mentor program they don’t have to take a hunter safety course.”

In order to be a mentor, however, the person must be at least 18-years-old, a South Dakota resident with a hunting license, HuntSAFE card and written permission from the parent if they are not the parent.

“One of the most important things is safety. There are some rules to being a mentor,” Tussing said. “The adult cannot carry a gun, so the focus should be on the kid’s safety and experience. That way, no mentor is out trying to shoot their own bird or game, they’re trying to provide that good experience for the kids.”

GF&P does not have a mentor program currently, so many times the mentors end up being parents, aunts, uncles or neighbors that the children know well.

Licenses may be purchased at any time throughout the season. GF&P’s website says to allow 7-10 days for a mentored hunting license to arrive. The most recent season to start was antelope season last Friday, where a licenses costs $5, which is the same for deer and turkey.

For small game, anything taken by the mentored hunter counts towards the mentor’s daily limit. For deer, all mentored hunters must follow the rules and regulations of the youth deer season. For antelope, it is the archery and firearm antelope season and for turkey it is the fall turkey season.

The appeal of the program, according to Tussing, is to see early on if a child will take to hunting, but also to provide the young hunter with a positive first experience hunting.

“My daughter got a deer in her second year, and was super excited. She got another deer last year and now, she’s excited to get out there this year,” Tussing said. “Getting her that experience while she’s young was great.”

It’s a family affair for Tussing, who said he has taken his daughter hunting for deer and oldest son Ethan hunting for grouse on mentored hunts as soon as they were ready.

Now, the youngest of the children is ready to embark on his first hunt, and Tussing said while he’s excited, it doesn’t match the excitement of his son.

“My youngest son just turned 10 this spring, and the whole reason he was excited to turn 10 was because he can go out there and hunt as well,” he said. “I took my kids out with me without guns, but he’s looking forward to trying to get his own deer or grouse this year.”

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