Volunteers give Northland kids hands-on outdoors education

Ten-year-old Alex Lundgren steadied the .410-gauge shotgun. It was obvious that holding the gun and leveling it at a stationary target required a good deal of effort for her.

Alex Lundgren
Alex Lundgren, 10, of Rice Lake Township prepares to take her first shot with a .410-gauge shotgun at the Youth Fall Outdoor Expo held Aug. 25 at the Duluth Retriever Club. Assisting her is firearms safety instructor Bill Ulvi. (Sam Cook /

Ten-year-old Alex Lundgren steadied the .410-gauge shotgun. It was obvious that holding the gun and leveling it at a stationary target required a good deal of effort for her.

But Bill Ulvi, a firearms safety instructor, was there to help. With one big hand, he supported her arm to help control the barrel of the little gun. He moved the butt of the shotgun so it rested in just the right place on Alex's shoulder.

When she was all set, Alex slowly squeezed the trigger.

Alex and Ulvi were both part of the Youth Fall Outdoor Expo on Aug. 25 at the Duluth Retriever Club. The event drew about 85 youths to the club's expansive grounds to learn about trapshooting, upland hunting, duck hunting, archery, dog handling, trapping and more.

When Alex fired the .410, the gun's barrel jumped. Her shoulder lurched with the recoil. Then she calmly broke open the gun, and the empty hull of the shell popped out trailing a wisp of spent gunpowder.


"It was fun, but it was really loud," said Alex, who was wearing hearing protection. "When I shot, it made me tilt back."

This was the first time that she had fired a shotgun. The day-long event allowed Alex and the other kids plenty of chances to sample new experiences in the outdoors. The event is held annually by the Izaak Walton League, the Duluth Retriever Club and several other sponsors.

A similar youth field day was held two weeks earlier at the United Northern Sportsmen's Club, co-sponsored by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

The events aim to get more kids exposed to the outdoors, to shooting and hunting and the natural world.

At a darkened tent on the retriever club grounds, an imaginary whitetail buck walked through the winter woods on a wide screen. Inside the tent, girls giggled. Greta Weinkauf, 15, and Hallie Lundquist, 12, and Hallie's sister Riki Lundquist, 15, were firing laser beams at the buck in a simulated hunting situation.

"It was intense," Hallie said, emerging into the bright sunlight later. "Greta kept getting them all."

Not far away, 12-year-old Mackenzie Domerchie of Duluth was stepping on the spring of a leg-hold trap with her flip-flop and painted toenails. With the help of Shawn Johnson, president of the Minnesota Trappers Association, she was trying to set the trap. Eventually, she got it. She has never been trapping before.

"But I'm going to try it this year," Mackenzie said.


Later, at a picnic table, Johnson pulled pelt after pelt from a large bag and laid them on the table. Young hands reached out, stroking fisher and coyote and fox hides, while Johnson explained the fine points of fur.

At the edge of a wetland, Rich Staffon held a handful of mud and muck in his hand. Staffon, recently retired as an area wildlife manager in Cloquet for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, was teaching a class in wetland ecology. In a tight circle around him, kids listened as he told how productive a marsh is.

He and the kids moved to the marsh, where Staffon used a screen to sort through a sample of marsh sediment. Small fingers pawed though the muck, searching for insects -- and finding them.

At one point, Staffon held up a stonefly.

"There's lots of protein in a stonefly," Staffon said. "If you're a duck, that's like a hamburger."

All day long, the kids rotated through eight stations, learning about muskrats and muck and muzzleloaders and mallards. Whether the young people will grow into hunters or trappers or retriever trainers is impossible to know.

But for one day, they came to know something about the wonder of being outdoors.

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