The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hunter Education Program was introduced in 1949. Environmental conservation officers have been involved with instructing hunter education classes from the beginning, vetting potential volunteer teachers and making it a priority to be directly involved during classes.

Involving youths in actual hunting experiences guides them from the classroom to the outdoors, which is the ideal approach for teaching safety, ethics, rules, and regulations.

Over the past 15 years the ECOs in the Finger Lakes region have gone a step further in bringing things full circle by hosting youth hunting events for a wide range of species, including waterfowl, pheasants, turkey, and deer.

This year’s Finger Lakes Regional Youth Deer Hunt occurred Oct. 10-11 at Deer Haven Park LLC, part of the former Seneca Army Depot.

The sixth annual event started with a mandatory pre-hunt instructional and shooting range session during which the youth hunters received a refresher on firearm safety and hunter ethics. They were accompanied by ECO mentors from DEC Regions 6-9.

On Oct. 9, the 22 youngsters and their mentors were treated to firearms marksmanship training by ECOs Josh Crain and Kevin Thomas, followed by a discussion of hunting ethics and hunt rules by DEC Lt. Matt Lochner.

Each youth hunter received the appropriate hunting gear, including a gun case, shooting sticks, hunting chairs, blaze-orange hats and vests, field-dressing knives, and other equipment related to the hunt. All hunters and mentors also received camouflage balaclava face coverings.

Several noteworthy prizes, ranging from air rifles and crossbows to a muzzleloader and a .243 rifle, were drawn at random throughout the weekend.

The first hunt took place on the morning of Oct. 10. The deer hunters, parents, and ECO mentors scattered in different locations throughout the 4,500-acre property.

The youngsters hunted Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning. Over the course of the weekend they harvested 19 whitetails. Phil Huber and his bloodhound, and Jason Pollack and his Drahthaar, assisted in the tracking and recovery of deer during the event.

The Sunday hunt was followed by pictures and a meet-and-greet with biologists Robin Phenes from DEC and Greg Flood from the U.S. Forest Service, each of whom conducted a deer aging demonstration. Brian Pragle of Brian Pragle Custom Woodworking and Skull Mounts attended the Sunday event and offered to prepare a free skull mount for each successful hunter.

However impressive the number of harvests were during the 2020 youth hunt, it was the combination of conservation, ethics, safety, and appreciation for wildlife and habitat that have been the overriding goals of this event. Thanks to a to a very generous landowner and the tireless dedication and support of the ECOs, volunteers, and sponsors listed below, this year’s event was an overwhelming success.

The Finger Lakes Regional Youth Deer Hunt is sponsored by Deer Haven Park-Earl Martin; O.F. Mossberg and Sons; Bass Pro Shops; the Yates County chapter of S.C.O.P.E.; the, Yates County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs; Middlesex Conservation Club;, Barrington Conservation Club; Finger Lakes Conservation Club; New York State Conservation Officers Association; Seneca White Deer Inc.; Brian Pragle Custom Woodworking and Skull Mounts; Boy Scouts of America-Camp Babcock Hovey; Silver Creek Custom Meats and Deer Processing; the Quality Deer Management Association of New York State; Whitetails Unlimited; Pete’s Gun Shop; Pat’s Pizzeria; Leigh Williams; Warren Fredericks; and Jeff Frantz of DEC.

In addition to Lochner, Crain, Thomas, Huber, Pollack, Phenes and Flood, the following people served as volunteers, organizers and/or mentors: DEC Capt. Aaron Gordon, Inv. Scott Angotti, and ECOs Tony Drahms, Ron Gross, Matt Baker, Jarrod Lomozik, Geoff Younglove, Max Woyton, JT Rich, Jeff Johnston, Ricardo Grisolini, Jamie Powers, and Nate Mead; Lewis Martin; Scott Martin; Tim Ribis; and Donna Richardson.

Feed (and count) the birds you see

I took my feeders down this summer because some unruly rodents thought my deck was a nice home. Come out at night, grab a snack, then sleep in comfort. That was their routine.

My deck is situated a foot above the ground, not the best height to dislodge bad lodgers.

So, after staining the deck I had chicken wire placed at the bottom of the outside perimeter. The gate was closed. It’s now a gated community; in other words, no raccoons admitted. Animals like us, Homo sapiens, are allowed if they show proper identification … like a press pass.

The feeders were placed in the old locations recently, and I kid you not when I tell you the birds arrived within hours. Juncos came from Canada, while the nuthatches and chickadees left my woods, where they spend the summer. The table is set for free dinners, and now it is time to count my flying friends.

Considering recent news about the net loss of nearly 3 billion birds in the United States and Canada since 1970, it’s more vital than ever that citizen scientists monitor their own backyard birds. It’s important to have a handle on bird populations, and what better way to achieve this than to have a consistent bird count from the field.

If you feed the birds (who doesn’t?), your feathered friends are consistently gobbling seeds. That’s the perfect time to count them. By entering data yearly from the same location, you are the perfect biologist, the avian expert. Join the Project FeederWatch and be a part of a great community of bird fanciers.

Al Batt, the witty writer for Birders Digest, offers the following advice.

“I may be a couple of feathers short of a hummingbird, but I’ve learned things during a lifetime of feeding birds,” he said. “It’s important to put the feeders outside. And, this where many failed bird feeders go wrong: Put bird seed in them.”

Now you know why his wife calls their home “The Batt Cave.”

Probably the most exciting part of this survey is that it can include the entire family. What better way to introduce the youngsters to the excitement of watching and identifying birds? It’s a fantastic teaching method, right from home. You can dub it “home-schooling for the birds.” No electronic devices needed or encouraged for counting ... and hooray for that!

Your instructions are to count birds that appear in your count site because of something that you have provided, whether it be plantings, food, or water. For each species, you report only the highest number of individuals that you see in view at one time.

You pick two consecutive days to count the birds. You may count as often as every week; however, you can just count two days, your choice. I will do a count in January and another in February or March.

What’s really neat is your personal counts are compiled online according to the place, time, weather conditions and total species for your count days. It’s fun to go back 12 years and see who made the cut and who wasn’t around for those two consecutive days.

The 2020-21 count season begins Nov. 14 and continues through April 9. During that time send your counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data helps scientists track broad-scale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

New participants are sent a Research Kit (feederwatch.org/about/how-to-participate/#your-research-kit) with complete instructions for participating, as well as a bird identification poster and more. You provide the feeder(s) and seed.

Then, each fall participants receive our 16-page, year-end report, Winter Bird Highlights (feederwatch.org/explore/year-end-reports/). Participants also receive the Cornell Lab newsletter.

There is an $18 annual participation fee for U.S. residents ($15 for Cornell Lab members). The participation fee covers materials, staff support, web design, data analysis, and the year-end report.

Project FeederWatch is supported almost entirely by participation fees. Without the support of our participants, this project would not be possible. With each season, FeederWatch increases in importance as a unique monitoring tool for more than 100 bird species that winter in North America.

Because FeederWatchers count the number of individuals of each species they see several times throughout the winter, FeederWatch data is extremely important for detecting and explaining gradual changes in the wintering ranges of many species.

For information on Project FeederWatch visit www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw or call (607) 254-2427.

Chris Kenyon’s “Outdoors” appears every other Sunday. Contact Chris at (315) 879-1341 or ckenyonrun@gmail.com.

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