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Hunting even a unique chance for Kan. youth

February 12, 2012 at 08:55 PM

The Associated Press

KEARNY COUNTY, Kan. (AP) — As the hunting dogs had a pheasant on point, Skylar raised her gun and prepared for the shot. The pheasant flew up a short distance in front of her, and she took aim and fired. The pheasant flapped its wings and fell to the ground, and a hunting dog brought the bird back to the line of hunters.

Skylar, 15, was the first girl to attend the annual Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch and Girlstown U.S.A.‘s controlled pheasant hunt outside of Lakin.

The ranch, based in Amarillo, Texas, is one of the nation’s largest privately-funded child and family service providers that specializes in both residential and community-based services. The home is a behavioral or residential placement for boys and girls. The youth participating in the hunt were identified by first name only to protect their identities.

The annual controlled hunt was the fifth and is put on by Ark 2000, a Kearny County division of the Pheasants Forever organization. The organization also does a controlled hunt for local youth in November.

Last weekend, the boys and Skylar hunted pheasants on the property of John Day in Kearny County.

The boys and girls from the ranch have to earn the right to participate in the hunt through good behavior and must complete a hunter safety class prior to the hunt.

The youth came in on a bus Friday night and camped out on cots in the Kearny County 4-H building. Saturday morning, organizers made breakfast and the youth participated in controlled shooting. Saturday afternoon, they went out into the field to hunt. Sunday morning, the youth had breakfast and went right into the field.

Skylar said she was glad she participated in the hunt.

“This is something new. You can’t spend your whole life doing the same thing every day. That gets boring,” she said.

Although she said it was intimidating being the only girl, she said it also was empowering.

“It’s totally fun. It might not be for all girls, but it certainly has been a different experience,” she said.

One of the best parts for Skylar was showing some of the boys how to clean a bird.

“We were the first team to finish (Saturday), so I already knew how to do it when some of the others came in,” she said.

Garrett, 17, went on the hunt last year and decided to come again. He said the hunt is fun and brings back good memories of trap shooting at home.

He encourages the younger boys at the ranch to go on the hunt.

“I tell them, ‘If you never have been hunting, this is a good experience. Everyone is real nice and helpful. It’s like a family,’” he said.

Nick, 13, didn’t get a bird Saturday, but on Sunday morning, he was determined to shoot one.

It was his first time on the hunt.

“It’s fun because it’s an experience you’ll never forget,” he said.

Kolby, 19, said he had a blast on the hunt.

“I just wanted to try new things and have always wanted to go hunting,” he said.

The best part about the weekend for Kolby was watching the dogs.

“I love the dogs. They smell so well and stand so still when they have a bird on point,” he said.

Kolby will graduate this year from the ranch and has been accepted to Texas A&M. After school, he’ll join the Marines, he said.

Ben, 14, has been on the hunt twice. The best part of the hunt, he said, is walking the hills.

“I enjoy walking on the ground that goes up and down,” he said.

For Leland, 16, it’s the camaraderie of the hunts. This year was his second hunt.

“I like all of us being together on this,” he said.

Brent Ehlers, rodeo coordinator at Cal Farley’s, said the hunts were the idea of a game warden in Great Bend, and then the idea was put into fruition by Ark 2000.

“They are phenomenal. They do an excellent job fundraising, love the kids and pay attention to detail. It makes it a very appealing opportunity for the kids,” he said.

Ehlers said the ranch residents get a lot out of the hunts, including feeling safe, feeling a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose and achievement.

“And it’s an all-around adventure for them,” he said.

Rich Higgins, president of Ark 2000, said the best part of the hunt is watching the kids shoot a pheasant for the first time.

“A lot have never shot a wild bird or any type of bird. So to see their reaction in getting a bird for the first time — it’s neat,” he said.

Higgins said the youth are well-behaved during the hunt.

“You hear nothing but politeness. It’s unbelievable how polite and grateful these people are,” he said.

Higgins is one of the main organizers, along with Eric Wright.

Higgins said Sunday night that the youth shot 66 pheasants over the weekend.

He said the hunt was successful because it was fun and safe.

“I think every year the hunt is always successful. The kids get out, they learn, get to shoot and have a lot of fun. It was safe, and they had fun. That’s the two most important things. It’s not how many birds they get. It’s learning how to be a good, safe hunter,” he said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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