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Open Season: Delta Waterfowl event puts focus on youth

Kelly Slough Chapter Chairman Matt Vanderpan uses a decoy to explain the characteristics of a hen wood duck. Submitted photo1 / 3
Local youth pose for a picture after attending the first annual Hooked on Hunting event, held Aug. 13, at the Grand Forks Shooting Club and sponsored by the Kelly Slough Chapter of Delta Waterfowl and the Grand Forks County Wildlife Club. Submitted photo2 / 3
A volunteer gets his hands dirty as he performs the task of mudding a layout blind. Submitted photo3 / 3

"It's going to be fun, you should come up," said Matt Vanderpan, Chairman of Delta Waterfowl's Kelly Slough Chapter in Grand Forks and an unabashed outdoors nut.

I pondered the notion for a moment. Did I really want to drive 70-something miles north just to be around a horde of, what most certainly would be, hyper, obnoxious, snot-nosed kids - and on my day off, no less?

"Sure, why not?" I said.

So that's how on a beautifully bright Saturday afternoon, Minnesota friend Erik Marquette and I found ourselves pulling into the dirt parking lot of the Grand Forks Gun Club, located just north of Highway 2 and pretty much smack dab between the airport and Interstate 29.

Even though it was an hour before the official start, plenty of participants already were lining up at the registration table for the inaugural "Hooked on Hunting" event. Delta Waterfowl, one of North America's premier conservation organizations, and the Grand Forks Country Wildlife Federation, in conjunction with the Grand Forks Park District, sponsored the four-hour long affair.

Once we tracked down Vanderpan (you'd think it's easy to spot a towering ex-University of North Dakota tight end), Marquette and I donned our new Delta T-shirts and prepared to help out in any way possible.

At first, we really didn't know what to do. The 20-something volunteers on hand were pretty much set up for the day's festivities. Five different booths were carefully laid out, displaying various elements on waterfowl and their subsequent pursuit.

A fresh-from-the-store layout blind gleamed brightly in the sun. It was a tad less new by day's end, after the 100-ought kids got their hands dirty camouflaging it with a bucket of mud.

Mud and kids: a match made in heaven.

The fine art of decoy placement also kept fidgety youth fixated for the allotted 15-minutes per station; as did the dog training booth and, the piece de resistance, duck and goose calling. You've not seen a happy kid until you've seen one with a loud, obnoxious noise-making device given free rein to make as much ruckus as possible.

Possibly after seeing Marquette and I doing our best to prop up a nearby wall, Vanderpan directed us to his station: waterfowl identification. Laid out on two long tables were a myriad of decoys, as well as some immaculate real-life (or real-dead, as it were) representations by Jim Benson of Sportsman's Taxidermy in East Grand Forks.

We did our best to entertain each group (there were five) although showing the idiosyncrasies between ducks wasn't nearly as interesting as getting to toot a call or watching Fido fetch bumpers.

Still, the four of us managed, albeit a tad nervously. I have to give credit to all the teachers out there: your job is a lot tougher than most people anticipate.

When all was said and done, a bounty of food was presented, free of charge to everyone that had shown up. And as the day's participants gradually dispersed, the volunteers grouped together and chatted about the day.

To Vanderpan, and many of the other Delta Waterfowl workers, the first-ever Hooked on Hunting day was a total success.

"It was all positive, everyone was excited," Vanderpan said. "A lot of people were looking for something like this to take their kids to, and were already asking about next year."