It’s hard to believe, with temperatures in the 90s and school just beginning, deer season is here and begins next month for our Indiana youth. On Sept. 28-29, our youth hunters age 17 or younger can hit the field to harvest an early season deer, but must be accompanied by an adult who is at least 18 years of age. According to our Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website —www.in.gov/dnr — the youth hunter must posses a valid hunting license, unless exempt from needing a license, and the youth’s adult partner must possess a valid hunting license of any type that is not an apprentice license.

Youth season has been the best addition to our hunting regulations by Indiana DNR since the one-buck rule was implemented. Our youth have the opportunity to hunt during a time when summer feeding patterns are still in effect and are able to do this before the adult archery season begins on Oct. 1. Therefore, aside from dealing with the heat, mosquitoes and a plan to quickly process the deer should you harvest, hunting early can be a huge advantage. A youth hunter may use any legal firearm, bow and arrow or crossbow to take a deer.

I have been blessed with two children, Josey and Lody, who enjoy the outdoors and the hunting and fishing opportunities our state provides. We have taken advantage of youth season since they were able to put on a pair of boots and safely handle a firearm. My son harvested his first buck at age 8 during the second day of youth season and, now 15 years old, has been hooked since.

It was our first youth weekend experience and I recall it like it was yesterday. We created a ground blind out of some freshly cut cedars and sat on the edge of a clover field tucked back into some trees along a creek bed. In the middle of laughing over something silly he said, two bucks similar in size entered the field. After some calming down efforts and coaching, he was able to place a good shot on his first ever buck. The excitement he expressed upon retrieving his buck was absolutely priceless and has been the driving force behind his passion to hit the woods every fall. Although my daughter’s first buck didn’t come during youth season, the excitement level was exactly the same and one I will never forget. She and I have had some wonderful times sitting together and “quietly” talking about topics of “whatever” while waiting on a set of antlers to emerge.

I would encourage readers to introduce someone to the outdoors, especially our youth. We need more people to advocate for our hunting privileges and continue to push our state in the right direction with respect to wildlife management. I recently had an opportunity to speak with Joe N. Caudell, Ph.D, our state deer biologist. We discussed our youth season, its importance and its quickly approaching date.

“Youth season is valuable because it affords our new hunters an opportunity to hunt prior to the deer experiencing a lot of hunting pressure. It also gives families a chance to pass on their hunting tradition to their kids,” Caudell said.

I couldn’t agree more. However, he also shared some interesting statistics from the most recent whitetail deer harvest summary report, some of which I believe are concerning. The summary shows the number of youth licenses sold (not just youth weekend, the entire year) has slowly decreased every year since its height in 2013. For example, our state sold almost 3,000 fewer licenses in 2018 than 2013. Likewise the number of deer harvested by youth has also decreased. I would hope this would be enough encouragement to introduce our young people to the benefits of hunting and its life-long possibilities.

In addition to youth season beginning next month, hunters need to make deadlines this month to enter our state’s many draw hunts. The period to apply online is July 1 through Aug. 26. Indiana has several options for hunters to bag an additional buck and/or antler-less deer by allowing hunting on its wildlife refuges, military refuges, and state parks for deer management efforts. Find all the details on the website mentioned earlier in this reading.

I have been hunting these properties going on 30 years and can attest, if you’ve not been taking advantage of these properties, you are missing out on great opportunities. My first state draw hunt was at 14 years old.

I used an old Mossberg 20 gauge with open sights to take a small buck off of Crane Naval Base, located about 35 miles southwest of Bloomington. Crane is larger than over half the counties in our state. It’s huge! Since then I’ve been on many of our state properties and had success on each of them along the way: Crane, Big Oaks (AKA Jefferson Proving Grounds, back in the day), Muscatatuck, Charlestown State Park, McCormick’s Creek, to name a few, have all offered some great hunting for me and hunting buddies. I’ve attached a picture of one of my most recent hunts on a state park here in Clark County, Charlestown State Park. One of my best of friends, Clarksville police officer Willy Weatherford, and I took these two bucks while hunting in the heavy early November snow a few years back. Some of these properties offer fantastic early seasons for youth as well, so please check the website for details.

In closing, fellow News and Tribune outdoors columnist Mac Spainhour and I are dear friends and met through our love of the outdoors and introducing our youth to the many opportunities “outside.” We’ve been allowed to do this through our positions in law enforcement and school administration. He and I were approached by the News and Tribune about sharing our experiences, highlighting our area outdoorsmen and women and all the many outdoor activities our area has to offer. I am looking forward to this challenge and hearing from readers concerning topics you wish to learn. I’m eager to learn right along with each of you.

As always, introduce our youth to the outdoors!

Toby Cheatham can be reached via email at tcheatham@westclarkschools.com.