The Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association holds an annual Youth Journalism Contest.
Open to all youths, 18 and under, the contest is designed to stimulate an interest in outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, boating, camping, hiking, and most outdoor activities--and the ability to communicate this interest to the public.
This highly-popular contest attracts entrants from all over Louisiana and neighboring states, and is lauded by educators statewide as an effective youth literacy project.
The contest has three categories consisting of Senior Essay (14-18 YOA), Junior Essay (13 YOA and under), and Photography (18 YOA and under) and features cash prizes donated by the Louisiana Chapter of Safari Club International.
Awards are given in 1st through 4th place in each category, and the winning students will be recognized by LOWA at the annual conference banquet which is usually held yearly in August. Additionally, the winning entries will be published on the LOWA and LDWF websites, as well as in publications and on websites across the state.
Entries accepted from the beginning of each fall hunting season through May.
2014 LOWA Youth Journalism - Senior Essay Contest Winners
SENIOR ESSAY-FIRST PLACE
Cedar Creek School, Arcadia
The Buck Above My Bed
It’s the morning after Thanksgiving, prime time for deer hunting. Where else would I be but in a deer stand in the woods? I’m no stranger to waking up early, but sleep overpowers me due to the sheer amount of food that I ate at dinner with my family last night. I rest my head on the rail in front of me and drift off while waiting for dawn. The sound that wakes me breaks the songs of the birds and the movement of squirrels through the leaves: a gunshot. I open my eyes, still facing the ground below me through the railing of the stand. A few thoughts flit through my mind: “Who was that? Could it have been my brother, or my father? Maybe my uncle …” I lift my head to see which direction it came from. That’s when I see the largest buck of my life. Now a million thoughts are racing through my mind: “Did it see me move? Can I grab my gun without spooking it? It’s in between two trees … that’s a tough shot.” I realize it’s eating acorns, so I grab my rifle. It’s been dead-on accurate at one hundred yards this whole season – will it fail me now?
My thumb flicks the safety off without me having to think about it, and I peer through the scope. Most of the buck is obscured by trees, but there’s an area about two feet wide that allows me to see the shoulder. This is perfect for me. The adrenaline pumping through me makes me nervous, but seems to focus my skills. I aim at the shot just behind the shoulder and squeeze the trigger just like my father taught my brother and me. I hardly even notice the kick of the gun, the sound of the explosion from its barrel. I raise my head and see the buck running off apparently – hopefully – wounded. My right hand automatically operates the bolt action immediately after I fire. The bolt ejects the empty shell and replaces it with a new one. My thumb clicks the safety back on, I pick up the empty .270 caliber shell from its resting place on my seat, hoping and praying that this is the shell that will get a wall-hanger for me. After waiting for a few minutes, I climb down the ladder eager and nervous about what I might find. My feet find the ground and I set off towards the nine-point buck that was waiting for me in the middle of the woods.
That was almost three years ago. Now that buck is right above my bed, keeping watch while I sleep. Many things hang off its anglers, such as turkey feathers from last spring’s youth hunt, a baseball state championship medal, and the empty cartridge that’s responsible for the buck being on the wall, the date of the kill written on the brass.
Deer seasons come and go. Some are successful, others not so much. Still, the nine-point is fixed on my wall, a monument to my greatest kill. One day my children will ask about each head that hangs in my house, just as I have asked my father. I will tell them many stories: stories about my first deer, my first buck, and the biggest buck I’ve every killed. But the nine-point will be my greatest, the first true testament to my skill as a hunter.
SENIOR ESSAY – 2ND PLACE
Jesuit High, New Orleans
Bow Hunting: A Wait That Was Worth It
The first time I was introduced to bow hunting was in Oak Ridge, Louisiana, by my good friend, Rusty. Rusty and I share many interests in the outdoors including duck hunting, duck calling, deer hunting and fishing. When he told me that we were bow hunting on a trip to Oak Ridge, I became curious and excited. I didn’t really know what to expect because bow hunting was a new sport for me. That afternoon, we packed up our gear and hit the woods for an afternoon hunt. Although Rusty didn’t get a show, he let me shoot his bow for the first time and I was hooked.
One year later, I found myself sitting in the same tree, except this time with my own bow and I had practiced shooting almost every day after school and all summer. I didn’t see many deer that day, which was a little disappointing but not discouraging. However, the same night as my first hunt, we were practicing behind the camp and my bow broke. During the five-hour car ride home, I wondered who did this have to happen in the middle of the season. As soon as we returned to New Orleans, I was ready to go to the archery shop. Unfortunately, when I showed them the problem, they informed me it would take over a month to fix, so I was done for the season.
