Maison T. Ortiz Youth Outdoor Skills Camp

For the past 30 years, there has been a steady decline in the number of youths who hunt, fish, or enjoy any form of outdoor recreational activities both Nationally and in Nevada.  This is supported by statistics compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW).  It has become clear that the majority of Nevada’s youth have never seen a sage-grouse, mule deer, wild sheep, or pronghorn in the wild; enjoyed the thrill of a trout tugging on the end of their fishing line; or seen the rugged beauty that Nevada’s wild areas have to offer.

The sportsmen, sportsman groups, Wildlife groups and NDOW recognize this. The question is what do we do?  To reverse this trend, the Maison T Ortiz Youth Outdoor Skills Camp (MTOYOSC) was founded.

In January of 2011, a 15-year-old Galena High School student tragically died in a terrible snowboarding accident. Maison T. Ortiz was a fifth-generation Nevadan who loved the outdoors.

Maison became the catalyst for a new youth outdoor program. Maison was a representative of the best that a sportsman and hunter epitomizes; the very type of youth embraced by the Founding Fathers of this event.

It is his family’s wish that deserving children who have not had this outdoor experience, can develop a passion for the outdoors in their lives, as exemplified by Maison.

Shortly after Maison’s death, the Northern Nevada Chapter of Safari Club International (NNSCI), Nevada Bighorns Unlimited (NBU), and the Rotary Club of Sparks, Nevada, through the Fred Seale’s Trust, became the Founding Sponsors of an outdoor youth camp. The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) also joined in to collaborate as a strategic partner, together with the Ortiz family.  The youth camp was established to remember Maison and to involve more youth in the outdoors.

This camp is now governed by a Steering Committee and Advisory Council made up of directors of the above organizations and founding sponsors, the Ortiz family and NDOW. It should be noted that NNSCI, as a founding sponsor, has been intimately involved and the SCI Foundation has provided grant funding for the first three years of the camp.

The camp is located on a ranch located just 30 miles north of the Reno/Sparks area in a valley between the Dogskin Mountains and Tule Peak.  From the ranch, herds of deer, antelope and wild horses can often be seen. Chukar, quail and sage-grouse are also common as are other varieties of birds and animals.

This camp is a weekend long event designed to immerse the youth in outdoor skill training and a fun overnight camping experience. This year there were 38 boys and 26 girls ages 11-14. The camp was designed to help urban and rural children that may not have many opportunities to experience the outdoors and related activities. The campers enjoyed instruction and support from over 89 adult volunteers on site serving as counselors, volunteers and instructors along with youth mentors who have returned after having attended previous MTOYOSC camps.

The Mission: Provide an interactive outdoor summer camp that engages youth in wildlife-related outdoor recreational and conservation activities that are safe, responsible, and fun.

The Primary Focus:  It’s all about the Kids!

Provide opportunities for inexperienced youths

Promote individual and collective safety

Promote sportsmanship and ethics
Promote stewardship of private and public lands
Promote knowledge and respect of wildlife and its habitat
Promote the role that sportswomen and sportsmen play in wildlife and habitat conservation
Promote the continuation of our outdoor heritage

Our core values
Honesty
Integrity
Leadership
Ethics
Sportsmanship
Organization
Teamwork
Respect
Accountability

Friday morning the campers arrive at the camp and are checked in. Counselors and mentors are matched up with the campers and a camp orientation is given. Camp safety is our number one priority.  There is a dedicated Camp Health and Safety Director who is responsible for the safety and well-being of our campers and volunteers.  The Camp Health and Safety Director is supported by adult counselors and youth mentors, all to assist and supervise the campers throughout their instructional sessions.  Event instructors are certified in their area of expertise and are provided for specific subject matter courses.  Additionally, all adult volunteers are fully vetted and undergo a criminal background check.

The afternoon starts with an array of activities the campers look forward to.  The next two days will be packed with activities for the campers.  The anticipation level is high and the excitement is building, the campers are ready.

