A yellow Lab and more than a dozen kids — aspiring duck hunters attending a youth waterfowl camp co-managed by Delta Waterfowl — turned their backs as a dead pheasant was hidden in the thick grass. The kids combed the field for the bird, but came up empty. Then, the retriever was sent, and 30 seconds later, he clutched the pheasant to everyone’s delight.
The advantage of a well-trained duck dog was just one of many important lessons taught at the inaugural Youth Waterfowl Hunting Weekend Seminar held July 15 to 17 in Ponoka, Alberta.
“The kids absolutely loved the retriever demo,” said Jim Fisher, Delta’s director of conservation policy. “They were an enthusiastic bunch, which made for a wonderful weekend.”
Additional topics included waterfowl identification, duck and goose calling, decoy strategies, safety, scouting, duck hunting’s role in conservation, and much more. Conducted through a partnership with Ducks Unlimited-Canada, instruction was delivered by staff and volunteers from Delta and DUC.
It’s difficult to say which activity the kids found most enjoyable.
“The clay shooting was certainly a big hit,” Fisher noted. “We split the kids into two groups: those who’d shot before and those without any experience. It led to productive, skill-based instruction.”
The campers — ages 12 to 15 — received free duck and goose calls, hats, lanyards and other waterfowling gear. One lucky youngster even took home new duck decoys courtesy of Cabela’s. Generous donations by Fred Mannix and Bill Turnbull, both of Calgary, Alberta, funded the camp.
The weekend’s curriculum came full circle when campers received hands-on instruction in cleaning geese, followed by a waterfowl dinner.
“The kids eagerly jumped right into the goose prep,” said Scott McGuigan, development director for Delta Waterfowl. “Preparing the harvest creates mindful conservationists who enjoy all aspects of the hunt, and the joy of eating waterfowl is a powerful recruitment tool.”
Next year, Delta plans to increase enrollment at the Ponoka camp and hold events at additional locations across Alberta. Delta’s hunter education camps and First Hunt events will expand in other regions of Canada as well, particularly near the Great Lakes.
“We’ve seen a real decline among waterfowlers in Alberta and other provinces,” McGuigan said. “So introducing new Canadians to waterfowling is one the most important things Delta can do to support conservation and the tradition of duck hunting.”