By 10 a.m. Saturday, 6-year old Gunner Clapp already had accomplished quite a bit at the archery station of the Youth Outdoor Festival at the Hays City Sportsman’s Club.
“I did shoot a deer, a big round thing, and a goose,” Gunner said, nodding to the 3D life-size animal targets set up a few yards down field.
Gunner will only be 7 come December, but already he has a preference when it comes to hunting equipment.
“I don’t like these big guns,” he said. “I like the bows and the paintball guns.”
By 11 a.m., already 126 youth 17 and under had registered for the day-long free event, which started at 9 a.m. and was set to wrap up at 3 p.m. Now in its 21st year, the event in 2017 drew 190 and was on pace to be popular again.
“We do have a lot of new faces that have come out this year,” said Gail Wickham, who was registering kids on behalf of the Hays Recreation Commission. “This year we are bringing out a lot more of the younger kids. Some as young as 3 or 4.”
Organized by Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, the event has more than a dozen sponsors, with sporting clubs from throughout the area helping with the activities, ranging from trap, skeet and archery to bass fishing, paintball and shotgun and .22 shooting.
Gunner’s dad, Graydon Clapp, can’t recall exactly how many years he’s been helping as a member of the Split Arrow Archery Club, but at least a decade or more. He brought along some of his 3D targets, including a muley and an alligator, and said it was a beautiful day with the perfect temperature.
Clapp said he volunteers to help because getting kids outdoors is important, so they have a different perspective from what’s on TV. The manager of Vanderbilt’s Hays, he’s noticed young people struggle to converse with strangers. “They are shy — they are so used to being on their screen,” he said. “Communication is a lost art right now. This right here gets them away from their phones, away from their TVs.”
Leroy Hensley, Great Bend, has been volunteering since the event started 21 years ago. In the past few years he’s been happy to see that schools are starting to add archery to their P.E. programs.
“You don’t have to be a hunter to enjoy archery,” said Hensley, who was manning a table with the 10 different bows — compound, recurve and long bows — that he’d brought for youngsters to try. Gesturing to some of the more unusual 3D life-size targets — and some bigger than life — he joked and asked, “You ever shoot a jackalope or a carp?”
His whole family enjoys outdoor sports, including hunting, he said. But he got hooked on archery years ago, and now makes his own carbon and aluminum arrows. “I’d rather shoot a bow than any kind of firearm.”
Eight-year-old Madison Heslet, Hays, was shooting the crossbow on Saturday. For those who might not know how to do it, she explained that it’s pretty easy.
“All’s you have to do is cock it before you use it, and then when you get ready you have to take it off safety. And when you shoot it you have to put it tight up against your shoulder because it will kick back.”
She held up her fingers. “And there are four lines going like this,” she said, making a cross. “And you want to look at the top line and that’s how you aim it.”
Her sister Hayley, 11, has shot crossbow since she was 5 or 6. While she has felt a little nervous shooting bows and rifles and going hunting, her advice to others is, “They just need to relax and make sure their eyes are always open.”
Jason Wagner, the public lands manager at Cheyenne Bottoms, had 20 traps and a collection of animal fur skins set out to introduce kids to trapping.
“A lot of the old-school traps had teeth on them, but those are illegal now,” he told his young listeners.
Fur-harvesting season in Kansas is mid-November to mid-February, and requires a license and fur harvester’s education card. Most trappers are catching coyote, coons and bobcats. Furs are sold and ultimately end up in China or Russia, where there’s big fashion demand, he said.
A hole dug in the ground with deer meat scraps and some fox urine will attract about anything, Wagner said. “When you select your trap you select for the right purpose,” he explained, “so you don’t harm the animal as much, or catch a non-target.”
Wagner grew up in Otis and trapped all the time as a kid. Now he tries to teach his daughter, Jaylie, 7.
“It’s kind of a dying art,” he said. “Not many people do it anymore.”
At the bass fish casting station, Morgan Munsch, 11, was picking through a pile of bags, each filled with soft plastic bait, given away by the Hays Bass Anglers. Morgan asked her dad, Jordan Munsch, what she should pick, and he suggested “something red.”
“I just kind of like being outdoors and going fishing and hunting,” said Morgan, who has her own rod and reel. “It’s a something 33,” she said. “Zebco,” Jordan added.
Hays Bass Anglers does catch-and-release at Wilson, Cedar Bluff, Webster and Norton lakes, and have both boat and non-boat members, said Nate Brown, a member volunteering Saturday. The club’s 18th annual Big Bass Challenge is Sept. 8 at Wilson and is open to anyone who wants to fish.
In the clubhouse, Shayne Wilson with the Smoky Hill Pheasants Forever club Chapter 424 was preparing to serve donated hamburgers and hot dogs to youngsters and their parents for lunch. The local chapter has fundraising events each year to help pay for the Youth Outdoor Festival on Saturday and a youth hunt on Oct. 13, Wilson said. The chapter’s 300-plus members hold a banquet in February at the Ellis County Fairgrounds to raise money. Their mission includes giving free seed and a small annual payment to area farmers to plant bird habitat for pheasant, prairie chickens and quail, she said.
“I really enjoy the youth events,” Wilson said. The chapter will provide lunch Aug. 25 in Wakeeney at a Hunter’s Education Class taught by Matt Schmidt with Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
At a station with the Fort Hays State University Shooting Sports Team, FHSU professor and shooting coach Duane Shepherd was helping Tucker Farthing, 6, aim the barrel of a 20 gauge shotgun at bright orange sporting clays flung into the air. After Tucker’s third try he asked “Did I get it?” Shepherd nodded to the field of broken clay targets, “I think if you’ll walk out there you’ll see a broken target.”
The Youth Outdoor Festival is always held the third Saturday in August at the gun club, said Kent Hensley, with Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. The volunteers and sponsors give Hensely credit for bringing them all together for the festival.
“This is a world-class place to come shoot,” Hensley said of the club.
“And there’s a little bit of everything here at the festival for the kids,” Hensley said. “Everybody here is an expert in everything they do, so it’s a safe environment. If a family or parents want to see what these sports are about. This is a great place to start.”