After nearly two months, I finally got the call that my bow was ready. I practiced nonstop, shot 3D tournaments, and had competitions with my brothers every chance I got. Needless to say, I was ready for the 2013 season.
In mid-September my dad informed me that my brothers and I had been invited to go on a hunting trip to Texas during our Christmas break with one of his lifelong hunting friends. So I practiced even more waiting for the moment of truth. Upon our arrival at the ranch, the owner said that he has a nice buck that he would like me to shoot. I knew he wouldn’t want one of his trophy bucks to be wounds by an amateur bow hunter, so I wasn’t upset when he handed me a .270 caliber rifle instead of my bow and said, “Good luck!” Shortly after the hunt started, I shot a 145-inch, typical ten point. Although it was a buck of a lifetime, I knew right then I’d rather be a bow hunter.
The next morning, I woke up ready to go with bow in hand and “today is the day” enthusiasm! We were hunting in a tent blind. As the sun came up, a doe gave me the perfect shot, but it was so dark inside the blind I couldn’t see the sights on my bow. I didn’t want to take an unsure shot, so I held off. A little later, a deer walked out to the side of the blind and gave me a 30-yard shot. My adrenaline had me shaking; but I slowly drew back as my friend turned on the video camera. I got to full draw and asked him if he was ready. When he said yes, I made what I thought was a perfect shot. I then saw my arrow sticking into a tree right behind where the deer was standing. Both of us thought I missed. Quickly, I opened another window just in time to see my deer stumble and fall over! When we played back the footage, we saw that I had actually gotten a full pass-through. Finally, all my hard work has paid off! I was a bow hunter.
The next day, I was still very excited that I had made my first archery kill! I asked my dad if I could bow hunt again and he said yes. That evening, we didn’t see anything until three does came out, and I waited for one to give me a shot. When the farthest one presented a shot, I got the OK from my friend, drew back, and shot. We saw the deer turn and run off, but I used my binoculars to see that the arrow was covered in blood. We got down and started tracking the blood trail. After only about five minutes, there she lay: a mature doe. I couldn’t believe it, two bow hunts in one weekend and a trophy buck to boot. What a reward after a long wait and a lot of practice!
Since those hunts, I have left the rifle at home and bow hunted all over Louisiana in include fishing. After one trip, I heard my dad say, “Matthew could survive with only a bow.” I tend to agree and am glad I live in a place like Louisiana that will allow me to do just that.
SENIOR ESSAY-THIRD PLACE
BG Country Day School, Lafayette
Cruising through the Ship Channel with my mom in Grand Isle, La., I saw what looked like a small island of white caps surrounded by smooth water. I studied the waves and ripples for a while and then noticed mullet torpedoing out of the water. A couple seconds later, I observed the waves were actually the wakes of feeding redfish. Immediately I alerted by mom, and she took a sharp left turn towards the school of fish. I climbed onto the front of our boat with a shrimp baited rod.
Instantly, as we drove into the school of redfish, I tossed my bait out and hooked a fish. The drag was screaming as the monofilament melted off my reel. Then suddenly, I lost the tension. The redfish popped my line. Without delay, we cruised over to the next visible school of redfish. I quickly grabbed another rod with plastic bait. Wasting no time, I cast out and hooked a fish immediately. Subsequently, I lost this fish as quickly as I hooked it. Disheartened, I concluded that another redfish swam into my line, cut his school mate free. We spent the next half-hour desperately cruising the Ship Channel for feeding redfish. With no signs of the fish, we decided to head to our next fishing spot.
Later that week, speeding through the Ship Channel, we again saw a large group of white caps on the glassy water in front of the boat. Taking a closer look, we saw mullet jumping, and redfish chasing in hot pursuit. Quickly we cut the engine and put down the trolling motor. I tossed by bait out. As soon as it hit the water, the cork went under. Instinctively I set the hook as hard as I could. The drag started to scream (ZZZZZZZZ). A few minutes after setting the hook, we landed a 30-pound redfish.
Again the school disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. By this time the school of redfish were nowhere to be found. With the school out of sight, we anchored to catch deeper swimming redfish on the bottom of the channel. As I was dragging my minnow across the bottom of the Ship Channel, I felt a bump. Instantly I set the hook. The fish franticly swam in front of the boat and tangled the line in the trolling motor. In the excitement of catching another big redfish, my brother lunged forward, grabbed the trolling motor, and untangled the line as fast as lightning. Together we landed the 20-pound redfish.
