Seven young hunters have drawn permits to get the first shot at waterfowl in the 73-year history of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.
Their season is Sept. 25-26.
They’re all younger than 16.
“We’ve been working toward this since 2004,” said Mike Rule, refuge wildlife biologist. “We figured a youth-only waterfowl hunt was a good place to start.”
The Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 required all national refuges to consider expanding hunting and five other priority public uses as officials revised their comprehensive plans, he said. Most of the region’s wildlife refuges, including Kootenai in North Idaho and the Columbia in central Washington, have been open to hunting for decades.
Limited elk hunting also is being allowed on the refuge for the first time this fall, primarily to keep the herd on the move to reduce the impact the large animals have on refuge habitat. A herd of about 300 elk has nearly wiped out aspen groves that are important to a variety of other wildlife, Rule said.
The young duck and goose hunters assembled at the refuge Saturday for an orientation and seminar organized by the Spokane chapter of the Washington Waterfowl Association. “When I heard about the hunt, I talked to the refuge staff and asked if our group could help to make it a success,” said Thor Ostrom, local WWA organizer. “We want them to have a great experience, and to realize how special it is to be the first people to hunt on this federal refuge.”
The hunters drew numbers out of a hat to determine which of seven blinds they will be assigned for the weekend hunt. Each of them will be allowed to bring one additional youth hunter. Each blind must include an adult, who will not be allowed to hunt.
“It’s going to feel great,” said Zack Sawchuk, 12, of Spokane Valley. “It will be my first time duck hunting.”
The blinds have been built along the Upper Turnbull Slough area, which includes about 140 acres of fall wetlands in the central portion of the 17,000-acre refuge, Rule said.
Surveys indicate the slough gets about 3 percent of the fall waterfowl use on the refuge. “We don’t believe the hunting will have any significant effect on fall waterfowl using the refuge,” Rule said.
The young hunters had to pass a state-certified hunter education course before they were eligible to hunt and apply for the Turnbull permits. On Saturday, they were given an additional safety orientation and treated to a retrieving dog demonstration and a duck calling seminar.
“We bought each one of the kids a duck call and showed them how to use it,” Ostrom said. “The biggest complaint we will get is the kids blowing the duck calls in the house. There are worse things they could be doing.”
On opening day, most of the young hunters will be in the good hands of parents when they make their pre-dawn appearance at the refuge. “But if they need assistance with a guide or somebody with a retriever, we made ourselves available,” Ostrom said.
“We hope they’ll become lifetime hunters who will tell their kids they had the privilege of being the first.”
Cody Hoseth, 15, of Mead, seemed to be on his way. “It’s what I want to do,” he said, after demonstrating his new waterfowl call. “If I could go pro goose hunting, I would be on that ship in a minute.”