Throwback – California’s youngest-ever duck hunter?

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By BILL BEEBE
Western Outdoor News Staff Writer

Who but a duck hunter would wait five days in a line for the privilege of being among the first to be admitted to a waterfowl refuge on opening weekend of duck hunting season. Who but a duck hunter would repeat that same process thirteen times before his season ends Jan 14, 1973.

And who but a duck hunter would spend uncounted hours with his son from the time he was 4 years old teaching the lad the responsibility that each hunter must assume when he takes a shotgun in hand and crawls into a duck blind that he probably will share with someone else, so that by the time that youngster reached his seventh birthday he could become one of California’s youngest licensed hunters.

TEDDY BENNETT, 9-1/2 year-old San Fernando Valley youngster, poses with some of the guns he shoots with ease. On left is the .22 rifle that he first learned to shoot with. The 12-gauge three-inch magnum on the right is his “duck shootin’ ” shotgun with which he has taken four consecutive duck limits this year so far while hunting with his dad, Ted, on the Kern National Wildlife Refuge. Note how the gun’s stocks have been shortened to fit his 4-feet, 2-inch, 62-pound frame. His father’s black Labrador retriever, “Sheba,” looks on at left.

Being the father of the youngest legal duck hunter in the state, however, never was Ted Bennett’s intention. All he wanted to do was to instill a solid groundwork in the fundamentals of firearms in the mind of his son so that he never need worry about the boy’s safety and conduct in the field once he was turned loose to hunt.

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Ted is a member of the Panorama Sportsmen’s Club of San Fernando Valley, where he lives with his family that includes 9½-vear-old Teddy Bennett. Teddy’s one of the most remarkable shooters I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

The two Bennetts’ have been standing in line together nearly every weekend of duck hunting season at the Kern National Wildlife Refuge since Teddy passed his hunter safety course and got his hunting license two years ago.

To say that young Teddy is a good duck hunter would be an injustice to the lad. He is not just good. He’s incredibly good. Since the quacker season opened at the Kern Refuge Oct. 15 (it is open only on Sundays for hunting), Teddy has failed to bag his limit of seven ducks only twice – opening day and Sunday, Nov. 25. And on those respective days he bagged six and five birds.

On the four consecutive Sundays in between, though, Teddy matched his dad’s shooting with each taking a limit. And when one considers that the boy shoots a 12-gauge Remington model 870 three-inch magnum pump and stands only 4-feet, 2-inches on a 62-pound body, then I think no one will argue when I say that Teddy is indeed an incredible duck hunter.

“He began his shooting with a single-action 22 rifle,” his dad recalled as we chatted while waiting a few Saturday’s ago along with 315 other duck hunters to get into the Kern Refuge. “By the time he was 5, he was shooting trap with a single-shot 410 shotgun.”

With that ancient weapon, Teddy soon was breaking a dozen “birds” out of a regular round of 25 on a trap range near his home. His best was 13, but he almost never fell lower than 10.

He passed his hunter safety test with a score of 98 and soon was licensed to hunt birds with his dad. “Actually, the kid is ready now to hunt with a rifle, but the law says he can’t do that until he’s 16 years old,” Ted said, adding that it will be a “long seven-year wait” until his son can go deer hunting with him. “Teddy’s already fired my .300 H&H magnum and my .30/06 rifles rat the range, and he shoots ’em pretty well, too.”

TEDDY loads his own shells, too.

Little Ted shot ducks pretty well during his first season-so well one time, in fact, that a Department of Fish and Game warden didn’t believe that the kid he saw walking down a dike in the middle of the Kern Refuge was the legal possessor of the ducks he was carrying. “Where did you get those ducks you’re carrying,” the elder Bennett recalled the warden questioning his son.

“I shot them,” Teddy replied matter-of factly. “You did what?” the amazed warden asked somewhat bewildered. “I shot them,” Teddy said again.

“Do you have a license?” the warden queried further, obviously figuring he’d have the boy beaten with that question. “Yes sir, I do,” Teddy said, producing his hunting license from his pants pocket, whereupon the warden commented, “I’ll be damned,” and walked off.

This year was Teddy’s first attempt at dove hunting. His dad admits his protege “has a little more to learn when it comes to hitting those feathered buzz-bombs. The boy got five doves his first time out. But again, there was a pretty good excuse for his not getting more. He used his dad’s over-and-under Ithaca 12-gauge, and the stock was a lot more than Teddy was used to handling.

The stocks on Teddy’s 22 rifle, 410 and 12-gauge shotguns have been shortened to accommodate his lack of reach and small stature. But what Teddy may lack in height and weight, he more than makes up for with heart.

“He has shaken up a lot of hunters out here at the refuge,” his dad chuckled. “Some thought it was a joke when I asked them to let Teddy shoot their 12-gauge over-and-unders. But after they saw him snap off two quick shots without even flinching, they became believers right quick.”

If you want to watch this remarkable young lad shoot sometime, you’ll probably have to arrive at the Kern National Wildlife Refuge around 7 p.m. any Friday to wait in the first-come, first-served line.

And as a parting suggestion, don’t bet you’ll out shoot Teddy, either. Like the warden, you’ll probably come out a loser. You see, he loads all his own shotshells, too.

This feature appears in the February 3, 2023 print edition of Western Outdoor News. To get early access to every info and feature-packed issue of the West Coast’s biggest outdoor sporting newspaper, click here.

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