There is nothing better than fishing with my family when school is out … especially when a school of redfish is out.
SENIOR ESSAY-FOURTH PLACE
Erath High School
As we sat by the fire on that cool June night, I doubted that any of us knew that our lives were forever going to be different from that day on. We, like most people, had not expected our lives to have such a drastic impact from a mere camping trip. I look at my friend Lexie to my right and Simone to my left and think about all that we have conquered and accomplished to be here in this monumental moment.
During our eight years at Camp Fern, this is the first time the option of going on a wilderness survival camping trip was offered to Lexie, Simone, and me out of all the other girls on camp. It had to be earned. We, of course, accepted the invite and began planning the trip three weeks in advance, which was not a particularly easy task because not only did we have to pack basic camping equipment, but we also had to pack enough food for three meals for the all day and overnight camping trip. Next, Lexie, Simone, and I all had to have the meals approved by the head of nature, Emily, and the camp owner, Mrs. Margaret. Everything was approved and a few weeks later we were ready to leave on our survival camping trip.
On June 24, 2014, we left camp at six in the morning and arrived at Caddo Lake about an hour later. The view was beautiful beyond words with the sunlight gleaming through hundreds of towering cypress trees with moss dangling off of them like angels clinging to the branches. Trying not to be severely distracted by the beautiful landscape, we began packing our canoes with supplies, placing them into the water, and eventually starting our journey through the vast unknown of Caddo Lake. Lexie, Simone, and I were each given a compass and a map to navigate through the tranquil water of Caddo. The scenery along the way was simply stunning and awe inspiring; it was the kind of landscape that could inspire poets to write vivid poetry that oozes with imagery. After five miles of canoeing, we finally reached our destination of Hamburger Point where we set up our tents and began cooking dinner on the fire pit. It was impossible to stay clean, so we soon went swimming in the sparkling waters of the bayou. After that, Simone and I lashed a clothesline to hang our wet clothes while Lexie lashed a cutting board holder.
The next morning we cleaned the camping area, packed up our supplies, and began our departure from Hamburger Point. When we left our bags felt lighter, but our hearts felt heavier as we canoed farther and farther away from the place that was so dear to our hearts for the great bonding experience it gave us. As we left our sanctuary of Hamburger Point I felt a sense of appreciation for toothpaste, toilet paper, soap, basically anything that kept me clean, but most importantly I felt a sense of appreciation for my wonderful friends who were essential to the camping trip, the environment, and the comfort it provided. This was more than just a camping trip; it was the moment in my life where I found in myself a greater admiration of the nature that surrounds us every day.
SENIOR ESSAY-FIFTH PLACE
West Feliciana High School, St. Francisville
The Bow Hunt
I got my first bow, a used Diamond by Bowtech, in October of 2012. I spent all hunting season waiting on my strings to be replaced. When I finally got my bow back it took me all summer to sight it in. My dad and I put me a stand up and I threw corn out at least once a week to draw the deer in. When October 2013 rolled around I could shoot a pear dead in the center 30 yards away. I was still worried about not being able to aim steady at a moving deer. There was also the issue of my weak arms only being able to pull back about forty pounds.
Finally it was time to set out. My dad gave me permission to shoot any deer, as long as it was legal, since it was my first bow hunt. He also told me it would be best if I did not shoot anything more than thirty yards away, because of me only being able to pull back forty pounds. The first hunt was a bust. Along with the second. I only heard some deer snort from deep in the woods. I never saw anything more than a raccoon, loads of squirrels, and plenty of birds.
It was Monday, October 7th. I did not have work after school so I decided to slip out for a hunt. Before every hunt I would shoot the target at least once. So, I went to practice. I missed. I missed the whole target! My arrow flew way off to the right. I was horrified. Desperately I went to search for my lost arrow in the tall grass. As I stood looking I felt something move under my boot. In fear, I lifted my foot and a snake shot out from under me. Being terrified of snakes, whether it is one of those little green snakes, or a huge rattlesnake, I took off running and screaming like a little girl. So, of course I was shaken up after my terrifying experience. I even debated if I actually wanted to go hunting, fearing I would see another snake.
Despite my fear, I went hunting anyway. I cautiously walked to my stand, threw corn out and climbed up. I was only there for ten minutes when a squirrel came close to climbing up my leg. My nerves had finally settled and I was waiting comfortably. Time ticked by slowly and my eyes got heavy. I started dozing off as the sun began to dip behind the trees.
