Youth hunt shows next generation the way

Mentors guide children through traning program, assist on day of the hunt

(Candus Thomson, Baltimore…)
November 13, 2010|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

WALDORF — Hannah O'Neil's heart fell when the buck of a lifetime walked in front of her ground blind early Saturday morning and kept on going.

But less than five minutes later, a slightly smaller buck took the same right-to-left route and stopped.

"Do you want me to shoot now?" the 15-year-old girl whispered to her mentor, voice trembling.

"If you're on him, shoot," Eric Crutchfield replied.

With that, O'Neil brought down the eight-point buck with a single shot from a borrowed shotgun, ensuring a winter's worth of venison burgers and sausage — and maybe a roast or two — for her family.

"I was shaking. I was excited. I was nervous," she said afterward, a huge smile decorating her face.

Crutchfield wore a matching facial expression. "The goal for the first-time hunter is to get a deer," he said. "We happened to luck out this morning."

All over Maryland, sportsmen's groups, parents and family and friends took to the field yesterday to teach the next generation of hunters as part of the state's one-day Youth Deer Hunt.

"You can debate the idea of killing game, but it's hard for me to find a reasonable argument against spending quality time in the woods, watching nature wake up," said Paul Peditto, head of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service who hunted yesterday with his 15-year-old son. "It is the perfect opportunity for adults and young people to connect and appreciate the outdoors and quiet conversation."

At the Southern Maryland chapter of the Izaak Walton League, Bill Crutchfield, Eric's brother, paired 25 first-time hunters, ages 8 to 16, with trusted friends.

The Young Guns Hunt Club was formed in September without much fanfare — on purpose.

"We wanted to keep it small and under the radar to test the waters and work out the bugs," said Bill Crutchfield. "We didn't want to overwhelm the kids, we just wanted to get them outdoors and not have a bunch of drama."

Bill Crutchfield knows a little bit about white-tailed drama. Four years ago, he obliterated a state record almost two decades old with a buck that had 13 points on each 25-inch antler. The entire rack spanned slightly more than 21 inches tip to tip. The Crutchfield buck was certified by the Boone and Crockett Club as the largest atypical buck ever killed on the East Coast.

For the youth hunt, the mentors and kids got together last weekend on the shooting range and then went out to inspect their hunting sites. The kids each got a hunting DVD to study and a grunt call to practice on. At 5 a.m. yesterday, the adults gathered at Crutchfield's house for a pre-hunt breakfast.

O'Neil, the oldest of five children, took the state hunter education course and got her license with her mother and 7-year-old sister, Nora. The LaPlata High School sophomore said she began the day, "positive, but I didn't want to jinx it."

Eric Crutchfield said he hunts the same piece of private property every year, but was amazed when the buck showed up.

"I knew deer were around, but this was the first time I saw this one," he said.

Hannah wasn't the only successful O'Neil yesterday. At a separate hunt, Nora bagged a seven-point buck.

They may have to get a bigger freezer.

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