Kristina Summers of Georgia DNR Public Affairs recently got an in-depth look at hunting’s contribution to wildlife conservation.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t an avid outdoors person. From the time I was a couple of months old, my parents were hauling me all over the country, often in a metal-frame backpack. Whether it was out West to the dusty Badlands, down to the southern swamps or up and down hundreds of miles of coastline, I honestly can’t remember a time when being outside wasn’t a huge part of my life.
Yet, despite this, I had never been hunting, or even really thought all that much about hunting. I had no problem with people who hunted; I just never really thought that I would take part in it. When I began working for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, however, hunting became an “in your face” issue that even as a non-hunter I was forced to learn about.
The more I learned, the more interested I became, particularly about the connection to the nongame conservation work I was doing every day. Therefore, I was thrilled when I was selected to attend the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow program http://clft.org/ this January in Chicago.
My first impression of the program, of course, was snow! As a born and bred Southerner, I had never seen so much of it, and certainly never seen people who were crazy enough to drive in it. There was 3 feet on the ground when I arrived and 16 inches more fell before I left four days later.
A group of 16 professionals from wildlife organizations all over the country came trickling in on the first day. We were housed at the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, a beautiful hunting lodge?? right outside of Chicago. We represented a diverse group of states including Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Arizona, Michigan, Colorado and Pennsylvania.
Most of the participants were public information specialists, like me. The rest were retired teachers, license sales reps or wildlife biologists. The one thing we all had in common was that none of us had ever hunted. After introductions we were shown to the bunkhouse. Once unpacked, we were summoned back to the room that would pretty much become our home for the next four days – the classroom. We were kept busy with class work and discussions stopping only for a wonderful home-cooked meal until, exhausted, they let us retire to the bunkhouses around 10 p.m.
A common theme throughout the workshop was a quote by Edward Abbey, “Hunting is one of the more difficult things to think about.” As we went through presentation after presentation, whether it was about firearm safety or the biological basis for hunting or ethics, we kept coming back to this.
I admit that I had never really considered that the modern environmental movement evolved out of hunting. At a time when hunters and others were becoming aware that our natural resources were not infinite, as previously thought, but were something that must be managed, regulations and laws began to come into play with the sole purpose of protecting wildlife and the habitats wildlife relied on.
Organizers Zach Lowe and Richard McCabe were careful to remind us that the program, while aimed at non-hunters, was not a recruitment program, a focus I appreciated. More so, they just wanted us to understand that without hunting in North America, there would be no real conservation efforts. That blew my mind until they showed us the numbers. Even though only about 10 percent of the country’s population hunts, money from that industry goes into funding nearly 90 percent of the conservation measures taken today.
Some of the roundtable discussions really opened my eyes. We had lively debates about hunter ethics and the negative stereotypes that all wildlife agencies face. We brainstormed ideas for garnering more funding, something that is sorely needed all over the country.
We learned all about the different forms of hunting, whether with a bow and arrow or a firearm and the responsibility that comes with their use. Everyone was given the Illinois hunter safety test (and all passed!), and then it was out the door for some real-world exercises. Beginning with learning to stalk prey and moving to BB guns and then shooting clays, everyone seemed to be having a great time despite freezing temperatures.
But the most fun I had was when I actually got to tromp around in all that snow, watching highly trained bird dogs at work. I’ve had pets all my life, but these dogs were different. As excited as they were plunging neck deep into the snow, a simple command from our guide kept them in check. The dogs would rush ahead of us and flush the birds and then it was up to us to bring the pheasants down.
Although when I went out, I didn’t really expect to hit anything, I was amazed when it happened. I found myself proudly posing with my pheasant and Skinner, the black Lab.
I think one of the best activities we took part in was that everyone who had harvested a pheasant was required to dress it to prepare for the game dinner that evening. We had previously discussed the nationwide phenomena concerning the disconnect between young people and where food comes from. Actually having to prepare the birds we harvested was an extremely enlightening experience and not nearly as messy as I thought it would be.
Our last meal was the game dinner and I admit that I have never felt so empowered to be eating something I had caught myself. As an environmentalist and a supporter of buying locally grown and raised food, the meal made me realize that you can’t get much more local than harvesting your own game.
I’m really glad I was chosen and I know that the concepts I learned and the contacts I made will continue to help me develop and grow in my career with the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division.
Kristina Summers is a communications and outreach specialist who works mainly with the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t an avid outdoors person. From the time I was a couple of months old, my parents were hauling me all over the country, often in a metal-frame backpack.