Yes, the countdown has begun in earnest as the final days of another school click off the calendar and youngsters anticipate another summer of activities that may include fishing, picnics, swimming, playing or watching sports and vacation trips.

It seems just a few weeks ago those students were looking forward to a few days away from school for the Easter break, and, suddenly, another year is almost in the books. Well, time will seem to pass even faster in the summer, and for many youngsters the arrival of fall is not all that bad and some actually enjoy returning to school and exchanging stories with their friends.

Fall also signals the beginning of another hunting year, and now is the time for clubs and other outdoors organizations to make plans for an organized junior pheasant hunt or other special hunts established by the Pennsylvania Game Commission for squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl and fall turkey. In particular, those clubs planning a junior pheasant hunt have until July 22 to apply to receive free pheasants from the PGC.

"Hunting's future is directly related to the continuing participation of young Pennsylvanians," PGC executive director Carl Roe said. "Successfully competing with all the other activities and recreational opportunities that vie for a young person's time is truly a challenge for the Game Commission, as well as Pennsylvania's nearly one million hunters.

"To maximize this opportunity for younger hunters, and to ensure we pass along the importance of ethics and sound ideals that have shaped our hunting heritage, the Game Commission urges local clubs to consider hosting a junior pheasant hunt or other special junior hunts in their communities. Those clubs interested in hosting a junior pheasant hunt are encouraged to use the 26-page planning guide prepared by the Game Commission and the Pennsylvania State Chapter of Pheasants Forever."

A step-by-step guide on how to develop an organized junior pheasant hunt, the book includes a sample timeline, suggested committees and assignments, general event planning considerations and several sample forms and news releases. It also includes event evaluation guides so clubs and organizations may consider changes for future junior pheasant hunts.

A junior pheasant guide can be adapted to host other special hunts, including those for rabbit, squirrel, waterfowl and spring gobbler. To view the guide, go to the PGC website at www.pgc.state.pa.us [1], click on "HUNT/TRAP" in the menu bar, then click on "Hunting" in the drop-down menu listing, select the "Pheasant" in the "Small Game" listing and choose "Junior Pheasant Hunt Planning Guide" in the Junior Pheasant Hunt" section.

Once a club schedules a junior hunt, it can submit the information for posting on the PGC on-line "Special Hunts" calendar, which enables those looking to participate in special hunts to locate and register on-line for an opportunity near them. Clubs that want to have their junior hunt advertised in the "Special Hunts" calendar should contact agency outreach coordinator Samantha Pedder at sapedder@pa.gov [2] or at 717-787-4250, ext. 3327.

To bolster participation in the junior pheasant hunt, the PGC again plans to stock pheasants just prior to this special season. For the 2012 hunt, the agency will release 15,000 birds on lands open to public hunting and will be identified in the 2012-2013 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, future news releases and on the agency's website.

To participate in these junior hunts, youngsters must be 12-16 years of age, and must have successfully completed a basic Hunter-Trapper Education course. As required by law, an adult must accompany the young hunters, and participating hunters do not need to purchase a junior hunting license to take part in the junior hunt, but all participants must comply with the mandatory fluorescent orange requirements established for the season.

Based on previous surveys of junior pheasant hunt participants, about half of the juniors successfully bag game; a male relative had accompanied most of them; the majority of participants were between the ages of 12-14; many of them intend to hunt again; and the PGC received many positive comments about the junior hunting opportunity.