For many of us, the hunting, fishing, outdoors-loving lifestyle is something we grew up with. Being from the South, it was a part of my heritage. My father hunts, my Papa hunted, his father before him…the list goes on and on. We have been blessed with generations of outdoors knowledge and family properties to hunt and fish. These rural traditions are a way of life for me. I knew that there were many programs for youth to introduce them to the outdoors, but it never occurred to me that there were adults who might be interested in hunting and have no idea where to turn. Think about it. If you had not been fortunate enough to have been introduced to the outdoors by a friend or family member, where would you turn to gain that knowledge? I have been asked that question frequently in recent months, so I decided to look into it. Fortunately, there are some great organizations which are at the forefront of coming up with solutions for these adult new hunters. They have partnered with many states to ensure that anyone with a desire to learn about hunting can do so.
Creating an Opportunity for Adult New Hunters
The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is one of those organizations that is dedicated to helping adult new hunters. One of their current programs is titled R3 – Hunter Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation. The reality is that the focus must be on more than one front. It is important to bring youth into the outdoors, but if their parents are not also learning then there is little hope they will be able to pursue hunting activities without a guardian who can provide hunting equipment, transportation and guidance. In Alabama, the Upper Delta Gobblers NWTF chapter is in its third year of running a program with a focus on adult new hunters who are interested in learning to hunt. Matt Horton, a committee member with the Upper Delta Gobblers states, “The first year, an opportunity was provided to us by State Lands to lease a property that had been left unleased and had become available. NWTF picked up the lease for the program that year. The next year, Monroe County Schools offered us additional acreage and the Girl Scouts provided us with the use of an indoor facility. We plant the food plots in the hunt areas and work to make sure the new hunter has a quality hunting experience.”
Programs like this one rely on the generosity of individuals and organizations to continue to grow. During the 2016 deer hunting season, the group was able to offer five hunts with eight participants on each hunt, for a total of forty people. According to Matt, “The program focuses on quality over quantity.” These are forty adult new hunters learning the safe and ethical way of hunting in a controlled environment. The hunt is a one day event, beginning at 8:00 AM with an abbreviated hunter safety lesson. This lesson is not enough to earn a hunter safety card, but enough for the new hunters to participate in a one day mentored hunt. From there, the participants go to a gun range for one on one instruction with a firearms instructor. At this time, the program only offers rifle hunting. Rifle hunting allows for a greater opportunity for the new hunters. As the goal of the program is to encourage them to hunt, it makes sense to give them the best chance at actually taking an animal.
Each hunter then goes out to their blind with a mentor to participate in a deer hunt. At this time, only deer hunting is available. With volunteer time constraints and available hunting properties, that is the most consistent game that can be pursued for these mentored hunts. It is hoped that additional types of hunting may be offered in the future.
Any game that is taken is brought back to the meeting place, cleaned and iced down in the hunters’ coolers for them to take home. For the 2017 season, the chapter is hoping to have some local processing plants donate deer processing to the program. Most of the participants do not know how to fully process game into the different cuts of meat. Having that done for them on their first hunt would be the best way for them to learn how many steaks, roasts, loins and other cuts they can expect from their harvest.
Cost to participants is minimal – nothing but the price of their license. NWTF donates the firearms that are used for the hunt as well as the hunter orange that is worn for safety. Volunteers clean the game and lunch is provided. Mentors provide assistance to the hunter where needed. All mentors must first go through the NWTF mentor training program, which has a specific focus on safety.
Teaching Youth Ethical Predator Control
In addition to teaching adult new hunters, the youth are also being included in the chapter’s outreach plans. They also offer a two day youth trapping program. The goal of this program is to teach youth the importance of proper predator control so that the turkey population can begin to thrive. This past year, twenty youth participated in the program, with an anticipated target in the coming years of thirty youth. They learn how to correctly and humanely trap predators that can decimate a turkey population by consuming eggs and poults. Parents or guardians must attend the program with the youth, as it is important to ensure the guardians are aware of what the youth are learning and can continue to foster this knowledge when they return home.
Securing Our Hunting Heritage for the Future
As populations grow, rural areas are depleted and the traditions of hunting are being lost. It is the responsibility of hunters to ensure our way of life continues for the next generations to come. This means not only teaching our youth, but also educating non-hunting adults on the ethical, legal and humane ways of taking game. If you are interested in participating in either of these programs, if you know of someone who could benefit from this instruction, or if you would like to sponsor the program in any way, please contact Daniel Musselwhite with Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources at Daniel.Musselwhite@dcnr.alabama.gov.
As always, be safe and happy hunting.