By Eric Morken
No one knows more about the importance of conservation than the people who spend the ma-jority of their fall in the woods and the fields and their summer on the water.
Being an outdoorsman and a conservationist go hand-in-hand. No group does more to ensure that the next generation will have plenty of opportunity to hunt and fish in the future. It’s getting that next generation to carry the torch that may be an issue.
Hunting has become the fast-est dying sport in the United States. States like Minnesota have done their part to try and get young people into hunting by setting up youth hunts and adjusting their laws to get kids involved at a younger age.
The local Viking Sportsmen’s group knows how important it is to the future of outdoor sports to get the youth involved. They see plenty of kids in the area who enjoy hunting and fishing. The group hopes to make them see how critical they are to maintain-ing that tradition.
“It’s tremendously important,” Viking Sportsmen member Mark Anderson said. “It’s extremely important that someone else carries the torch when we can’t.”
That’s why Anderson, along with Viking Sportsmen members John Esbjornsson, Todd Lan-ners and Jim Stratton, has taken it upon himself to help lead the way. All four work as advisors for the local Junior Viking Sportsmen’s Club, which helps to keep kids involved in the out-doors at the high school level.
The local club has been around since the late 1960s. A lot of the current Viking Sports-men were a part of the junior club early in their lives. They hope to get more of the youth involved at an important time.
“[The Viking Sportsmen] sponsor the Junior Vikings fi-nancially, focusing on enhanc-ing the younger generation and keeping them active in the out-door sports,” Anderson said. “It’s the fastest dying sport in the nation, so it’s of big importance to the Viking Sportsmen to keep this going.”
Their focus is on keeping boys and girls excited about the outdoors. The Junior Viking Sportsmen meet the first and third Monday of every month during the school year at 7 p.m. in the Bemo Building on the northeast corner of the fair-grounds. Almost every meeting features a speaker who can teach the students a little some-thing about the outdoors. From duck calling seminars to dog training tips, the group tries to bring in a speaker who can offer some advice on a subject of interest.
“We try to ask the kids, ‘Who do you want to come in for next week?’ ” Anderson said. “We try to schedule our speakers for the time of the year. During the fall we might have a duck caller, predator callers in the winter. We try to find a speaker who they’re interested in. That’s what our goal is, to keep them inter-ested.”
Getting them into the outdoors goes a long way towards doing that. A sporting clays shoot is scheduled every fall and spring for the kids. A field trip to the Sand Lake Wildlife Management Area in the northeast corner of South Dakota to catch the wa-terfowl migration has been a popular event in the past. The sight of thousands of snow geese covering a body of water gives the students a first-hand experience of how beneficial quality habitat is.
The Junior Viking Sportsmen work closely with the Pioneer Heritage Conservation Trust out of Evansville to ensure water-fowl around Douglas County get the proper nesting habitat they need. Every year, these two groups team up to build and maintain nesting cylinders to place in area sloughs and lakes.
The Junior Viking Sportsmen also host a Habitat Day at the Viking Plaza Mall every other year. This is an opportunity for the high school kids in the group to get younger kids involved by building waterfowl houses and raising money through a good will donation.
“We draw in hundreds of peo-ple,” Anderson said. “We build around 500 wood duck houses in a day and probably 300-400 bluebird houses in a day.”
The Alexandria Wal-Mart also helped out the club by donating $3,000 to the group last year. Most of the money raised through the Junior Viking Sportsmen goes to the Viking Sportsmen, who use it to help out local habitat projects that the students can use for years to come.
The hope is that seeing the fruits of their labor through these projects leaves a lasting im-pression. The future of hunting and fishing depend on that.
“Hunters can’t help but to be environmentalists,” Anderson said. “We are absolutely at-tached to the environment for our recreation. If we lose this younger population, well then, we lose our future in the out-doors.”