Summer School for Sportsmen

Learn advanced sporting skills -- and have a blast -- at these outdoor classrooms.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Remember summer school, sweating over the three Rs at a desk in July? I guarantee you these classes won't feel like work. They're fun, and they teach really important stuff, such as how to crush a crossing clay bird, or how to unstick your truck if you bury it to the axles in the middle of nowhere. Here are five outdoor schools, one for kids and four for big kids like you and me:

1. Jack Mountain Outdoor Skills Courses
The Jack Mountain school's backyard-120 square miles of woods in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire-provides plenty of room to practice the primitive skills taught there. Intensive one- or two-day classes cover traditional techniques such as how to pole a canoe, brain-tan a deer hide, make a pack basket or a bow, track animals, cook outdoors, navigate without a map, or build a fire anywhere, anytime. Sportsmen seeking a crash course in survival can take either summer or winter three-day courses. For those with more time to spend in the woods, there are four- and 12-week wilderness-skills immersion programs.

Owner Tim Smith spent two years living out of a trailer on the edge of Alaska's Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and now moonlights as a snowshoeing, canoeing, and fishing guide. All of his classes, which are limited to 10 students, can benefit modern sportsmen.

"I don't teach primitive skills out of nostalgia," Smith says. "I teach them because they work and they're efficient. Our motto is ¿¿¿The more you carry in your head, the less you carry on your back.'" Students walk away with the same timeless knowledge our ancestors used to get by in the woods. Costs run from $75 for a one-day outdoor cooking workshop to $350 for the survival courses and $7,150 for the semester program.

Contact: Jack Mountain Bushcraft and Guide Service, 603-569-6150; jackmtn.com

2. On the Road With Bill Burke
Want to get the most out of your 4x4? You don't need bigger tires-you need more know-how. And the best place to get it is from Bill Burke, dubbed the "off-road guru" by Four Wheel Drive and Sport Utility Magazine. Burke, who first learned to get vehicles unstuck as a recovery specialist with the 101st Airborne, has spent the last 30 years driving backcountry roads and teaching the fine points of four-wheeling to private and corporate clients in the United States and abroad. He leads his On the Road course from his home base in Fruita, Colorado, as well as at other locations throughout the country upon request.

Classes are limited to eight vehicles; students provide their own 4x4s. Any stock four-wheel-drive with tow points and a full-size spare can make it through the school as long as the driver can. Burke, who has a mechanic's love of cars, begins with a discussion of the nuts and bolts of four-wheel-drive systems. After a lesson in map-and-compass navigation, students hit the trail. Burke's headquarters lie just a short drive from three distinctly different terrain types: Rocky Mountain trails, Colorado River¿¿¿bottom slickrock and sandstone, and the famous boulder-strewn region around Moab, Utah.

Students spot for one another and practice negotiating obstacles. "People come thinking backcountry driving is all about horsepower; I teach them how four-wheel-drive systems work, and they learn to pick appropriate routes," he says. He also shows participants how to make trailside repairs and recover a vehicle using everything from simple high-lift jack techniques through advanced winching. "Students leave with a greater appreciation of what a stock 4x4 is capable of when it's properly driven."

As a developer of the "Tread Lightly" off-highway safety clinic curriculum, Burke highlights ethical backcountry driving practices. On the Road is a bargain at $325¿¿¿$355 for two days, especially if you've priced a backcountry tow lately. Classes run year-round.

Contact: Bill Burke's 4-Wheeling America, 970-853468; bb4wa.com

[NEXT "3. The Safari Club Apprentice Hunter Program"] **3. The Safari Club Apprentice Hunter Program **
Wouldn't it be great if you could pack your son or daughter off to summer camp and get the kid back in a week along with a cooler full of venison and a hunter-safety certificate? The Safari Club International's Apprentice Hunter Program does exactly that, teaching hunting skills to kids age 17 and under. The program consists of a six-day course culminating in an actual rifle hunt for an exotic animal. Last summer in the Texas Hill Country, my 15-year-old son Gordon used the lessons he'd learned to stalk to within 80 yards of an axis doe and drop it with a perfectly placed lung shot on the camp's last day.

The Apprentice Hunter curriculum includes marksmanship, archery, shotgun shooting, field dressing, gun care and cleaning, orienteering skills, and a host of other subjects. Groups of 12¿¿¿15 students learn to build emergency shelters and spend one night sleeping out in the open. In the classroom, they study wildlife management and the hunting heritage and have the opportunity to complete a hunter-safety course. The hunt, however, is the highlight of the week at camp. Although most of the campers have hunted before, many have never shot a centerfire, much less a deer. Yet thanks to good guides, thorough training, and top-notch equipment (Dakota rifles and Kahles optics), nearly every camper who wants to hunt takes an animal.

