Published September 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

Pantzke realizes her outdoors dream

Shawna Pantzke’s dream came true Saturday on Ransom County land someone described as “a slice of heaven.”

By: Tracy Frank, The Forum

Fort Ransom, N.D.

Shawna Pantzke’s dream came true Saturday on Ransom County land someone described as “a slice of heaven.”

The “Youth Outdoor Activity Day” – the first of its kind in the area – attracted more than 100 people to the one-quarter section of land Pantzke’s parents own north of Fort Ransom.

“This couldn’t be more perfect,” Pantzke said, standing on a hill overlooking the woods and ponds below on a sunny, autumn day.

At age 10, Pantzke blended in with the rest of the youth who got a taste of the outdoors on a trail that meandered through woods, up and down hills and around ponds.

There was a scavenger hunt in which youth tried to spot such items as an archery-target mountain lion mounted on a tree branch. There was archery, clay pigeon shooting, rifle shooting, rod-and-reel casting, habitat and soil conservation seminars and horse-drawn wagon rides.

It was all the brainchild of Pantzke.

After attending a Pheasants Forever national conference in Minneapolis last January, Pantzke not only expressed interest in serving on the national youth council, she asked her dad about holding a youth outdoor activity day on their Ransom County property.

It was all part of the Pheasants Forever “No Child Left Indoors Initiative.” One thing led to another.

Pantzke, who since March has been one of 18 members on the Pheasants Forever national youth council, has been working for this day with her parents, Bruce and Traci Pantzke.

“When she approached us about this, we realized we have the perfect property to have a youth day,” Traci said.

“We just want to get more youth outdoors,” Shawna said.

Such sentiment fit perfectly with the Pheasants Forever national objective to get more youth involved in the outdoors. Although North Dakota seems to be bucking the national trend of declining hunters, there remains a concern that youth aren’t exposed to the outdoors like they used to be.

According to the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national survey, the number of hunters 16-and-older declined 10 percent between 1996 to 2006 from 14 million to 12.5 million. The same survey revealed the number of Americans who fish was down 15 percent from 35.2 million to 30 million.

The survey also revealed that hunting remains vibrant in states like North Dakota.

“But it is important we get our young hunters hooked now,” said Doug Leier, biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “We don’t want to be looking in the rear view mirror saying we wish we would have done something.

“Without these kinds of events, it’s so tough for some kids to take that first step. This is kind of bridging that gap and providing the first-time experience.”

Like 13-year-old Sarah Chase of Wahpeton, N.D., who for the first time fired a shotgun at clay pigeons. Then there was Derek Wangler, a 12-year-old boy scout from Gwinner, N.D., who tried his luck at archery.

Jonathan Herberg, a 17-year-old from Moorhead, came to the event with Matt Fowler of Fargo – a member of the Pheasants Forever Dakota East Central Chapter, which helped sponsor the event with the Ransom County Chapter.

“I met Jonathan through the Big Brother-Big Sister program and we’ve been hunting together for the last five years,” Fowler said. “This event is a great idea. It’s an awesome setup. It’s God’s country.”

So was shooting clay pigeons or casting a rod-and-reel better than a Saturday morning of watching cartoons or playing videos.

“I don’t have any video games, so I don’t know,” Shawna said.

“Youth day is more than just hunting,” said Nate Medhus, another member of the Pheasants Forever Dakota East Central Chapter. “Yes, it helps keep the future of hunting alive. But it’s all about getting the youth to experience the outdoors.”

Just what Shawna had in mind.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549