POYNETTE, Wis. -- The colors are ablaze on this first weekend of autumn at Mud Lake Wildlife Area near Poynette.
Grassy beige fields are bordered by the red of sumac, yellow of popple and hints of red on sugar maple.
A few iridescent green heads of ring-necked pheasants appear from time to time.
And completing the diverse palette -- blaze orange vests and hats of hunters.
This is no ordinary Wisconsin hunting party. They number a lucky 13. They all hail from Milwaukee. And they are African-American.
"Keep your eyes open, she's on something," said Ron Johnson, 60, one of the leaders of the group.
Johnson and his son, Djdade, 14, were hunting with mentors Russ Cross of Poynette and Rick Reed of Milwaukee.
A dozen yards ahead, Ruby, Cross' German short-haired pointer, was still as a statue.
Cross stayed on Djdade's shoulder, offering advice on where to move, where to look, which areas offered safe shots and which didn't.
As a group, they crept closer to Ruby, the anticipation palpable.
For veteran hunters, the flush of a pheasant can be startling. For novices, it's often disarming.
For first-time hunters who have never seen a pheasant fly, it's otherworldly.
The Johnson father-and-son team and 11 others were participating in a Learn to Hunt program sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources.
The weekend-long event was coordinated by DNR warden Gervis Myles of Milwaukee. The MacKenzie Environmental Education Center in Poynette served as "hunt central" for the group.
A group of local volunteers assisted with the program, including Cross and Troy Cooley of Poynette, Jeff Nania and Bill Schaller, both of Portage, and Charlie Warren of Palmyra.
Reed and John Plenke, both DNR wardens from the Southeast District, also volunteered.
Myles, a 12-year veteran of the DNR, is the state's first and only African-American warden.
He said while he deals with a wide variety of people in his job, it was clear black youths are underrepresented in the hunting ranks.
"The road to becoming a hunter is especially long if you live in the inner city," Myles said. "This program is designed to give them a chance."
The state has held Learn to Hunt programs for about a decade. Last weekend's was the first to specifically cater to kids from the Milwaukee inner city, Myles said.
The group had classroom sessions on firearm safety, wildlife biology and hunting strategies, a field demonstration of hunting over dogs and a visit to the State Game Farm to learn about Wisconsin pheasant rearing and stocking programs.
After a dinner prepared by the group's own chef, Marvin Jones of Milwaukee, a Saturday night was spent in a dormitory at MacKenzie. The eve of the hunt was, true to hunting camps throughout time, spent with little sleep.
The youngsters stayed up late, talking and playing.
On that Sunday morning, after another Jones-made meal, they assembled outside and formed groups for their first-ever hunt.
Hunting dogs ran circles around the group. Vests and hats were distributed. And firearms were uncased.
"Guns and city kids are generally taboo," said Ron Johnson.
Johnson is more knowledgeable than most on the subject. He works with the Restorative Justice program at Marquette University, spending most of his time trying to reduce gang violence in Milwaukee.
But he also has a great appreciation for the outdoors, is an experienced deer hunter and knows guns can be used safely -- by all Wisconsinites, regardless of ZIP code -- in the proper environment.
Johnson said the Learn to Hunt weekend was about "widening their world."
"We're trying to instill a respect for firearms," Johnson said. "But also a respect for the outdoors and a respect for each other."
In addition, the Milwaukee youths were able to meet and talk to a range of professionals they often don't encounter. Wildlife biologists and conservation wardens, for example.
"We're exposing them to alternative career choices," Johnson said. "It's a big world and it helps to let them see possible roads to the future."
The kids began their learning in June by completing a hunter education class at Camp Minneconne. Then in July they were hosted by Gerald Kruschka, owner of Wild Wings Sportsman's Club in Campbellsport, for two days of sporting clay shoots.
When the group donned blaze orange and headed out to fields stocked with pheasants at Mud Lake, they were starting to feel a bit more comfortable carrying a firearm, a little more familiar with the term "hunter."
But little can prepare you for a pheasant explosion.
Djdade showed excellent judgment, though, when on the second flush of the day a pheasant careened behind the group. With no safe shot, he held his fire.
Sometimes the best shots are the ones not taken.
On an adjacent field, Amari Johnson, 16, did have a safe shot at a rooster. His aim was true and he proudly carried the bird back to camp.
The group brought back eight pheasants from the morning hunt. As with most hunts, there were some missed shots; significantly, it was conducted safely.
The next phase included cleaning the birds and preparing them for the table.
In early afternoon, the group departed in a caravan for the big city, carrying stories of their first time afield, knowledge about safe firearm handling and the fixings for several wild-game dinners.
"We don't expect every kid to come through this program to become an avid hunter," Myles said. "But we know this helps expose them to new experiences. And if we can get just a few to stick with it and later become mentors, it will really help make a difference."