"We teach kids marksmanship with .22s and the LaserShot simulator," says the Safari Club's Doug Luger. "We don't want them to develop a fear of the noise and kick of a centerfire. They don't fire one of our .243s until they shoot at game and are too excited to notice muzzle blast and recoil." Gordon had shot .22s at paper targets and had killed so many video deer that when it came time to shoot the real thing, he knew exactly where to aim.

SCI runs the program in two locations: Willow Lake Sportsman's Club near Three Rivers, Michigan, and Indianhead Ranch in Del Rio, Texas. At Willow Lake the campers hunt Corsican ram, and at Indianhead they chase axis and other exotic does. Tuition is $1,200 at Willow Lake, and $995 ($895 for SCI members) at Indianhead. Many SCI chapters offer scholarships that greatly reduce the cost.

Contact: The Safari Club, 800-377-5399; safariclubfoundation.org

4. Schmidt Outfitters Fly Fishing Schools
"Our goal is to kick-start beginners into the sport," says instructor John Gouker of Schmidt Outfitters, located in Wellston, Michigan. The emphasis is on teaching all the basics from casting to equipment to catching and releasing trout. Groups of four to 12 students stay in cabins and partake in plenty of instruction, plus casting at dusk on the famous Manistee River and half a day of fishing for brookies, browns, and rainbows.

Classes run from Friday evening into Sunday afternoon, beginning with dinner and a seminar Friday night. Students spend Saturday morning at the camp's casting pond, practicing the overhead and roll casts. After lunch, it's on to knots and leader tying. In the afternoon, they climb into drift boats for live demonstrations of streamer, dry-fly, and nymph fishing. Saturday's dinner is a highlight: a streamside feast on steak or prime rib, followed by the opportunity to test new skills on the evening rise. On Sunday students choose a half-day of wade- or float-fishing on the river. "Even though they are just learning, most of our students catch fish," says Gouker. "The Manistee is a fine fishery."

At $500 for tuition, with a 3-to-1 ratio of pupils to instructor, the school is a great deal. Advanced casting classes and lessons on the art of long-distance spey casting are also available.

Contact: Schmidt Outfitters, 888-221-9056; schmidtoutfitters.com

[NEXT "5. The Optimum Shotgun Performance School"] 5. The Optimum Shotgun Performance School
Houston-based husband-and-wife team Gil and Vicki Ash teach shotgunning with passion, insight, and a Texas-size dose of high spirits. It took Gil about 30 seconds after meeting me last summer to change my name to "Philly-Bob," and not much longer for him to isolate problems with my shooting and offer fixes. The Ashes' OSP school, taught in their hometown's American Shooting Center, and on the road in clubs across the country, accepts groups of up to 10 students at all skill levels, from beginners to serious competitors.

Participants shoot 150¿¿¿300 rounds a day at all manner of sporting clay presentations. Expect to learn, but don't expect the Ashes to tell you how far to lead a target. Instead, they'll work on your form, your focus, and your confidence. You'll break targets you thought were beyond you without being aware of how far you led them. "We tell our students to be sloppy with lead and precise with focus," says Gil.

You can attend the clinics for one-, two-, or three-day sessions. Try to go for at least two days. All shooting coaches agree that it takes one day to break down bad habits, and a second day to build new, good ones. The OSP method teaches you to understand why you hit targets and why you miss. With that knowledge, you can correct yourself.

And believe me, a lesson with Gil and Vicki Ash will make you a better field shot as long as you go home and practice what they preach. Courses cost from $350 to $475 a day, depending on the package offered by the host club.

_Contact: OSP Shooting School, 800-838-7533; www.ospschool.com _ool"] 5. The Optimum Shotgun Performance School
Houston-based husband-and-wife team Gil and Vicki Ash teach shotgunning with passion, insight, and a Texas-size dose of high spirits. It took Gil about 30 seconds after meeting me last summer to change my name to "Philly-Bob," and not much longer for him to isolate problems with my shooting and offer fixes. The Ashes' OSP school, taught in their hometown's American Shooting Center, and on the road in clubs across the country, accepts groups of up to 10 students at all skill levels, from beginners to serious competitors.

Participants shoot 150¿¿¿300 rounds a day at all manner of sporting clay presentations. Expect to learn, but don't expect the Ashes to tell you how far to lead a target. Instead, they'll work on your form, your focus, and your confidence. You'll break targets you thought were beyond you without being aware of how far you led them. "We tell our students to be sloppy with lead and precise with focus," says Gil.

You can attend the clinics for one-, two-, or three-day sessions. Try to go for at least two days. All shooting coaches agree that it takes one day to break down bad habits, and a second day to build new, good ones. The OSP method teaches you to understand why you hit targets and why you miss. With that knowledge, you can correct yourself.

And believe me, a lesson with Gil and Vicki Ash will make you a better field shot as long as you go home and practice what they preach. Courses cost from $350 to $475 a day, depending on the package offered by the host club.

_Contact: OSP Shooting School, 800-838-7533; www.ospschool.com _