July 12, 2001 11:00 pm
ACCOMPLISHED BOWMAN: Marco Valerio of Medical Springs competes at a Youth Hunter Education Challenge event. (Photo/MAURIZIO VALERIO).
ACCOMPLISHED BOWMAN: Marco Valerio of Medical Springs competes at a Youth Hunter Education Challenge event. (Photo/MAURIZIO VALERIO).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

William Cook and Marco Valerio are not taking feathers lightly this summer.

Valerio, 13, of Medical Springs, and Cook, 15, of La Grande are preparing to compete in the International Youth Hunter Education Challenge in Raton, N.M., July 29 to Aug. 3.

They are among just 12 outdoorsmen from Oregon who have qualified for the National Rifle Association-sponsored event. Marco and Cook are the only Union or Wallowa county residents who will be competing at the international competition.

Hunters are tested on things such as marksmanship, orienteering, understanding of hunter ethics and wildlife identification.

The wildlife identification phase promises to be especially challenging. Entrants will be tested on wildlife from throughout North America. The clues provided will be limited. For example, individuals may have to identify big-game animals based upon plaster casts of their tracks and birds based upon their


Valerio and Cook are taking a closer look at feathers this summer as a result.

Several weeks ago Valerio and his father, Maurizio, found an interesting feather while practicing archery near Medical Springs. They took it home for closer examination.

At first I thought it was a red-tailed hawk. But it turned out that it was a turkey, Marco said.

He placed second earlier this year in the junior division of the state Youth Hunter Education Challenge. Cook finished third. Both are members of a five-member junior team coached by Buck Buckner of Baker City.

Buckner said that at nationals, competitors may have to do things such as identify bald and golden eagles based upon models of their lower legs. Bald eagles have fine feathers on their lower legs. Golden eagles have bare lower legs.

Entrants will have to make quick decisions on more than wildlife identification. They will also have to make determinations on a hunting ethics test that will be conducted on a trail. Competitors can expect to see things such as a picture of a rabbit when walking down a trail. Individuals may be told that they are 15-20 feet from the rabbit and can legally shoot it.

The question they may be asked is, Is it ethical to shoot the rabbit?

The answer is no because firing from such close range would destroy the meat of the rabbit, Buckner said.

The International Youth Hunter Education Challenge competition will be conducted at the NRAs Whittington Center in Raton. This is a 33,000-acre site with plenty of room to conduct orienteering competitions. In orienteering, entrants are given a topographic map and a compass. They must find a location by following compass readings and walking instructions that indicate how many feet to move.

Entrants must know not only how to read a compass and but also how to calculate distance by pacing.

No tape measures or global positioning systems are allowed.

Valerio is enjoying learning about orienteering and other subjects.

It is amazing the things you find out, he said.

In the marksmanship events there will be archery, muzzle loader, .22-caliber rifle and sporting clays competition. In all but the sporting clays competition entrants will fire at distances of 25, 50 and 75 yards. In the shotgun competition entrants will shoot at airborne sporting clays from a blind.

Buckner said that entrants often are jittery at the start of the competition.

They do get nervous. The job of the coach is to calm them down, said Buckner, whose assistant coaches are Richard Gorts of North Powder and Phil Jenson of Nyssa.

Cook and Valerio have proven that they can perform under pressure by their placings at the state contest.

Entrants who fare poorly in an early event will have many chances to make up for it because all eight events are worth 300 points.

In addition to YHECs eight main events, special activities that do not count in the scoring will be conducted during the week. They will include the Cherokee Run, where entrants sprint through a forest while being timed on mountain man skills such as tomahawk throwing and starting fires with flint and steel.

The NRAs Youth Hunter Education Challenge has been conducted since 1985. Buckner said the objective of the program is to develop ethical and responsible outdoorsmen.

Valerio is the son of Rocky and Sandy Cook. Valerio is the son of Maurizio and Allison Valerio.