The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, in an effort to boost falling sportsman numbers, will offer beginning hunting workshops in several areas across the state

Photo Credit: ODFW - A hunter holds up his catch, a ring-necked pheasant, during a hunting workshop near Medford in 2008. The ODFW will host workshops on Sauvie Island in September.It's a classic in the Norman Rockwell collection of famous paintings depicting American culture: with his hunting dog, bag and rifle sitting on a nearby tree stump and his arm around a flannel-clad son, a father guides his young charge in the ways of hunting. ‘Careful Aim,' as the picture is christened, represents a time-honored scene in which the art of hunting birds, deer and other game is passed from father to son (or daughter).

But according to Mark Newell, Outdoor Skills Program Coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the handing down of rifle and hunting experience is becoming less and less common.

As areas of the United States become more and more urbanized, Newell said, there are fewer kids who get the chance to pick up a shotgun and head into the wild on a hunting trip. The group of sportsmen continues to grow older, and as they drop out of the game, there aren't many to replace them.

That is why, coming later this fall, the ODFW will be hosting another round of workshops centered on introducing kids and adults alike to hunting. The nearest workshops, which will take place on Sept. 12 and 13, will be held on Sauvie Island.

“One of our premiere locations for bird hunts is Sauvie Island,” said Newell, who learned to hunt with his father early in his childhood.

The first day will be open to prospective hunters ages 18 and over with the second day being a more ‘family friendly' day, open to hunters who are at least nine years old. With the exception of the age difference, Newell said, both days should be exactly the same.

The workshop begins with a firearm safety course and the chance for newcomers to get familiar with the shotguns – provided by the ODFW, unless hunters choose to bring their own. They'll then step on to the range and get some nerves and rust shaken off by practicing with clay pigeons.

With the basics and a stressed safety course behind them, workshop goers will actually get paired with a guide and a dog and head out into the sloughs of Sauvie Island to hunt for upland birds – specifically quail.

Depending on the dog's training, they'll either circle until they find a bird and flush them into the air, or stand and point in the bird’s direction until the hunter steps forward and flushes the bird themselves. Almost everybody gets shots, but if a first-time hunter is able to nab a bird, which Newell said depends on their comfort ability with the shotgun and happenstance, they'll actually be taught how to clean their catch, and be “sent home with recipes.”

According to Newell, it's a heart-pounding experience regardless if it is the first jaunt on the hunting grounds or not. It's a big jump from simply wandering through the woods – now, it's easy to notice every little sound and every minute movement with the hope that a bird will leap from a cluster of bushes a few feet away.

“I get a little of that every time I go out,” he said. “It's one of the most awesome experiences I've ever had. I love that it opens the senses up to seeing every single detail around you. The anticipation that something is about to happen is amazing.”

Newell said the excitement is such that many workshop attendees will sign up for a second outing, and before long, have a hunting dog of their own and go out on excursions by themselves.

The Sauvie Island workshops are just two of several being held up and down the Willamette Valley and lower Columbia River. Most workshops focus on upland game, such a pheasants, quail and grouse, and are geared toward adults, families and special workshops specifically for women.

“Women are the fastest growing sector of sportsmen,” said Newell, but paused to highlight a troubling trend in the sport of hunting. “But even [women] can't replace falling sportsman numbers. Sportsmen have been on the decline for the last several decades.”

Hunters – including those who sign up for the September workshops – must buy an upland game license in order to participate. The funds raised from license sales, as well as a number of other sources, go to support the study and preservation of wildlife habitat, the results of which mean there is a shortage of funding for projects that help to keep up the vast and varied wildlife thriving across the state.

The bird season officially opens on Sept. 5, and runs through Dec. 31, making the Sauvie Island workshops an excellent opportunity to get a little preseason action and training before the real game begins.

Adults ages 18-45 are the target audience, so to speak, but as long as prospective hunters are physically able, they're invited to attend. The family workshop, which is considerably cheaper for the kids, requires a parent to take part. Preregistration can be done at the ODFW's website, and participation in the workshops calls for an annual hunting license, upland game bird validation and a free Harvest Information Program validation. The cost of the workshop is $62 for adults, and $12 for kids. All equipment, including firearms, ammunition and safety equipment are provided.

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