BY SHERI TRUSTY
When 11-year-old April Osborne of Port Clinton attended the Day on the Wildside event at the Winous Point Hunt Club last year, she was too afraid of the rifles and shotguns to try her hand at marksmanship. This year, she is older and braver, and she learned that, when used properly, guns can be fun.
“So far, shooting was my favorite,” Osborne said about halfway through the seven-hour event. “It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. It was fun.”
The Day on the Wildside is an annual event hosted by the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) along with local partners. It is designed to give youths in grades 5 through 8 the opportunity to experience outdoor recreation. In addition to shooting rifles and shotguns, participants learned how to fish, band birds and identify snakes. They took archery lessons and enjoyed a punt boat ride in the marsh.
Sixty youths participated in Day on the Wildside recently, but many more wanted to attend the event that has gained popularity since its inception in 2010.
“We had quite a wait list this year,” said SWCD Technician Kylie Nissen.
Of the 60, 45 were first-time participants.
“So we had 45 kids who had never been here before. It’s exciting we have so many new people,” said SWCD Environmental Educator and Fiscal Manager, Becky Simpson.
That means more kids, like Osborne, are experiencing outdoor recreation opportunities for the first time.
“Many of them have never fired a gun before,” said Ohio Wildlife Officer Matt D. Smith. “They hit a bullseye or a clay pigeon, and they get pumped about that.”
Before taking them on the range, Ohio Division of Wildlife officials taught participants basic firearm safety and firearm fundamentals.
“It teaches them respect for guns and shows them that a gun is a tool,” Smith said. “This experience can plant a seed. Maybe they’ll want to join a shooting club or try hunting.”
Jim Brown, an Assistant Wildlife Management Supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said Day on the Wildside gives kids the opportunity to learn about guns in a controlled environment. He has participated in the event for about nine years.
“We always get lots of positive feedback and lots of repeats. They talk about this station from year to year,” he said.
Gage Voltz of Sandusky and Carter Sullivan of Perkins Township, both 12, said they learned a lot about plant life during a punt ride boat through the Winous Point marshes. Sullivan said the ride was his favorite part of the morning activities.
“I liked archery, and I liked shooting,” Voltz said.
Eleven-year-old Lara Peters of Oak Harbor said her favorite morning activity was shooting a gun.
“I learned what some of the flowers in the marsh are called,” Peters said. “This is my second year here. I came back because I enjoyed it last year. I enjoy everything we do.”