Event encourages youth, small-game hunting

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STERLING — Getting children and families into the woods to hunt small game is the focus of the Sterling Sportsmen’s Association’s annual squirrel and rabbit hunt Feb. 10.

Co-organizer Heath Kroczaleski said small-game hunting isn’t as popular as it was in the past, but has plenty of positive aspects for novice hunters.

“I think it’s easy for the kids,” he said. “There are a lot of squirrel and rabbits. You’re not using big guns or anything. It’s more of a group or family thing. It’s not like deer hunting where you’re doing it alone.”

Jason Vallad, who runs the hunt with Kroczaleski, said it can be difficult to shoot small game, which makes the hunt a fun time.

“You’re in the woods and a lot of times you’re shooting rabbits on the run,” he said. “It’s a sport. Then you kind of add a competition to it and it makes it more fun I guess.”

Teams in the competition can have up to six hunters, and per every two adults on the team, there must be a youth 16 years old or younger.

“We did that because otherwise you’re going to have a group of adults and they’ll win and take the trophies from the kids,” Kroczaleski said. “If you say you have to have at least one kid maybe they’ll get a neighbor kid to go hunting with them.”

“You’ll see parents with kids that spend the day together,” he said. “The way times are anymore, fast-moving, you don’t get the day together and the meal and everything.”

Every youth on a team adds one extra pound, with the heaviest total — consisting of up to six animals — deciding the winner, Vallad said.

“There are incentives for having kids,” he said. “You weigh in like you would any fishing tournament or in this case a small-game tournament. You weigh in your game. You get points for having them skinned and ready for cooking, because afterward we do cook the game. And there are incentives for having kids. It goes by the top weight.”

Having a rabbit ready to cook adds two pounds, and a ready-to-cook squirrel is one pound. Trophies and prizes are awarded to the winning teams.

“I go to Northwoods and Frank’s (Great Outdoors) and get stuff donated,” Kroczaleski said. “The kids are happy to get whatever is donated. I also get trophies. We’ve only done the trophy now for two years.”

While prizes are awarded for the heaviest hauls, the real point of the competition is to promote the sport as a family activity. Vallad said while small-game hunting isn’t nearly as popular as it was in the past, he has fond memories of participating in it.

“I don’t know as many people doing it as much as they used to,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older I don’t go as often. I used to look forward to going every year with my grandpa.”

“He used to take me rabbit hunting when I was younger and that’s what the Sterling Sportsmen are looking to do with it,” Vallad said.

The event has grown a lot over the years, Kroczaleski said. The first year he participated there were about 10 people, but last year there were 60, he said.

“That was a pretty good turnout,” he said. “My goal is to get it bigger than that.”

Hunters in the contest must follow all state and federal guidelines. Registration for the hunt will be held at the clubhouse twice — Friday, Feb. 9, from 6-8 p.m. and Saturday morning the day of the event from 8-9 a.m. Hunters can start as early as 8 a.m. if they are already registered.

For more information, contact Kroczaleski at 989-239-9819 or Vallad at 989-928-8470.

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