Randall Williams

April 26, 2021

In The Arena: Rachel Smiley

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Rachel Smiley

Hometown: Laramie, Wyoming
Occupation: Graduate Student
Conservation credentials: Working on her PhD on the interface between disease and nutrition in bighorn sheep

Growing up in Connecticut, Rachel Smiley never imagined that she would one day become a hunter. But a college course on wildlife biology put things in a new light and instilled an interest in acquiring her own game meat. Now a graduate student with the Monteith Shop research group at the University of Wyoming, Smiley studies wildlife ecology and has become a proud hunter.
Her observations about the information gap between hunters and nonhunters highlight one way that conservationists can expand our ranks and recruit new sportsmen and sportswomen.

This is her story.

 

I was 24 years old when I harvested my first animal – a white-tailed deer in northwest Wyoming. I sat with a doe in my sights for what felt like hours. Tall grass concealed me as I lay prone, mentally preparing myself to pull the trigger. Thankfully, the deer stayed broadside the whole time I contemplated the shot, just 50 yards away.

Shooting was the only part that made me nervous. I’d been researching ungulates—hoofed animals, like deer and elk—for a few years, so the other steps in the process came naturally to me: I’d tracked and stalked hundreds of animals and cut open plenty of dead deer and bighorn sheep to determine the cause of death. But, I’d never purposely killed an animal, and I never would have imagined that I’d become a hunter. As I sat silently, I reminded myself why I wanted to kill this deer.

For a long time, I was very opposed to hunting. Growing up, I didn’t know many hunters, but I didn’t think that was necessary to understand hunting. To me, things seemed simple enough: I loved animals and thought a sport centered around killing them was heartless. The widespread stereotype of the sloppy hunter was prominent in my mind, and I had heard urban legends of stray bullets hitting people, so I’d avoid the trailheads with lots of trucks and orange during hunting season. Complementary to my opposition to hunting was a vegetarian lifestyle that I adopted late in my teenage years. Eating meat was unnecessary, unsustainable, and an industry that I did not want to support.

So much of what is obvious to sportsmen and sportswomen about hunting never occurs to those who didn’t grow up around it, and my acceptance of hunting happened quickly once I learned more. Unexpectedly, a wildlife management class in college changed my thinking. I was exposed to fundamental concepts that I had never known or considered before.

I hadn’t realized that most of the funding for conservation comes from license fees and taxes on ammunition. For the first time, I began to consider how game meat offers a sustainable food source. I learned how deer overpopulation in some towns in the northeast was dealt with by sharp shooters, because there were not enough people hunting to keep deer numbers at a level that would prevent them from having a negative impact on the rest of the ecosystem.

With this new knowledge, I decided I would be okay with adding game meat to my otherwise vegetarian diet. At the time, I didn’t know many hunters, so the opportunity to eat game meat rarely arose. It took some internal debate and a couple of years to decide that if I was going to eat game meat, I should also be able to harvest it myself.

The possibility of becoming a hunter remained a hypothetical interest, until I moved to the West to pursue wildlife technician jobs and eventually a graduate degree in wildlife management at the University of Wyoming. Many of the people I met were hunters, and I tagged along with several, hoping I could help carry out the meat and become familiar with the process. An opportunity to hunt for myself came about on a lab retreat with my research group, the Monteith Shop. I was excited for the opportunity and overwhelmed with the possibility of turning my desire to hunt into reality.

With the whitetail in my scope, I was hyper-focused on the animal in front of me, but in the background, my thoughts replayed the change in my relationship to hunting over the past five years. I ignored the thought that my past self would be disappointed. Instead, I worried that I would make a bad shot (though I had practiced enough to know I wouldn’t). I wondered if I would feel sadness, guilt, or remorse if I did kill the deer.

Still, I was determined to push through the crux of this personal journey. I controlled my breathing and squeezed the trigger. I hit the deer in the vitals, it ran about ten yards, and fell to the ground. After a few seconds of not knowing what to feel, I was overcome with pride.
Since that first hunt, I’ve hunted pronghorn and elk and embraced this new aspect of my identity. I’m filled with pride and satisfaction whenever I open my full freezer, and I happily share the stories of my hunts when I make dinner with the meat I’ve processed. Without fail, my friends and family who knew me as a vegetarian are always shocked to learn I’ve taken up this sport.

My own personal story and numerous conversations with others tell me that the recruitment of new hunters doesn’t need to be an uphill battle. Perhaps most importantly, my experiences illustrate that we can’t take for granted that nonhunters understand what exactly it is that we do each fall, and we need to think carefully about the messages we’re sending. I encourage all sportsmen and sportswomen to be open-minded about what a hunter looks like and who might come to appreciate all that hunting has to offer.

Expanding hunter participation will require that we communicate what it is that we love about it. For me, this includes watching animals undisturbed, trying to understand their behaviors and anticipate their next movements, using the landscape to our advantage while stalking in close, and savoring the opportunity to eat the most locally sourced meat possible.

It’s also important that prospective hunters understand they don’t have to be perfectly comfortable with the idea of taking an animal’s life. Some in our community casually use terms like “killer” and “slayer” in jest and as a compliment, which still makes me uncomfortable. And if this type of language is off-putting to someone like me, it no doubt alienates nonhunters who are left with the wrong impression of what we find appealing about the sport.

Tree-hugging vegetarians might not be the easiest of recruits, but—with informed dialogue, generous mentors, and thoughtful messaging—they can be convinced. I’m living proof.

One Response to “In The Arena: Rachel Smiley”

Do you have any thoughts on this post?

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sara Hill

by:

posted in: In the Arena

March 8, 2021

In the Arena: South Carolina Wildlife Partnership

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

South Carolina Wildlife Partnership

Based in: Orangeburg, SC
Mission: We connect public hunters with private landowners who are willing to provide hunting opportunities that promote respect for the land and ethical hunting for the future.
Vision: To provide hunting opportunities for everyone in South Carolina who would like to participate.

Established in 2017 by a group of citizens passionate about responsible and ethical hunting, the South Carolina Wildlife Partnership aims to ensure that everyone in South Carolina who wants to hunt, will be able to.

Here is their story:

The idea for the Partnership came after seeing how long hunters have to wait to be successfully drawn through a lottery to hunt on state managed public lands in South Carolina. For some, these wait times can extend up to five years, and that’s because there is so little public land in the state. 92 percent of South Carolina is privately owned. That’s when we decided to partner with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to create opportunities for unsuccessful lottery applicants to hunt on private lands.

In only our second waterfowl season, we hosted 350 public hunters on well managed private lands, eliminating their wait time to hunt, providing an incredible outdoor experience, and connecting people with the land and wildlife they love.  Our hunters on average harvested roughly 3 birds out of a 6-bird daily bag limit, marking a big success for our organization!

Hunters don’t pay to participate in the program. If they aren’t drawn for a public land hunt through the Department of Natural Resources, they can opt in for the private land lottery through the Partnership.

Private landowners are the backbone of this program, as they understand the need for more hunting opportunity and trust the Partnership to conduct managed hunts on their properties.

We are funded completely by grants and donations. Part of this funding comes from the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), a federal program dedicated to creating public access on private lands. VPA HIP was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and provides funding to state and Tribal fish and wildlife agencies to incentivize private landowners to open their land, allowing for increased outdoor recreation opportunities. Initially championed by Jim Range, the founder of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the VPA HIP program has become the most successful tool for increasing public access on private land and helps fund programs like ours! (Click here to read more about this awesome access program.)

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources received $469,000 in VPA-HIP funding in 2020 to boost its Public Waterfowl Lottery Hunts Program.  You can opt in for the hunts with the Partnership by clicking HERE.

 

Randall Williams

March 20, 2020

In the Arena: Zack May

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

Zack May

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri (now resides in Oro Valley, Arizona)
Occupation: Retired Navy F/A-18 Pilot
Conservation credentials: Chapter President of Southern Arizona Quail Forever, which last year was awarded a Commendation of Achievement by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission for the organization’s work to improve quail habitat on the Coronado National Forest near the U.S.-Mexico border. SAQF volunteers built about 100 loose-rock dams which slow the runoff of water, retain soil, and provide habitat.

Growing up in Missouri, Zack May developed a lifelong interest in fish and wildlife. After a career as a pilot in the Navy flying F/A-18s, he settled down in southern Arizona and quickly grew a strong connection to the region’s landscapes and outdoor opportunities. A dedicated bird hunter (pictured above volunteering for a quail wing collection survey), he now serves as the chapter president of Southern Arizona Quail Forever, hoping to use his role there to ensure a brighter future for the species, lands, and traditions that he has enjoyed.

Here is his story.

I was introduced to hunting and fishing by my grandfather who had a farm in eastern Kansas. Those early experiences gave me a passion for the outdoors that stuck with me.

My favorite hunting experiences are anytime when I’m out with my dog. I love to watch a dog work. They are the best hunting partner you can have.

There’s no place I’d rather hunt than right out my backdoor here in Southern Arizona. We’re fortunate to have beautiful country and a wide diversity of quail and other wildlife

Here’s a short interview with Zack about the efforts of Southern Arizona Quail Forever to conserve and improve habitat, get more people outdoors, and open new access for sportsmen and women.

At this point in my life it is very important to me to give back and do all that I can to ensure future generations have the same opportunity I have had. The organization I’m a part of, Southern Arizona Quail Forever, hosts an annual family day and youth hunt. It’s a great chance to get people outside and teach them different skills.