Camper Kiera: After I got through check-in, there were three girls all hanging out, one of the girls came over and asked me if I wanted to hang out with them and I said yes! It was so cool!  

All campers have the opportunity to be exposed to wildlife, habitat, camping, hunter safety and sportsman’s ethics. Through the two-and-a-half-day event, these future sportsmen, sportswomen and conservationists attend hands-on and interactive activities which are represented below;

Rifle Range (.22 rifle safety and target shooting): The campers are given instruction on firearms safety and live fire, shooting paper and interactive targets with .22 caliber rifles, using both optical and open sights. NRA and NDOW certified shooting instructors do the training.

Archery Range (Archery safety and shooting): The campers learn archery safety and all aspects of shooting the bow and arrow from the range to the field. The goal is for each camper to come away with the knowledge, confidence and skills for safe and precise shot placement. We also have an archery trap machine to teach the campers to shoot targets in the air. The instructors are certified archery experts.

Shotgun Range (Shotgun safety and target shooting): The campers are taught firearms safety as it pertains to shotguns, eye dominance, basic stance and target tactics. After instruction, campers will be able to apply their new-found knowledge shooting clay targets. The instructors are expert shooters and NRA certified.

Dutch Oven Cooking: The campers learn how to prepare delicious meals using Dutch ovens and help make lunch for their parents and other visitors at the camp’s closing ceremonies on Sunday. The instructors are experts in outdoor cooking.

Laser Shot and Air Rifles: The campers learn basic safety, firearms handling, proper sight alignment, ethical shooting situations, marksmanship and wildlife identification using the same simulator used in Nevada’s Hunter Education classes. They can also hone their skills on various targets using air rifles in an arcade style shooting range. This event is also taught by certified NRA and NDOW Hunter Education instructors.

Outdoor Skills: The campers receive a personal survival kit and instruction from experts on making an emergency shelter, multiple ways to start a fire, signaling for help and other basic outdoor readiness subjects to ensure safe adventures into Nevada’s outback. There will also be instruction on a variety of knots that may be useful for various outdoor activities. This event is taught by experts in outdoor survival and mountaineering.

Fishing: The Campers are given instruction on how to cast conventional rods and reels as well as fly rods. We teach the knots they need to know how to tie while fishing. They will also learn about aquatic entomology (insects) and fishing safety. There is a large pond on the ranch, freshly stocked with trout, where campers can try out their new skills from the shore and float tubes! The instructors are trained angling experts who know how to work with kids.

Safety Trail: The campers participate in activities to demonstrate Field Safety with the use of non-functional training firearms. Hands-on activities include maneuvering through thick brush, crossing an obstacle and safe firearm handling in the field, again taught by certified NRA and NDOW Hunter Education instructors.

Wildlife Calls: The campers will learn to use a diaphragm call to imitate the sounds made by coyotes, elk and turkeys. They will also receive instruction in using a duck call. A diaphragm call and a duck call will be provided for each camper for them to keep. The instructors are experts at using and teaching these skills.

Camper Mykayla: Our final station was wildlife calls. It had to be the funniest station in the entire camp! We were learning to make animal calls with a diaphragm. The faces everyone made was hilarious! You could not help but to laugh at each other!

Evening and Campfire Activities: Guest speakers are featured each evening after dinner to make presentations about careers in the outdoors. After dark there is plenty of fun around the campfire including entertainment and singing.

Optional Events: Discretionary activities available before and after organized instruction vary from year to year but include Wildlife Tracks and Identification, the SCI Sensory trailer, Casting Skills and making a survival bracelet.

Imagine the evening wrapping up with games, skits and wildlife presentations and roasting marshmallows over an open fire to make s’mores.  The games and skits provide an opportunity for the campers to interact with each other and comradery is being developed.–

Camper Mykayla: That concluded the activities for the that day but it was far from over; packing, eating, goodbyes, thank you’s and pictures concluded camp! I will definitely never forget this camp! I loved it! I would go back in a heartbeat!

Terrence Melby, NNSCI Director

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