Wisconsin >> For the past five years, youth in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, have had their very own bear hunt — a teddy bear hunt, that is.
The League’s A.D. Sutherland Chapter hosts an annual Teddy Bear Hunt to get youth outdoors and introduce a few hunting basics. The genesis of the event was an article in this magazine. “I read about the Brown County Chapter’s teddy bear hunt in Outdoor America,” says event organizer Liz Roy, “and I thought ‘We could do that!’” Roy holds offices in both the chapter and state division and serves on the League’s national Environmental Education Committee. She also grew up right next door to the A.D. Sutherland Chapter. The chapter’s 27-acre property played an important role in her childhood adventures — and now she’s inviting a new generation to explore the outdoors.
Chapter members and their families help staff the bear hunt — which starts, of course, with the bears. Some bears are donated to the chapter and others are purchased by the chapter. Volunteers wrap each bear in a plastic bag to keep it dry and clean, then hide the bears in a designated area. Bears are placed behind trees, in “dens” made of tree branches, and among rocks in the woods.
When families first arrive, they visit the Registration Station to pick up a “hunting license” that includes the names of each family member. Young hunters also receive a registration tag that allows them to “harvest” one bear. Then families are directed to the area where bears are waiting to be found. When children find a bear they want to harvest, they turn in their registration tags and the bears are theirs to keep.
“Family Outdoor Adventure Day” was added to the title to attract older children to the event, which also includes instruction in pellet guns, archery (hosted by a competitive archer), and casting (demonstrated in a “backyard bass” setup). Youth also construct something to benefit backyard wildlife, such as a bird feeder, bird house, or squirrel feeder (the chapter plans something different each year for repeat attendees). A few indoor activities are part of the event, such as nature crafts. Izaak Walton League materials (including the popular Young Ikes booklets) and information for parents on firearms safety are also available.
All of this is free for youth and their families. The chapter offers a few lunch items for purchase and encourages families to bring their own picnic lunches to enjoy outdoors if they prefer. The goal is to get kids outdoors without barriers such as event costs in an area that was hit hard by economic decline.
The chapter advertises the event in the local newspaper to bring in community members who may not know about the chapter. Attendance averages 75-100 “hunters” each year, and families have also inquired about membership in the chapter. “It’s a wonderful place to bring children to experience the outdoors — without structured guidance from adults. Children don’t get to experience the outdoors like I did when I was a kid,” says Roy. “It’s such a loss.” She hopes that events like the chapter’s teddy bear hunt will help local families get back into nature.