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JAKES Day helps youngsters get hooked on the outdoors
David Cleghorn helps grandson Breckan Kirby, 3, of Clermont hook a catfish Saturday during JAKES Day at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center. JAKES stands for Juniors Achieving Knowledge and Ethics in Sportsmanship. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Jeremy Martin, 8, cradled the 20-gauge shotgun in his arms and yelled out “pull!” before blasting away at a flying fluorescent orange disc under the close supervision of a firearms instructor.

For Jeremy, the kick of the gun wasn’t anything he hadn’t felt back at his Murrayville home, where he shoots shotguns and deer rifles with his dad.

But for many of the hundreds of children who queued up for their turn at the firing range during Saturday’s JAKES Day at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center, it was their first time firing a real gun, not some video game simulation.

“That was fun,” Jeremy told his mother, Corrinne, after taking his three shots at the clay pigeons. “It was worth the wait.”

JAKES (Juniors Achieving Knowledge and Ethics in Sportsmanship) is an annual event put on by the Foothills Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation to promote outdoor sports among young people. Besides clay pigeon shooting, Saturday’s event, which drew up to 1,000 people, included fish wrangling, slingshot and archery booths and turkey calling.

Volunteer Kenneth Roberts said JAKES Day is the kind of event needed to stimulate interest in the great outdoors.

“We’ve seen a decline in participation in hunting and fishing, and the only way to get some of them interested is to have events like this,” Robert said.

Indeed, a study released this year by the nonprofit Outdoor Federation found an 11 percent decline in outdoor recreation participation among youth age 6 to 17 between 2006 and 2007.

Another study says the U.S. hunting population fell 23 percent between the mid-1980s and 2001, with another decline of 24 percent expected between now and 2025.

“Each year the number of people purchasing hunting and fishing license goes down,” said National Wild Turkey Federation volunteer Bobby Aikens. “This is our opportunity to introduce outdoor sports to kids.”

Marci Summer of Hall County Parks and Leisure said the federation’s fundraising and the 70-plus volunteers who put on JAKES Day made possible a free event that would have cost as much $40,000 otherwise.

She noted that one big difference from video game simulations and Saturday’s hands-on activities was that “our whole event focuses on adults interacting one on one with children,” teaching safety along with the basics of the sport.

Jeremy’s mother approved.

“It pretty fun,” she said. “It’s good for the kids.”