Geoff Cowles/News Cory Auker lends a helping hand to his son, Liam, 4, while the pair fish Saturday at the Pheasants Forever Youth Day.

Geoff Cowles/News View More Photos

Cory Auker lends a helping hand to his son, Liam, 4, while the pair fish Saturday at the Pheasants Forever Youth Day.

HOWARD — Ideal weather conditions brought out a large crowd to Saturday’s Pheasants Forever Youth Field Day at Campbell’s Range near Howard. Blue skies and temperatures in the mid to upper 60s gave a big boost to the annual event that was bigger than ever with a record 530 youth.

Youth Field Day is designed to give youngsters of all ages an opportunity to become familiar with the great outdoors. The event is entirely funded by the annual banquet and auction of the Knox County Chapter No. 616 of Pheasants Forever. All of the day’s activities were run by volunteers.

Area kids (ages 3-17), along with their parents and grandparents, had the opportunity to go fishing, build a birdhouse, throw a tomahawk or shoot a rifle. They even had a chance to learn history from a Native American or a frontiersman.

Cory Auker, a commercial roofer from Mount Vernon, was helping his 4-year-old son, Liam, to fish in the pond at Campbell’s Range that was well-stocked for the event. The best part is that the fishing poles, bait and tackle are provided at Youth Day, free of charge.

“It’s a very good activity for your kids to do,” Cory Auker said. “There’s more stuff to do this year. Kids like Liam get to learn about nature, hunting, safety and responsibility.”

By 10 a.m., Liam had already caught and released a bluegill and a trout. While father and son were not in agreement on the size of those two fish, both agreed that Youth Day was a good time.

“I’d like to eat the fish,” Liam said. “My favorite fish is a mako shark. I also made a birdhouse, but I like fishing best.”

Gideon Rashley, 9, who is homeschooled, has been fishing for a while. He was trying to get his hand around a bluegill, which he had just landed and was trying to release.

“I have also done tomahawk throwing,” Gideon said. “I hit the target. I also saw the sheep and wool display. Next, I want to shoot the bow and arrow.”

Gideon was accompanied by his grandmother, Pam Hughes, a retired Mount Vernon High School teacher.

“There is so much to do here,” she said. “It reaches so many age groups. They always have something new and different every year, and it’s so kid-friendly that the kids love to come and do it. Good family relationships are built here. It’s just a wonderful place to come with your family. They teach kids how to tie flies for fly fishing. Gideon’s grandfather just took him fishing, so he is interested in that.”

New for 2019 was a nine-hole miniature golf course and a station where kids could learn about caring for sheep. Alexa Jones of Fredericktown, President of the Junior Fair Board, was there to answer the kids’ questions about caring for sheep, with the help of a Suffox-Hampshire cross named ‘Mudbud.’

Geoff Cowles/News Fredericktown’s Alexa Jones, who is the president of the Junior Fair Board, poses with a Suffox-Hampshire cross named ‘Mudbud’ at the Pheasants Forever Youth Day.

Geoff Cowles/News

Fredericktown’s Alexa Jones, who is the president of the Junior Fair Board, poses with a Suffox-Hampshire cross named ‘Mudbud’ at the Pheasants Forever Youth Day.

“It’s super-interactive for the kids, which is good,” Jones said. “You get all different aspects of many kinds of activities here.”

Mudbud, still only 6 1/2 weeks old, didn’t seem to mind the attention and appeared to be figuring out how to escape from his pen.

Area resident Logan Miller, 9, tried his hand at throwing the tomahawk at a wooden target.

“It was pretty fun,” Logan said. “The secret to it is to bring it all the way back, keep your hand straight and throw it.”

Alek Hughett, 9, of Howard went straight to the Tomahawk throw as soon as he arrived at Youth Day.

“It’s fun,” Alek said. “It’s the first thing I tried today. You have to keep it straight. It tilts a little. Then you aim it at the target and throw it.”

James Grubaugh, 17, was at Field Day with his gun club — The Conservation Club of Centerburg. Although he’s no stranger to shooting, he decided to take his turn at the shooting range.

“It’s nice,” James said “There’s lots to do here.”

Nikki Frazier, 15, of Fredericktown, came out with her father. She already knows how to shoot, but still couldn’t pass up a chance to take a few shots.

“We’ve been coming out here for the past four years, just as a family thing,” Nikki said. “It’s just an annual thing for us to come out. It has gotten bigger over the few years we have come. I like fishing and building birdhouses. I also like seeing people from different communities.”

Stewart Poulnott, 13, is a Newark resident who recently moved from North Carolina.

“My mom and dad were at our homeschool group and they found out about it yesterday,” Stewart said. “My dad and I have been shooting, but my mom and my sister have been over on the other side, building birdhouses.”

Konrad Schiefer, a 4-H rifle instructor is one of several highly-trained adults that keep target shooting fun as well as safe.

“Our safety code is M.A.T.,” Schiefer said. “M for muzzle. Keep it pointed in a safe direction. A is action open. That way, you can tell that it’s not loaded. Otherwise, you have to assume it’s loaded. T for trigger. Keep your finger off the trigger, until you’re allowed to fire. Also, wear eye protection and ear protection.”

Schiefer has had his weather eye out all week and couldn’t be happier for the clear skies.

“I use the Weather Underground and Dark Sky apps and they both agreed that we would have good weather,” Schiefer said. “We got super lucky.”

Jace Dewitt, 8, of Mount Vernon was a first time shooter and decided to go to shoot at clay pigeons as they were launched skyward.

Jace had to overcome some fear, but bravely stepped up and took his shots.
“It was terrifying,” Jace said. “My earplug almost fell out. It’s pretty loud when you get up close. Also, it was kind of heavy and it pulled me back when I shot it. I was surprised a little. I also built a bird feeder and shot a bow and arrow.”

Silas McIlhenny of Centerburg Youth Shooting Sports, one of the area’s top trapshooters, was there to provide instruction and guidance.

“There’s no one part to safety that’s the most important,” McIlhenny said. “Every time you go out there, you practice safe methods and try to find a way to be more safe with your firearms.”

Frontiersmen Chuck Payne and Jeff Baker of Knox County teamed up with Running Wolf (a.k.a. Jim Moore of Delaware County) dressed in period clothing to give the kids and adults some living history, along with a
display of homemade products, complete with a pair of teepees.

“I just explained to the children that, 200 years ago or so, people couldn’t just go to Walmart and buy what they needed,” Payne said. “People would have to make everything they needed. We would have to trap animals. We used every part of the animal. We depended on the teeth, bones claws and skin of all of the animals we trap. Then, we go to our Indian brothers and trade for other things we needed.”


Geoff Cowles: 740-397-5333 or and on Twitter, @




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