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Special youth hunting season a hit with families
Saturday, October 02, 2004
By Howard Meyerson
Grand Rapids Press Outdoors Editor

Steven Popma couldn't quite believe his eyes when he took a 75-yard shot last weekend and downed a handsome, 8-point whitetail buck.

The 14-year-old hunter was out for his first hunt with a firearm. He had stalked the deer for a distance to assure a good shot.

"I couldn't believe it," said the Hudsonville High School freshman, who ventured deep into the Manistee National Forest last Sunday with his father to participate in the state's two-day youth deer hunting season.

"I thought maybe I would get a spike or something. That's what we usually see up here," he said.

Steven's father, Steve, was impressed with his son's patience. The pair had been sitting on the ground along a hay marsh in the morning when they saw the buck in the company of two others and several does. The deer were 300 yards out and moving around. But the young Popma didn't want to hazard a shot at a running deer.

So the he got up and began moving stealthily along the edge until he was in range.

"His is a beautiful deer," the elder Popma said. "But I was really proud that he passed up a shot because he wasn't in the right position, even though it took a few minutes more to get closer and a better angle.

"It made me feel good to know he wouldn't take a bad shot and that he learned a little from me."

Teaching and learning is what the special two-day season was designed to provide -- along with the experience of hunting deer before they have been disturbed and grow wary during the regular seasons.

Young hunters between 12 and 16 are allowed to take one deer during the two-day hunt. They have to be directly


supervised by an adult that doesn't carry a gun. Twelve and 13 year olds are also restricted to hunting with a bow and arrow.

State officials say the special hunt just gets more popular every year. Approximately 18,000 youth participated in 2003. The same or more were expected to be out in the fields last weekend.

"Our goal was to give youth a special opportunity," said Rod Clute, the DNR's deer specialist in Lansing. "We're now hearing stories about adult hunters recruiting youth to sponsor and mentor in hunting. And that was the whole idea."

Young hunters killed 6,200 deer, during the 2003 youth season, 3,700 of which were antlered bucks. He expects the results were the same again this year.

"The number of hunters rose by 1,000 last year compared to 2002," Clute said. "But their take statewide is barely 1 percent of the total harvest."

The Popmas were one of several successful West Michigan families that got out for the hunt.

Barry Cain enjoyed hunting with his 15-year-old son, Cory, who managed to shoot a nice 8-point buck while hunting on private property near Lake City.

"My heart was going pretty fast," said Cory, a Cedar Springs High School sophomore. "At first he was in the bush and all I could see was his head and some part of his body."

The deer had come in from the north. It was a snort that got the Cain's attention. They had been sitting in a ground blind anticipating deer to the south. When he turned, he had to decide what to do. A smaller, spike stood in front of the big deer. The larger one remained obscured by the brush.

Corey opted to wait it out. A minute later the big deer came into clear sight.

"He's already done better than me and it's become a family joke," said Cory's father, Barry, an avid hunter himself. "This was his third deer. I've taken four deer in my life and none were that nice."

Fifteen-year-old Christena Levandoski swore she was looking at Bullwinkle when she shot an 8-point buck last weekend that ran and had to be tracked. The Grandville High School sophomore was hunting with her stepfather and hunting mentor, Dave Seeker.

The pair had been hunting the family property in Walker on Sunday when the evening drew nigh and the two decided to pack it in. They were coming out of the woods, walking back to the house when a doe and a big buck showed up 50 yards in front of them.

Christena drew up and looked through the scope. Her stepfather asked if it had horns.

"It looks like Bullwinkle to me," she said.

She took the shot and deer ran 100 yards before going down. It was her second deer in two years. She also took an 8-point last year during the youth hunt, but ended up learning a painful lesson.

"I ended up with 9 stitches above my eyebrow because I was too close to the scope," said.

Tony Seeker, Christena's 15-year-old stepbrother, also took a 5-point while hunting with his father, Dave, on Saturday. It was his first year for deer hunting. He said he was nervous. But now that he's got the first one out of the way, he plans to wait for the right buck to appear. Seeker plans to hold-off for a big one during the bow season and upcoming firearm season.

"My stepsister showed me up this year," Tony said. "Now I want to wait for a bigger buck."

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