Families enjoy day arm in arm at sportsmen's club's Youth Day
Kids learn about sport shooting, conservation and more
By PAM EGGEMEIER email@example.com 815-625-3600, ext. 5570 @pam_eggemeier
CHADWICK – A.J. Boonstra looked a little anxious as his son, Max, pointed the 20-gauge shotgun at a bright-orange target.
The anxiety was quickly replaced by a huge grin as his 12-year-old calmly blew away the first two targets on which he had set his sights. As Dad sat on the grass Saturday watching Youth Day activities at Coleta Sportsmen’s Club in rural Chadwick, he couldn’t help being a bit surprised by his deadeye son.
“He’s never shot a gun in his life,” Boonstra said. “My sister-in-law brought us here today, but we’ve never been here before.”
Becky Brinkmann of Dixon, a new member of Pheasants Forever, brought the Boonstras after being invited by a friend while visiting Nachusa Grasslands.
Brinkmann was immediately impressed by the Pheasants Forever youth program.
“My husband’s a hunter, and my two boys have been around it, but a lot of kids aren’t,” Brinkmann said. “Part of the program is about spreading the word to friends and then more kids are exposed to it and can see if they want to pursue it.”
Brinkmann said the junior groups allow kids to participate in other events and earn points for taking safety classes that can be redeemed for equipment.
“The youth programs have a lot of equipment, so it’s nice that they get a chance to try out different things before they buy it,” Brinkmann said.
Between 125 and 150 kids, ages 3 to 17, were on hand for the Youth Day activities that also included archery, fishing, games, a petting zoo, a police dog demonstration, and an IDNR educational trailer. Kids hopped on wagons for the trips between the trap range and archery camp.
While everyone was gathered for lunch, drawings were held for a variety of prizes that included guns, fishing poles, archery equipment and a lifetime hunting license.
The event made its fourth run Saturday, but in the past it had been known as Jakes Day. It had been sponsored solely by the local National Wild Turkey Federation chapter, and the name was a reference to the name for young tom turkeys. Several other organizations are now involved with the event, including the Whiteside and Ogle County Pheasants Forever groups, Sauk Valley Whitetails Unlimited, and the Sterling-Rock Falls Gobblers.
“Now that we’ve teamed up with other groups, we just decided to call it Youth Day,” said Kent Bushman of Rock Falls, who in addition to being a Sportsmen’s Club board member, is on committees for the Turkey Federation and Whitetails Unlimited.
The Turkey Federation’s junior members are still called Jakes, which also serves as an acronym for Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship. Youth in the Pheasants Forever group are known as Rings.
Everything is free on Youth Day thanks to $1,000 donations from each sporting organization and $500 from Thrivent Financial.
“Every kid here gets $10 memberships for both youth groups, so that’s where a lot of the cost comes in,” Bushman said. “We get a few things donated, but we don’t really go out and pound the pavement for things.”
The organizations believe the money is well spent.
“We are trying to get numbers up in the shooting sports because we don’t want them to go away,” Bushman said. “Mentors are here the entire time teaching safety and conservation, which is very important to all of the groups, and it’s also nice to get kids away from the TVs and iPads.”
The event brought a mix of experienced outdoors enthusiasts and first-timers, as club members did a good job of spreading the word to family and friends.
Mallory Russell, 14, of rural Chadwick, said her dad is a hunter, and she categorized herself as a pretty good shot.
“My dad shoots when he gets bored, so I’ve been shooting milk jugs filled with water since I was about 7 years old,” Russell said.
Cousin Allie Simmer, 15, of Prophetstown, came with the Russells to see what Youth Day was all about. She was impressed by the club’s 80 acres of wide-open space.
“I shot BB guns when I was little, and I like to fish, but I haven’t done it that much,” Simmer said. “It’s really pretty out here, and it’s fun to just hang out.”
Michael Russell of Chadwick said he takes advantage of the opportunity to teach younger members of the family about safely enjoying the shooting sports.
“I bring my nieces and nephews to this every year because it’s important to teach the kids about firearms safety,” Russell said. “We always liked shooting, but now that we moved out of the city, we all can shoot a lot more.”
The Coleta Sportsmen’s Club, at 21038 Pilgrim Road, was established in 1954. In addition to shooting, members and their families can throw their lines into a private pond stocked with several kinds of fish. The club sponsors shooting, archery and fishing competitions throughout the year.
Coleta Sportsmen's Club – Go to coletasportsmensclub.com for more information or an online membership application.
National Wild Turkey Federation – Contact Jeff Ravenscraft at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about area National Wild Turkey Federation chapters. There are chapters in Sterling-Rock Falls, Dixon, Prophetstown and Milledgeville.
Sauk Valley Whitetails Unlimited – Go to the Sauk Valley Whitetails Unlimited Facebook page or whitetailsunlimited.com to learn more about the organization or leave a message.
Pheasants Forever – Go to pheasantsforever.org for more information or to become a member of the organization.