Getting a different perspective on hunting
Today you’re hearing from Christopher DeVore, a contractor for our agency in the Chesapeake Bay Field Office. He leads the office’s Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief activities in the Chesapeake Bay.
|What do hunters do for conservation?|
|Hunting is considered by many to be a legitimate, traditional recreational use of renewable natural resources. Millions deepen their appreciation of the outdoors through hunting.
The pointer seemed to have an infinite supply of energy as he scouted the field ahead, zig-zagging in front of us. When he scented a pheasant, he froze and assumed that well-known position–right leg and tail up, body and head pointed in the direction of the bird. I was out on a hunt, and not just any hunt. This was my last full day at the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow training.
All I’d heard about this training was that I’d learn about hunting, techniques and safety. My choice was to go…or trudge through a heavy pile of word documents all week. I was in. Clearly. I grabbed a vehicle, packed a bag and headed to National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
I quickly found out the class was much more than the one sentence above. We were presented lectures, complemented by hands-on activities that cemented what we had just learned. Each presentation played off the one before. The days started at 8 am and ended close to 9 pm.
Monday began with a background on hunting history and demographics which set the stage for the next few days of discussions. We also fit ourselves for shotguns which set the stage for the next few days of activities.
On Tuesday we learned about types of guns and how to load and reload each type. This was supplemented with safety and firing zone training. We then switched gears with hands-on training about fishing and traps. We learned the most appropriate, effective, and humane methods.
We ended Tuesday with an exam based on our findings, and not surprisingly each student passed. The exam judged our hunter’s education knowledge and we were all deemed proficient. So not only did we get training, but we’re certified with hunter’s education in all 50 states. Not a bad day on the job.
Rather than summarize each lecture, I will tell you I remained engaged Wednesday during presentations on archery, hunting in society, and hunting dogs. That afternoon took us to our first day at the hunting club where we were trained in game trailing, rifles and scopes, target acquisition, zones of fire, and trap shooting.
I think Wednesday best reflected the training goals – skills and knowledge. We were taught the necessary skills for safe hunting, but more importantly those skills were then put in perspective. Instructors taught us to how to effectively harvest a whitetail deer, but then ask “Why should we?” This led to conversations on overabundance, species balance, predator control, and the North American model of wildlife conservation. I quickly learned there was much more thought behind hunting than seasons, licenses, and other management issues.
The final full day included the option to go on a hunt. It was an opportunity to apply all of my newly acquired skills in a reasonably controlled setting. A pointer dog led the group, managed by a hunting guide. The guide then led two students on each side, and each student had an instructor with them as well. When the dog scented a pheasant he would stop and the guide would flush the bird, giving students a chance to shoot if the bird was safely within their zone of fire.
Groups flushed anywhere from 3 pheasants to 40 pheasants in the hour. Both my partner and I had success on our hunt which allowed the experience to continue.
I grew up fishing in the summer with my Dad and trap shooting on special occasions. However I never grew up hunting, and I knew I was still missing some key information to do it successfully like field dressing and cleaning game. If you took down a pheasant, you were expected to clean it and I was happy to do so. Oddly enough this was the most rewarding part of the class, not only for the meat, but for the knowledge.
Following the hunt our group sat around the Civil-War era hunting club eating lunch and discussing hunting ethics. It was enlightening to hear how not all issues were clear cut among the hunting constituency. Our instructors were split nearly 50/50 on issues which commonly arise among hunters. It was thought provoking trying to determine management guidelines when many of these issues were so evenly split. Luckily it was not our job to figure those out within the hour, and we left the hunting club excited about our eventful day.
We finished up Thursday continuing with contemporary management issues and also learning how to properly clean our guns. Friday morning we discussed lingering issues, wrapping up a full week of class.
I look forward to continuing to learn about hunting and where it plays a role in wildlife management. I’ve been recommending this class to my friends at work mostly because it was so enjoyable. But I highly recommend it for anyone regardless of career placement.
Overall my experience at Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow was illuminating. This is not a word I would use too often to describe a class, especially after 40+ college lectures in my recent history. But it opened my eyes to a hunting constituency that can be perceived very differently in the public eye. Of course no constituency is homogenous, but being able to look at hunting from a new perspective will be valuable not only for my career, but in my personal life as well.