Leaves rustled loudly, breaking me out of my nap. I looked around, expecting more squirrels, or birds, but to my great surprise it was actually a deer. Two deer! Two big bodied bucks with little antlers. They were about forty yards in front of me, covered by bushes and trees. Then they looped around and walked behind the big tree twenty yards in front of me. I had my chance. I slowly stood up, while their heads were behind the tree, I pulled back. My heart was pumping so loudly I was sure the deer could hear it. The bigger deer appeared to my right first. He was in the perfect spot. He began chewing at my corn when I let go. To this day I do not understand how I hit him because I am pretty sure my eyes where closed when I released. The arrow hit behind his shoulder and he took off running about fifty or sixty yards, then he tripped and flipped over twice. All was still. I turned my head around to my left, the smaller deer was still eating on some low leaves, clueless that the other deer was long gone. I sat and watched him for about ten minutes before he shot off into the woods, snorting. I pulled out my phone, adrenaline still shaking my body, and called my dad. He told me to go to the house and wait for him to get home with some ice.
Fifteen minutes later I see my dad's headlights pull in the driveway. I raced out to meet him, ready to see my prize. We hooked a small trailer to my blazer and I drove to my deer. Up close I saw that what I thought was only a four-point was actually a six point. We loaded the deer on the trailer, and brought him to the barn to clean him. Carefully we pulled out my broadhead and about five inches of my arrow. As I retold my dad about my day with the snake, losing an arrow, the squirrel, sleeping, then the two deer I began to be thankful that I did not let my fear get the best of me and cause me to not go hunting that day.
2015 LOWA Youth Journalism - Contest Winners Annouced
MORGAN CITY (Aug. 8, 2015) – Eleven young, aspiring writers and photographers from across Louisiana were judged winners in the 2015 Youth Journalism Contest (YJC) announced Saturday night at the banquet that headlines the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association’s (LOWA) annual conference.
Several among the young students, who range in age from 9 to 14 years old, have climbed the ladder after one or more years of entering essays and, or in some cases, photographs. There are three categories, Senior Essay, Junior Essay and Photography.
First-place winners Reese Blakeney, 14, from Leesville, in Senior Essay; James Corley Sanders, 10, from Trout, in Junior Essay; and, Ava Lemoine, 10, from Baton Rouge, in Photography have held places in past YJC judging.
Blakeney, a student at Blue Pine Academy, placed third in the 2014 Junior Essay Division, while Sanders was a winner in the last year’s Junior Essay and pulled a second place in Photography, and Lemoine was 2014’s Photography Division winner after finishing third in 2013 and fourth in 2012.
Sanders also placed third in Photography. Another double winner was Trey Spears, 13, who was second in Junior Essay and fourth in Photography.
All youngsters received cash awards and certificates for their accomplishments. The YJC is sponsored by Louisiana members of Safari Club International, LOWA and The Advocate.
The complete list of winners, their ages, story/photo title, school and hometown included:
*First Place: Reese Blakeney, 14 years old, “The One that Got Away,” Blue Pine Academy, Leesville.
*Second Place: Bradford Morrison, 14 years old, “Infamous Geocaching,” Christian Scholars at Home, Natchitoches.
*First Place: James Corley Sanders, 10 years old, “A New Recipe,” Jena Junior High (Jena), Trout.
*Second Place: Trey Spears, 13 years old, “The Last Hunt,” Sacred Heart of Jesus School, Baton Rouge.
*Third Place: Joseph “Scooter” Hayes, 11 years old, “Scooter’s First Buck,” Avoyelles Public Charter School, Mansura
*Fourth Place: Laura Purgerson, 9 years old, “My Friend Waffles,” Our Lady of Mercy School, Baton Rouge.
*First Place: Ava Lemoine, 10 years old, “Grand Isle Crabs,” St. Aloysius School, Baton Rouge.
*Second Place: Robby Ferrante, 15 years old, “Dragonfly,” St. Paul’s School (Covington), Mandeville.
*Third Place: James Corley Sanders, 10 years old, “The Bayou,” Jena Junior High (Jena), Trout.
*Fourth Place: Trey Spears, 13 years old, “Among the Cypresses,” Sacred Heart of Jesus School, Baton Rouge.
*Fifth Place: Julia Bauer, 9 years old, “In the Nest,” St. Aloysius School. Baton Rouge.
The complete essays and photographs are posted on the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association’s website: www.laoutdoorwriters.com  .
For more information, contact LOWA YJC Chairman, Joe Macaluso: