'Learn to Hunt' program mentors young Wis. hunters - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

'Learn to Hunt' program mentors young Wis. hunters

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SOBIESKI, Wis. (WBAY) -

The first "Learn to Hunt" program in Wisconsin started in 1996, and today it's recognized as the gold standard around the state.

Since its inception, the Pulaski-Area program has mentored more than 700 young hunters who would otherwise not have the opportunity to experience the outdoors.

In the darkness guided by moonlight, Levi Rausch; his mom, Jessica and mentor Wylie Dantion, head for a clearing near some woods in Sobieski.

It's the first day of the state's mentored turkey hunt, and Levi is learning how to set up decoys, a whole new experience for a 10 year old boy.

"This is one way to get the kids away from that video game, get outdoors and if you're doing it right you get a lot of mileage walking around out in the woods and you get to find a lot of stuff, see a lot of things you normally don't get to see when you're in the basement," says Dantoin.

In the blind, Levi puts on his last bit of camo and it's time to wait for daylight, and that mystical sound in the trees.

Once the turkeys start gobbling, Dantoin calls back.

The action picks up fast.

"There's four different birds so far," says Dantoin to Levi about the four nearby gobbles.

Just a half hour into the hunt Levi takes aim.

"Safety is off, whenever you're ready," advises Dantoin.

The 20-gauge shotgun fires and 30 yards away, a young male turkey, known as a Jake, falls to the ground.

"Was that pretty fun?" Dantoin asked.

"Yeah," says a smiling Levi, who then adds,"When we got into the blind and he started calling and that one came in I got excited, I was thinking better not miss."

"It's exciting to watch him, how excited he is, and even Wylie how excited, and you guys, I mean it's a bunch of kids in a candy shop in this one tent," says proud mom Jessica with a chuckle.

A few minutes to settle the nerves and it's time for Levi to see his first turkey.

"Alright Levi," says Dantoin as they approach the bird.

This is Dantoin's 10th year mentoring young hunters.

He says he started after his daughter went through the Pulaski program, and he got hooked.

"As fun as it is for us, I know I speak for the other mentors too, just to see those kids get that opportunity, the first bird, and even seeing the parents that come along and have no idea what this is about until they actually get out here, it's amazing how many of them come back to the sport," says Dantoin.

After hearing the shot, landowner Dale Wojciechowski arrives on his ATV to give Levi a high five.

He's one of more than 200 landowners providing more than 10,000 acres in Oconto, Brown and Shawano counties for the Pulaski program's use.

"Being a landowner and supplying the land to the people that hunt it, that's the small part of it, the people like Wylie that put their effort and sacrifice their time to get this together for these young people to hunt, that's phenomenal, I'll participate in this until eternity because it's such a good program," says Wojciechowski.

This spring, Levi is one of 40 young hunters guided by trained mentors like Wylie, in Pulaski's Learn to Hunt program.

In partnership with the DNR, Pulaski FFA and the National Wild Turkey Federation, the program includes a classroom day to learn about turkeys, scouting and calling, and a range day to learn how to safely use a firearm.

Levi's advice to other kids his age?

"Try it, try something new," Levi said.

"This is Wisconsin and we have this great state that provides us with this stuff and I didn't know how to get him there," Jessica said. "So when you see a program like this who is willing to help kids and do it in a safe way, you jump at that, it's the whole package, you couldn't ask for more because these kids are experiencing something they'll never forget."

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