A group of Georgia hunters spent Saturday, Feb. 1 making sure kids had plenty to smile about. Two youth squirrel hunts were hosted on that day, one at Big Hammock WMA and the other at Oconee WMA.
Big Hammock WMA: This annual hunt began in 2010 with just a handful of kids and parents, but this year 42 kids showed up to hunt and partake in activities.
“We had the hunt and a shooting contest with three different age groups,” said Larry Bland, of Glennville, who helps put on the hunt. “We were able to give away three big trophies for the winners of each age group, a huge trophy for the overall winner and participation trophies for all kids in the two younger age groups.”
Larry said he got the idea of a shooting contest after watching GON’s Truck-Buck Shoot-Out one year at GON’s Outdoor Blast.
“A lot of the kids look forward to doing this more than anything else that we do,” said Larry. “It is an elimination style with us moving the egg farther and farther each round until we get a winner.”
After this year’s shoot-out, all names were put in a hat, and 11 kids won guns.
“I work year-round trying to get nice donations and guns for the kids,” said Larry. “Every kid and adult had breakfast and lunch provided for them.”
Some youth groups hunted on Big Hammock WMA, and some went to surrounding private lands in Tattnall County. The weather was pretty wet, so only 50 squirrels were killed in all. The organizers report that 50 squirrels is a pretty slow hunting day, but they weren’t too concerned that only a handful of squirrels were taken.
“It thrills me to see these kids outdoors, and I don’t care if we kill one or 50. It’s all about the excitement of the kids and parents,” said Ernie Stanfield, of Glennville, another event organizer. “It takes a lot of leg work and commitment for this event. We hope to continue to grow with more people and more helpers every year.”
Ernie said he’s made some life memories during these events.
“I enjoy watching the kids excitement when they kill their first squirrel,” said Ernie. “A lot of these kids have never even shot a gun before, and it’s exciting to see their faces.”
Ryan Beasley, of Jesup, helps with the hunt, too.
“With squirrel hunting, you build a bond with your dog, appreciation for the game harvested, great exercise and beyond all else the smile on a kid’s face when they shoot the egg, kill a squirrel or when they pet the dog as he runs by,” said Ryan.
“I have been a part of youth events all throughout the country, and this is by far one of the most fun and best coordinated. We’re able to get kids involved with hands-on activities instead of them just watching adults do it.”
Oconee WMA: Also on Feb. 1, the 12th annual skeet shoot/squirrel hunt was hosted on Oconee WMA.
The idea behind this event is to expose kids to safe gun handling while shooting skeet and squirrel hunting. The students received hands-on instruction by DNR Law Enforcement rangers before they went squirrel hunting.
“Out of 16 youth, approximately 1,000 shot shells were fired, and 15 squirrels were killed,” said Cpl. Derrell Worth, who helped organize the event.
In addition to Derrell, the following LE personnel assisted with the event: Sgt. John Harwell, Sgt. Matt Garthright, Cpl. Josh Copeland, Cpl. David Allen, Cpl. Mark Patterson, RFC Ricky Boles and Capt. Mark Padgett.
Derrell added, “A special thanks goes out to Mark Gordy (Georgia Power Co.) for providing snacks and drinks and the squirrel-dog owners Jamie Dowd, Randy Dillard and Bill Norris. Another thanks to Walter Lane and Rusty Garrison for the use of shotguns, shot shells, skeet throwers and supplies.