Tag Archives: youth

Mentoring New Hunters in Vermont

Today guest blogger Wendy Grice Butler, shares her story of how mentoring one new hunter can influence many new conservationists in return. 

A few years ago, a worried colleague approached me, expressing concern around her son’s intense interest in hunting. Being self-described left-leaning hippies, Sheila and her husband could not understand what was driving their son, Angus’, interest to take up hunting.  I recommended a week of Conservation Camp for Angus where he would participate in Hunters Education followed by finding Angus a mentor.

Sheila and Angus

Eventually, I became Angus’ mentor. Am I a duck hunter? Not really, but you bet I scouted ducks that fall and in the early morning hours of duck season, I dragged a kayak loaded with decoys through a cornfield to be a mentor, guide and retriever to Angus. His mom, Sheila, would drop him off early in the morning, we would hunt ducks for a couple of hours and then she would deliver him to his private school, complete with camo paint on his face. As a family, Angus and his parents prepared the game he brought home and they grew to understand the importance of conservation through hunting. Sheila and husband, Bill, eventually took my Hunters Ed Course themselves.

Hunter Education, 2018

As it turned out, one of his classmate’s father happened to be a chef, restaurant owner and more importantly, landowner on Lake Champlain. “Not a duck hunter”, Angus explained to me, but he would take Angus hunting. Very quickly, the “non-hunting, lake-front owning, chef” took up duck hunting, which makes perfect sense, really, and wild duck was on the menu for the next staff dinner. Remarkably, this very French restaurant now hosts an annual game dinner, attended by hunters and non-hunters alike. In this case, mentoring just one person introduced many people to hunting as a means of conservation. It also allowed a new hunter to bring at least one more hunter into the field.

Wendy Butler and Granddaughter Isabelle

When youth turkey season rolled around the next spring, I took Angus to my very best hunting spot. The place I prefer to hunt myself. I plan for the highest success rate possible for every brand new hunter I work with. Angus was not the first new hunter to take advantage of my favorite turkey hunting location, nor was he the last. Abby Copeland contacted me for turkey hunting tips and I invited her to join me on a hunt. She bagged her first turkey that morning and one or two springs later, I had an excited email from her, describing an exciting hunt where she had been the mentor for a college student friend.

I teach Hunters Education at a local college for students, faculty, staff and adults from the community, who, like Angus and Abby, are interested in becoming hunters. The challenge for these new hunters without the benefit of growing up in a hunting tradition is where exactly to begin after their certification. My point in this is to say, in times when hunting license sales are declining and food culture is changing, we as a hunting community must invest our time in mentoring new hunters. Mentoring truly is not a sacrifice, it is an investment and maybe, even more thrilling than hunting for myself. At least its close!

A non-hunter’s guide to hunting

You may be wondering how regulated hunting contributes to conservation, the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and if it’s a sustainable practice.

Let’s start with the mission of the Service: working with others to conserve, enhance, and protect fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. A key component enabling the Service to carry out their mission is conserving and enhancing habitat, managed under the National Wildlife Refuge System. The purchase of federal duck stamps, required by all waterfowl hunters, provides the funding needed to conserve new lands, enhancing opportunities for outdoor activities where people can connect with nature.

Outdoor opportunities, including regulated hunting, are among the benefits people enjoy through the work of federal and state partnerships. For many, hunting is a family activity that transcends generations. Many feel hunting not only teaches the value and importance of wildlife conservation, but teaches imperative life lessons such as patience, respect, solitude, and self-awareness. Scott Kahan, Regional Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, for example, feels hunting is an important way to reconnect with nature and spend quality time with his two sons. He writes, “I will cherish the opportunity to get out in the woods to hunt with my sons and reconnect with those things that are truly important to me.”

Scott Kahan and his son at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota.

So how do hunters contribute to the Service’s mission to conserve, enhance, and protect wildlife? First, biologists study and monitor the populations of wildlife species that are hunted to ensure populations are sustainable and healthy, while law enforcement officers ensure that regulations are being followed by hunters. In some areas, populations of game species can become overabundant, limiting the amount of suitable habitat available for other wildlife. In these situations, hunting contributes to the conservation, enhancement, and longevity of habitat for all wildlife through the regulated take of an overabundant species.

A meat processor participating in the Hunters Sharing the Harvest Program.

