On her first hunt, Sarah Moneypenny didn’t bag a wild turkey, but she scored big for the tradition of hunting.
Sarah, 14, recently decided she wanted to become a hunter like her twin brother, Cameron, who has taken several deer with his rifle and muzzleloader and even a wild turkey during the spring gobbler season, all with their father, Mike Moneypenny, at his side.
Mike learned to hunt while growing up in West Virginia, but before Cameron became interested Mike had not hunted in decades.
The opportunity to take his children hunting was a return to the Frederick resident’s family roots.
“Hunting has always been a tradition in our family as long as I can remember,” Mike said. “Coming from a family with 12 siblings, my dad began taking us hunting as soon as we were old enough to hold a gun.
“It is important to me to do the same with my kids.”
As our American way of life shifts in this modern era, the tradition of hunting seems to be on the decline. Older hunters age out, and fewer veteran hunters are available to pass on their knowledge and experience to the younger generation. Young people are unlikely to take up the sport without the influence and guidance of an experienced hunter to act as a mentor.
Five years ago, Cameron successfully completed the Maryland hunter safety course along with my son, Nathaniel Neuland, and their friend, Spencer Becker. These close friends have spent many exciting days afield together.
“It is really cool to hunt with my buddies and my dad,” Cameron said. “We have shared some great times while hunting.”
I had the pleasure of hunting on numerous occasions with these boys and their fathers, who have been excellent mentors to these junior hunters. For me, hunting with Nathaniel and his friends has elevated the enjoyment and satisfaction of the total hunting experience to new highs.
Hunting in Maryland reached its peak in the mid-1970’s when the upland game bird populations of ring-necked pheasants and bobwhite quail were at their highest. Since that time, upland game populations have dwindled due to loss of habitat and changes in agricultural practices. This factor in combination with a variety of other reasons such as the decrease in the amount of leisure time in our daily lives and limited access to hunting lands has caused a steady downward trend in hunting numbers.
Something to enjoy together
The recent fall wild turkey season in Maryland was the perfect opportunity for Mike and me to take Sarah on her first turkey hunt with the boys. We arrived before sun-up in the parking lot of a wildlife management area in Washington County. It was a frosty morning that turned into a warm sunny afternoon.
The morning hunt was uneventful with no turkeys answering our calls. It was late afternoon when Nathaniel and I located and scattered a flock of turkeys. After waiting for a time, I began working my box call. It didn’t take long to get a response and it seemed like turkeys were coming from several directions.
The young hunters were totally camouflaged, sitting against trees in separate positions. When several turkeys came toward Spencer, he graciously let them walk by. He was hoping they would pass close enough to Sarah and her father for a shot.
When the birds started to move off in a different direction, Spencer was able to take a hen bird, his first ever fall turkey. When Spencer shot, another turkey flew into a tree near Sarah. She took aim at the bird and shot, but missed.
Sarah was thrilled to hear and see the turkeys even though she missed her chance to bag a bird.
“I enjoy the quiet and peaceful hours we spend in the woods with my dad,” she said. “Finding something that I can do with my dad has been really rewarding.
“I am getting to know my dad.”
The Moneypennys are an example of how hunting unites families in an activity filled with quality time outdoors. Young and old bond as the wisdom and experience of the senior hunter is passed on to the next generation.
Lucy Moneypenny, Cameron’s and Sarah’s mother, agrees.
“It is important as a family to find something that we can enjoy together,” Lucy said, “and I enjoy trying new recipes for wild game that they bring home.”
Hunting affects households in several positive ways. First, there is access to wild game as a food source. Wild game is the ultimate in organic dining with meat totally untainted by chemicals and additives. Game meat is guaranteed fresh and most likely obtained locally. Wild game is a truly priceless commodity, something that cannot be purchased.
“I have no reservations feeding my family wild game,” Lucy Moneypenny said. “It is a good healthy source of protein.”
Hunting will lure the most adventurous youth outdoors and into nature. Anything that gets youngsters outside is a welcome alternative to hours spent watching television, playing computer games and using social media.
Hunting requires patience and discipline. To be successful, young hunters must learn as much as possible about the game they hunt. As active participants, they develop a deeper understanding of wildlife and their natural world.
“I really enjoy teaching the kids how to hunt the right way and to use the firearms safely,” Mike Moneypenny said.
A heritage of hunting
Recruitment of new hunters is an important goal for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources. In 1995, the MD-DNR established the first Junior Hunt Day, a special day only for licensed hunters age 15 and under to hunt deer when accompanied by a licensed hunter over the age of 21. Since then, special days for junior hunters have been expanded and established during waterfowl and spring wild turkey hunting seasons.
Patricia Handy, a MD-DNR information and educational program manager, believes young hunters are our future, and she encourages experienced hunters to become more involved.
“Maryland’s hunting heritage is part of great family traditions and forges conservation ethics to our youth,” she said “It helps citizens connect with other sportsmen and women and pass down their passion for fish and wildlife to the next generation.”
She also promotes other opportunities the MD-DNR offers youth such as Junior Hunter Field Days and Mentored Youth Hunts.
I believe that each one of us by our very nature of being human has the spirit of the hunter within us. This may be due to an inherent calling from a distant time when hunting for food was a skill that was crucial to our very existence or maybe it is simply the thrill and challenge of the hunt that beckons us into the forest.
In modern society, hunting wild game is not necessary for our survival, but for many, it is a human instinct channeled into an activity that benefits both wildlife and the families that participate in the hunting experience.
“Having twins, it is important to me to treat each as an individual with their own interests,” Lucy Moneypenny said. “However. it is great see them working together to plan their hunts and getting their gear ready.
“I have to say it is kind of fun to be part of it all.”
Dan Neuland is a freelance outdoor writer and art educator for Frederick County Public Schools. He is a senior hunter education instructor for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He coaches shotgun shooting sports for the youth programs at Thurmont Conservation and Sportsman’s Club and the Frederick Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America. Contact Dan Neuland at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To hunt in Maryland, a person must pass a hunter education course, unless that person hunted legally before 1977. The course introduces students to the basics of gun safety and good hunting practices. Classes are offered mainly during the summer and fall months at local shooting sports clubs and conservation organizations. These courses are taught by volunteers who have years of field experience and expertise.
Maryland has no minimum age for taking the hunter education course, however the success rate is almost entirely related to a student's maturity, discipline, and motivation. Also, a student's reading and study skills must be sufficient for him/her to read and understand a fair amount of material and then pass a 50-question multiple choice exam with a score of 80 percent or better.
Additionally, the student must demonstrate safe firearm handling during a field exercise and during live fire exercises at various shooting ranges. Students younger than age 12 often have to take the course more than once.
Successful completion of the course is just the beginning step on the life-long path of gathering knowledge. A responsible hunter never stops learning and most of that knowledge is gained through experience in the field and forest.
For young hunters who enjoy hunting education and want to get more involved and become better hunters, I recommend the Maryland Youth Hunter Education Challenge. This competition that is held annually at the Potomac Fish and Game Club in Williamsport. Participants compete in rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader and archery shooting events. They also study and compete in wildlife identification, orienteering skills, and hunter safety tests in the classroom and in the field.
The YHEC competition is divided into two age categories and is open to individuals and teams of five contestants. Young hunters age 15 and older participate as seniors while those 14 and younger participate as juniors.
The Frederick Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America sponsors several teams each year as part of its organized youth program. and new members are always welcome.
— Dan Neuland