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Youths bond with nature, family during hunting season

News Photo by Julie Riddle Hunter Jumper, a young hunter participating in this year’s Liberty Hunt for Michigan’s young and disabled hunters, hefts a rifle in the woods near Rogers City.

ROGERS CITY — The cheerful 13-year-old didn’t get a deer on the first day of this year’s youth hunt.

No worries, young Hunter Jumper said.

After all, there’s more to hunting than what you bring home in the back of your pickup truck.

Every September, young hunters take to the forest during Michigan’s annual Liberty Hunt, a two-day deer hunting window for youths 16 and under and eligible hunters with disabilities.

In a sunny patch of woods near Rogers City, Jumper deftly demonstrated the handling of his .30-30 lever-action rifle. The hunter safety class he took recently makes sure young people know how to handle guns safely and protect themselves and those around them, he said.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Young woodsman Hunter Jumper heads to a deer blind near Rogers City on Sunday, the second day of the 2020 Liberty Hunt for young hunters.

A stool perched in a weathered deer blind — by the looks of it, a hut that has sheltered many generations of hunters — gives him a vantage point through the low-tech Plexiglas window covers that can be dropped with the twist of a nail to make way for the nose of a rifle, should a deer come wandering into view.

The best part of hunting, Jumper said, includes those windows.

“Just watching,” the young hunter said. “Watching nature.”

Hunting gives kids a connection to northern Michigan’s past, Jumper said, giving them — through the heft of a gun, the sounds and smells of the outdoors, and the thrill of the hunt — a taste of what those who settled the land may have experienced.

And, too, it’s a way to spend time with his dad.

News Photo by Julie Riddle On the second day of Michigan’s annual Liberty Hunt, Hunter Jumper gets settled in a weathered deer blind near Rogers City.

Frankie Jumper, who lost his own dad while he was young, learned from friends the skills he’s now passing on to his sons. His youngest, at 5 years old, is ready to hold a youth-sized gun and start learning the basics, the elder Jumper said.

On Saturday, the first day of the Liberty Hunt, Hunter Jumper’s dad told him to hold out for an antlered buck. One of his friends got a nine-pointer his first day out, Jumper heard.

On Sunday, though, Frankie Jumper told his son to shoot at whatever he liked. They were in the woods to bring home venison, if they could, but that wasn’t the most important part of the youth hunt.

“It’s spending quality time with each other,” said the father, preparing to spend the better part of a day in a small hut with his eldest son, a gun, and a fortifying snack of Froot Loops cereal. “Even if you don’t see anything all day. It’s nice to be able to just hang out and chill together.”

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News Photo by Julie Riddle Young hunter Josh Altman, 14, proudly heads off on his first bear hunt in Presque Isle County on Sunday.

In another part of the Up North woodlands, Rogers City High School freshman Josh Altman was on the hunt for another kind of game.

“Hopefully, tonight will be the night,” Altman said hopefully, a grin flashing across his face on the opening day of bear season.

One of the lucky few permitted to hunt the large animal this year, Altman is putting to use the skills handed down by generations in hopes of putting meat in his family’s freezer and a magnificent head on his wall.

On Sunday afternoon, the youth and his dad headed to a swampy area near Posen, with high hopes of being the first of his friends to bring home a bear.

Getting a bear tag isn’t easy. Last year, over 10,000 people applied for a bear license in the Red Oak unit — encompassing 16 Northeast Michigan counties — which awards no more than 700 licenses annually. Most hunters have to wait about 10 years before amassing enough points in a complex point system to be chosen for a bear tag.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Teen hunter Josh Altman shares a pre-hunt laugh with his dad, Tim Altman, who passed on the bear tag he was lucky enough to get for this year’s hunt. The pair headed to the woods Sunday for the first day of bear season, passing along the traditions of a family and a community.

Altman’s dad, Tim Altman, already had a chance to bag a bear, more than a decade ago. When he was awarded a license this year, he was ready to hand the opportunity to his son.

“We’ll see if he can do better than I did,” Tim Altman said, as the exuberant pair finished loading their truck and prepared to head into the woods.

The younger Altman has gone hunting with his dad each hunting season since he was 9 or 10.

By age 11, he was ready to go through a hunter safety class. When the regular deer season opens on November 15, Altman will head out for a deer — for the first time hunting on his own, he reported, an eager gleam in his eye.

Hunting is a vital part of caring for the environment, Altman knows, even at a young age.

Communicable diseases have ravaged deer populations in other parts of the state, he’s learned. As a hunter, he’s able to help control the local deer population and keep deer diseases at bay while also helping local farmers — his own relatives among them — earn a living by reducing the number of deer damaging their land.

This week, though, is about getting a bear.

Altman has been putting out bait — legal for bear hunting, within certain parameters — on his uncle’s farm for the past three weeks. A bear caught on a trail cam has been a regular evening visitor to the bait barrel.

It’s rare to get a bear. Last year, from 700 possible licenses in the Red Oak unit, only 318 successful hunts were registered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

If he’s lucky, and quiet, and isn’t sniffed out by his quarry, Altman may nab a bear — which will then be hung in a barn on a nearby farm, where family members will skin and quarter it.

“I’ll probably just be watching,” Altman admitted.

Gun in hand, the 14-year-old is ready to carry on family tradition — a tradition repeated many times over in the hunting homes of northern Michigan.

“Both sides of the family have been doing it forever,” Altman said. “It’s just kind of what we do.”

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