In addition to conservation benefits, hunting is a sustainable way to provide food for your family. Alternatively, if you enjoy hunting and have game meat to share, you can supply nutritious food for over 200 people by donating a single deer! Programs such as “Hunters Helping the Hungry” in New Jersey and “Hunters Sharing the Harvest” in Pennsylvania, allow hunters to donate their harvest to help feed those in need. Even if you are unsuccessful in harvesting a deer, you still had the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, spend time with family and friends, and participate in a wildlife-dependent activity!

Pennsylvania’s pheasant propagation program provides enhanced hunting opportunities for junior hunters. Photo by Hal Korber.

Are you interested in learning how to hunt? To obtain a hunting license, a prospective hunter must participate in and pass a hunter’s education course. These courses are funded by the Service through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program and are carried out by state agencies, and are designed to teach students to be safe, responsible, and conservation-minded hunters. Many programs are specifically designed for youth hunters, such as the Pennsylvania Junior Pheasant Hunt Program, where young hunters are guided by an experienced mentor throughout the hunt.

For experienced hunters who wish to expand their hunting knowledge, many states offer advanced hunting courses. For example, Vermont offers advanced hunting courses focusing on hunting Vermont black bears, white-tailed deer tracking and processing, and small game hunting with dogs.

Learn more about hunting on public lands here.

Click here to learn more about hunting on national wildlife refuges.

For links to state fish and wildlife agencies, click here.

City Green Space Becomes Educational Campground for Youth

A wave of energy rolls off the bus with sleeping bags and tents slung over shoulders. Roughly 30 kids are setting out on a new adventure in an unlikely place. The murmurs of excitement grow louder as the campers approach their campsites.

At the foot of Cayuga Lake in central New York, Ithaca Children’s Garden champions opportunity to connect people to the outdoors in an urban environment. The all-inclusive green space welcomes anyone from anywhere to explore, play, and learn.


Group photo of the campers, counselors, and event organizers.  Photo: Ithaca Children’s Garden

For the first time, Ithaca Children’s Garden partnered with the Service’s New York Field Office (NYFO) to offer an overnight camp out for kids that may have never had the opportunity to sleep outside*. A youth summer camp of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) was the piloting crew for the camp out.

“This is just absolutely beautiful” exclaims one of the counselors, named Derek, as he walks through the Garden. He is 57 and says he is embarrassed he has never been camping before now, but is eager to change that.

It’s a warm July evening and the Garden is full of life – from the plants and wildlife to the energetic kids. After a brief walking tour, everyone breaks into teams to learn how to pitch their tents.

Thanks to Cornell Outdoor Education and Eastern Mountain Sports, the group was well-supplied with tents, sleeping bags, pads, and headlamps. Food was generously provided by local markets including Wegmans, Aldi’s, GreenStar, and Ithaca Bakery.

Once sleeping arrangements were set and everyone was fed, it was time to play and learn. The NYFO organized an interactive “bat echolocation” game, much like “Marco-Polo,” where players had to rely on sound to catch the “prey.” Campers also learned how to identify various nocturnal wildlife sounds.


GIAC counselor, known as “Uncle Ben,” pretends to be the bat searching for prey.  Photo: Justin Dalaba/USFWS

Of course, no camping trip is complete without a campfire and s’mores. Everyone learned how to safely build a fire outdoors before roasting their marshmallows. Later in the evening, sugar highs were expelled through games of spotlight tag. Tired campers enjoyed stories and social time in their tents before finally drifting off to sleep.


Campers enjoy a fire they learned how to build themselves.  Photo: Justin Dalaba/USFWS

Cornell Lab of Ornithology loaned binoculars for an early morning bird walk led by ornithologists Robyn Bailey and Paul Paradine the next day. “The cool thing is that the kids don’t realize we’re tricking them into learning,” says Courtney, a longtime counselor with GIAC.


Searching for birds in the Garden with ornithologists Robyn Bailey and Paul Paradine (far right).  Photo: Justin Dalaba/USFWS

One of the campers later told GIAC counselor, Derek, that it was the best day of his life. Another camper said they “loved camping at the Garden” and “want to do two nights or a week!”

The success of this first camp out speaks to the partnership efforts to pull together resources for the greater benefit of urban youth. For an event like this, the Garden took on a whole new sense of belonging to campers who had never spent a night outdoors.

*Please note that ICG is free and open every day during daylight hours, and camping is not allowed without express city approval for special events.