Young hunters, parents and adult mentors gathered at Hubbard County Park in the early morning hours of November 12, with the smell of bacon, eggs and pancakes in the air, for the annual Youth Waterfowl Hunt. The wind was steady from the northwest, boding well for a good “duck day.”
As final preparations were reviewed, Craig Kessler, retired Ducks Unlimited regional director, quizzed the 12 young hunters: “What time is shooting time today? What is the legal limit on black duck? Which direction is the wind coming from this morning?”—all important information for future waterfowlers that had been taught the previous Saturday, and a prerequisite to the hunt.
With the cooperation and support of the Suffolk County Parks Department, the program began 19 years ago as the brainchild of Mr. Kessler, Tim Huss of the State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Bill Sickles, retired from Suffolk County Parks. It continues today with support from Suffolk County Parks’ Nick Gibbons, and the DEC, which provides instruction on a host of subjects under the leadership of DEC wildlife biologist Kelly Hamilton, as well as environmental officers from the DEC.
This year’s class was the largest in recent years, with 25 students attending the instructional day on November 5. Beginning with waterfowl identification and ending with two hours of shooting clay targets, under the guidance of Charlie Corwith, a member of the Maidstone and Peconic Sportsman’s clubs, several alumni returned to practice more. Under federal guidelines, youngsters between the ages of 12 and 15 can participate in a weekend of waterfowl hunting before the regular duck season opens to the public, this year on Thanksgiving morning. They can shoot when accompanied by a licensed adult.
“Unfortunately, in this era on Long Island, many youngsters never get the opportunity to get afield growing up and learn things hands-on by seeing wildlife and watching their behavior,” said Mr. Kessler. “Many fathers and mothers are busy working at careers away from their own neighborhoods, and even when they do have the time, so many places have some kind of restricted access, making this way of growing up on Long Island a thing of the past.”
The mentor component brings together veteran Long Island waterfowlers, including many from Duane Arnister’s Deerfield Guide Service in Water Mill, which takes people out hunting.
“These guys are all very skilled waterfowlers. They all serve on the Eastern Suffolk Ducks Unlimited Chapter Committee and this, in turn, over the years has instilled in many of our past Youth Hunt alumni, the willingness to become Ducks Unlimited committee members as well,” Mr. Kessler said. “It all goes hand in hand in our program—teaching high standards of skill and responsibility in waterfowling, as well as understanding the ecological principles governing waterfowl behavior, and then giving something back to the resource through Ducks Unlimited after memorable days in the marsh.”
The morning hunt at Hubbard County Park culminated with Mark Borucke, one of the mentors, showing the youngsters how to clean a recently harvested duck and prepare it for their first game meal. It was one of 13 ducks bagged that morning by 12 new waterfowlers.