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Free youth rabbit hunt Jan. 16 in Belding 

Participants in the Flat River State Game Area’s 2015 youth rabbit hunt. This year’s hunt is set for Jan. 16.

Participants in the Flat River State Game Area’s 2015 youth rabbit hunt. This year’s hunt is set for Jan. 16.

Register by Jan 12

The Department of Natural Resources is teaming up with the Mid-Michigan United Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Belding Sportsman’s Club, the Montcalm County Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association and several other sporting groups and local businesses to sponsor a youth rabbit hunt at the Flat River State Game Area Saturday, Jan 16.

The day will kick off with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and will conclude with lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Belding Sportsman’s Club, located at 10651 Youngman Road in Belding, Michigan.

There is no fee to participate, and maps of potential hunting hot spots on the 11,000 acres of nearby public hunting land will be available. Participating youths will be eligible for a number of raffle prizes, including several firearms.

“This event is possible thanks to the cooperation of many partners with an interest in keeping Michigan’s hunting tradition going strong,” said DNR wildlife biologist John Niewoonder. “We hope that getting new hunters out in the woods and exposed to the fun and camaraderie of rabbit hunting will encourage them to become lifelong hunters.”

Hunting parties should register by Jan. 12 and must have at least one member younger than 17 years of age. For more information or to register, contact the Flat River State Game Area at 616-794-2658.

Participating hunters must have a valid base license or mentored youth hunting license, available online at www.mdnr-elicense.com or anywhere hunting licenses are sold.

To learn more about youth hunting, visit www.michigan.gov/mentoredhunting.

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Youth rabbit hunt a new tradition

The annual youth rabbit hunt, put on by the Belding Sportsmen’s Club and other conservation groups in partnership with the DNR, pairs kids with hunting mentors. Pictured here, Walter Ingvartsen of Ionia (right) offers 14-year-old Cohl Riddle of Vicksburg his guidance.

The annual youth rabbit hunt, put on by the Belding Sportsmen’s Club and other conservation groups in partnership with the DNR, pairs kids with hunting mentors. Pictured here, Walter Ingvartsen of Ionia (right) offers 14-year-old Cohl Riddle of Vicksburg his guidance.

What started out as an experiment has turned into a tradition. The youth rabbit hunt at the Belding Sportsmen’s Club, near the Flat River State Game Area—now in its third year—attracted 45 youngsters last Saturday for a morning of stomping brush piles, following beagles and tromping through the snow.

“We’re getting great participation from everyone,” said club president John Burns, “club members, parents and youngsters.”

The idea for the youth hunt sprung from John Niewoonder, the Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist at Flat River, who had been on a campaign to improve the small game habitat by building brush piles for “rabbitat” at the area.

“When John brought it to us, we said yes,” Burns said. “This is a good thing, getting the kids out in the elements instead of staying on the computer all day. It’s all about getting the kids—our future—into the outdoors.”

Hosting the event “is not a problem,” Burns said. The club donated breakfast, and members began showing up at 5 a.m. to cook eggs, sausage, hash browns and toast for the crowd’s 7:30 arrival. It cost the club about $200 for the victuals, he said.

“This is what we do—conservation,” he said. “We’re sportsmen. We need to do this to promote hunting and getting the kids out.”

Besides feeding the crowd, providing a meeting place and lining up sportsmen to help guide the young hunters, the sponsors made sure all the youngsters at the event went home with a door prize.

Door prizes were collected by the Mid-Michigan United Sportsmen’s Alliance (MMUSA), a consortium of sportsmen’s clubs, conservation groups (Ducks Unlimited, Michigan Trappers Association and Quality Deer Management), as well a couple of soil conservation district offices. Mike Winegard, a retiree who spearheaded the MMUSA effort, said it wasn’t that hard. His partners collected multi-tools, shirts, hats, game calls, knives, fishing rods, pocket binoculars, candybars and even a high-tech slingshot. There were three grand door prizes—a shotgun, a .22 rifle, and a trapper’s kit with the stuff a youngster needs to get started trapping.

Bill Bird and Wally Ingvartsen, Ionia-area rabbit hunters, showed up to take a party—two boys and a pair of parents—to their stomping grounds behind Bird’s home. They ran a handful of rabbits, and Kam Snyder, a ninth-grader from Schoolcraft, harvested his first-ever rabbit.

“He was on the edge of the brush, and it dropped right in its tracks,” Snyder said. “It was cool.”

Giving up their own Saturday hunt to take a couple of youngsters hunting was a positive experience, Bird said. As far as he and Wally were concerned, they got out and ran their dogs and didn’t have to bother with carrying a firearm.


“Both of those boys we took had killed deer, but neither had taken a rabbit before,” Bird said. “Kids aren’t coming up the same way we did; I started hunting rabbits when I was around 10 with my father and I think that’s a great way to start. I wish we’d have got more rabbits running than we did, but they both got shots.”

That wasn’t unusual, said Niewoonder.

“When I asked how we did, a lot of guys said, ‘We didn’t get any, but we had some shooting,’” Niewoonder said. “But a lot of these kids are young and they’re still figuring it out. They’re going to get some shots and some of them are going to miss. Shooting and missing is good fun, too.”

Niewoonder said the event has really been an eye-opener to him.

“I am impressed with how much the main sponsors – the Belding Sportsmen’s Club, MMUSA and the Mecosta Quality Deer Management Association guys—really seem to like it. They’re all standing in line to help, smiling the whole time. They’re not a bunch of young people, but when they get a chance to hang out with these young kids, I think it really warms their hearts.”

The hunt wasn’t all rabbits this year. A couple of guys, who are members of the Michigan Squirrel Dog Association, brought squirrel dogs to take the kids out with. Kirk Evans, an aircraft mechanic from Ionia, brought a black-mouthed cur and a feist (a hunting dog that has been cross-bred, originally by mixing Native American dogs with terriers, but is now recognized as a breed by the United Kennel Club). Randy Lubbers of Hamilton brought three feists.

The squirrel hunters managed to tree four squirrels, but only one hit the ground, taken by third-grader Nick Collins of East Grand Rapids, who said: “It was cool.”

And it wasn’t just youngsters who were successful hunters. Steve Newland, a Belding insurance adjuster, brought his two young sons—only one of whom carried a firearm—but he got all the shooting in his party.

“We got three of them,” 7-year-old Owen Newland said proudly. “I didn’t get any shooting, but I stepped on one.”

Both Niewoonder and Burns agree that the event has turned into a tradition.

“I hope this keeps up,” Burns said. “This is a good thing. It’s good to get people out here on the state land. The DNR wants people to out here using this land and it promotes bringing some city kids out here in the country to try something new. Basically, it’s all about the kids.”

To learn more about getting young people involved in hunting, visit www.michigan.gov/mentoredhunting

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