To commemorate and recognize National Hunting and Fishing Day (Oct. 28), which, unfortunately, is not on many calendars, Harold Luther, Retail Manager at Cabela's Hamburg, invited 20 kids who are enrolled in Camp Compass Academy in Allentown, to a European-type tower hunt at Clover Hollow Farms in Slatington.
The 20 children had 20 mentors accompanying them, some with trained field dogs who retrieved downed birds for the young hunters.
If you're new to the area, Camp Compass is an after school program aimed at predominately inner-city youngsters age 10-14 who have never and would probably never have the opportunity to hunt and fish and learn about the environment given their childhood status. The academy was the brainchild of John Annoni, an Allentown elementary school teacher who never had the opportunity to hunt and fish and learn about the great outdoors during his formative years.
Regarding this age group, Annoni said, "We believe these ages are when young people are most impressionable. They're also the times when they begin to make lifelong decisions about the types of people they want to grow up to be."
Annoni hopes his efforts will make them better citizens who will retain a love of the outdoors be it hunting, fishing or other outdoor pursuits, and will perpetuate these heritages.
Youngsters, who graduate from his 3-year program, often return after high school graduation to mentor younger kids. And if students enrolled in Camp Compass maintain good grades, study and work to make the academy successful, they're rewarded with a myriad of hunting and fishing excursions like this pheasant hunt compliments of Cabela's.
For the half-day event, Cabela's furnished ammunition, some shotguns, orange hats, vests and paid for lunch and the 150 pheasants that were released that morning.
Among all the students attending, the challenge and enjoyment they experienced easily shown on their faces. Especially when one of them downed a long-tail. Their expressions were without words.
And, according to Annoni, David Bonilla, 15, couldn't get a ride to the academy so he ran from his home at 9th and Tilghman to the academy on Sumner Avenue for fear he would miss the mini bus for the trip to Clover Hollow.
All 150 pheasants were released from a hilltop in hopes the birds would fly over the ten stations aligned along a semicircular path where the students would rotate stations after a given number of birds were released. When released, some pheasants merely made a "U" turn and headed in the opposite direction or back to the area of their holding cages. Others flew erratic flight patterns.
The stations, even for a veteran hunter like me, were not easy. Station one and two had wide openings while stations three through eight all had a canopy of tall trees on either side of the trail. And the opening, or view, between them was only about five yards in width.
Often times the pheasants would fly over so quickly the young hunters didn't have time to raise their guns, yet alone see the birds before they landed and disappeared in the thick woodlot adjacent to the trail.
Stations nine and ten had the widest and clearest openings for a shot. And it's here where many kids managed to down a bird. However, considerably more pheasants were missed, than were shot. One female teen boasted that she shot three birds, one of which was a white-phase ring-neck.
"After the hunt, a few birds were not field-dressed but taken back to the academy so the students could dissect and study their skins, crops and gizzards," said Annoni. Some were missing tail feathers, which were removed and proudly displayed on a couple successful shooters' hats. The remainder of the birds were cleaned and divided up among the students to take home for a meal.
Thanks to Cabela's, Will Dise and the folks at Clover Hollow, the mentors and their retriever dogs, 20 youngsters had a memorable outing they'll never forget. And a heritage they'll hopefully pass on to their offspring when they become parents.