Clovis News

Hunting camp gets kids out for real-world fun

COARSEGOLD -- Connor Celum raises the shotgun to his shoulder, squeezes the trigger and grins as chukar feathers fly in every direction.

An eager dog retrieves the carcass, but it will be up to the Clovis 12-year-old and his fellow campers to pluck and clean the bird for tomorrow night's dinner.

Let's see an Xbox do that. Video games might be more realistic than ever, but you'll never be able to make a meal out of them.

"I like video games," says Connor, wearing a blue River Park baseball T-shirt, gray eye protection and orange earplugs. "But I like hunting more."

That seems to be the prevailing opinion among more than a dozen campers and counselors, boys and girls ages 11 to 18, who are spending a week of summer vacation at the Hunting Heritage Skills Camp sponsored by Quail Unlimited.

Held annually for 11 years at the sprawling 1,080-acre Ecker Ranch, not far from Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, the camp gives budding outdoorsmen (and outdoorswomen) a chance to hone their skills and apply them in a controlled setting. Fees are $400, but most campers receive scholarships provided by QU's Fresno chapter.

Campers fish for bass and bluegill on one of the ranch's three lakes. They shoot clay pigeons and hunt for planted chukar. (All have already completed hunter safety.) They learn about wilderness navigation, survival and habitat judging while being introduced to basic conservation principles.

But most of all, they get to spend six days in the great outdoors without a microprocessor in sight. (Well, I did spot one hand-held Yahtzee game.)

"We've had kids from Fresno go through hunter education, then wonder where the interactive computer games are," says Dick Haldeman, Quail Unlimited's Western regional director.

"You try to explain to them, 'This isn't a video game. This is real. You have to get out and walk.' It really is spooky to think about how much recreation these days involves a fanny in a chair."

That isn't a problem at the Hunting Heritage Skills Camp, mostly because the kids seldom run out of things to do.

During my visit, I have an interesting chat with 14-year-old Michael Favagrossa of Fresno. In a tone that lets him know I'm only kidding, I ask the freshman-to-be at Central High whether he is experiencing any video-game withdrawals.

Michael smiles and shakes his head "no" but understands where my question is coming from.

"I think it's pretty sad that a kid would stay home and play video games hour after hour, day after day -- especially when they could be out there doing this stuff," he says. "I'm not saying video games are bad -- I like playing video games -- but to play them every day and not do anything else is a waste of a childhood."

That's not a problem for 16-year-old Taylor Tyler of Auberry, one of the camp's junior counselors. Taylor used the fly-fishing skills she learned to catch a 28-inch trout in the Kings River last winter.

Taylor, who attends Sierra High, also isn't the slightest bit timid about preparing the chukars for cooking. This involves pulling off the wings and feet, stripping the feathers and removing the guts, which leaves her hands a bloody mess.

"It comes off," she says. "It's not going to kill me."

Overheard by most of the group, Taylor's words elicit the kind of response you might expect from a bunch of teenage boys.

"You're not a chick," says Donovan Iverson, a 13-year-old from Oakhurst.

Judging by my reaction, Donovan knows what he just said isn't cool. He quickly amends his words.

"Well, at least not a girly girl," he says.

Taylor doesn't take offense; she's used to this sort of banter. This is real life, after all. Not a video game.