We are made up of a lot of hunters, but we welcome non-hunters to our organization as well. Anybody who is interested in getting people out onto the landscape and supporting wildlife habitat, we want all those folks to feel welcome and to work with us to do great things.

I want to get as many folks outdoors as possible. If we do not increase the numbers of hunters, the North American Model of wildlife conservation will not be sustainable. We need to get our youth involved, as well as their parents, especially sisters and moms.

America has a special legacy of wildlife and outdoor traditions. We cannot afford to lose these opportunities and let the outdoors become accessible to only a few.

Ed. note: When TRCP staff headed to southern Arizona for a planning retreat earlier this year, Zack and a number of other generous SAQF members volunteered their time (and their dogs) to take us out into the field for a day of quail hunting. While it was a great opportunity to stretch our legs and check out a new landscape, it also gave us a chance to learn more about the efforts of Southern Arizona Quail Forever’s membership to improve access, habitat, and hunter participation. This is an impressive group and we appreciate the work they do!

Randall Williams

November 13, 2019

In the Arena: Alan Wentz

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

W. Alan Wentz

Hometown: Germantown, Tennessee
Occupation: Retired. Chief conservation officer for Ducks Unlimited from 1991 to 2010.
Conservation credentials: Recent winner of the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award, a lifelong wildlife management professional, and a former TRCP Board member.

Growing up in Ohio, Alan Wentz inherited from his family and community a fascination with fish and wildlife that gave shape to his private and professional life. After earning several degrees en route to a doctorate in wildlife management from the University of Michigan, Wentz spent the following decades working on conservation policy at the state and national level. A former president of the Wildlife Society, he recently received the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award, the highest honor given annually by that organization to an individual who has made significant contributions to the field of wildlife.

Here is his story.

 

Early Influences

My younger brother and I were both introduced to hunting and fishing by our father, who wanted to be sure we knew how to handle firearms. Like many others of that generation, his experiences in WWII led him to ensure that his children had outdoor skills. And a long association with the Boy Scouts—including serving on camp staff for more than a decade—gave me a grounded understanding of nature, camping, archery, hiking, firearms, and more.

I was also lucky enough to have several hunting and fishing mentors in our neighborhood, including one who taught me about trapping and another who was a fur buyer. The lady who lived next door was retired and took me fishing all over the county. A classmate’s father, who operated his own outdoor shop selling mostly fishing gear in a converted garage, taught me about tying flies.

More than anything else in my life, I have been most interested in conservation and the outdoors. Even as a child I was allowed to wander around the fields and woodlots near our farmstead. Observing the plants and animals and how people interact with the outdoors has always fascinated me. I devoured anything I could find in our local library on hunting, fishing, trapping, conservation, forestry, or any related topics, and enjoyed reading outdoor magazines such as Fur, Fish, and Game.

It kept me busy at all hours.

From the time I met the local game warden, I knew I was destined to work in conservation. This was in spite of my high school counselors, who laughed off the idea, and my adviser as an undergraduate at Ohio State University. After initially being surprised that I tried to declare a major in conservation as a first-term freshman, he made me pass a special written test to show him I was serious. He finally understood that I really meant to build a career for myself in conservation. I never wavered from that idea, and it seems to have worked out well.

A Life Outdoors

Two of my fondest memories from the outdoors both took place with family. The first was on one of our several trips to canoe and fish on a string of wilderness lakes in Ontario during the early 1960s. We caught several large northern pike, and my brother hooked and nearly landed a very large fish that has no doubt grown larger every time we have told the story—it was a real monster!

The second was when my brother introduced me to turkey hunting in Virginia. He called in a beautiful bird that we were able to watch coming through the woods. It was wary and circled us seemingly unsure of what we were. I tracked the bird with my shotgun for what seemed like hours (but was likely only minutes) and finally shot it.

It had looked like a large black barrel rolling down the hillside toward us, and I was so fascinated by it and the experience that I almost forgot to pull the trigger! My brother said the suspense was almost more than he could stand! It made me an addict for turkey hunting, and I’ve indulged for several decades.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have hunted all sorts of game across North America, from Canada to Mexico and coast to coast, as well as overseas from New Zealand to Sweden. But of all the available opportunities, waterfowl hunting in eastern South Dakota or upland bird hunting on the prairies of Kansas hold a special attraction for me.

There is nothing like hunting the wind-swept prairies and public lands of our Great Plains, a landscape that I find endlessly fascinating. It can feel isolated and pristine and game can be abundant, even today and in spite of agricultural conversion and energy development. You can discover masses of upland game birds in these places and face weather that will literally steal your breath with the wind, cold, ice and snow, and blazing sun.

It is a truly remarkable experience to bend down to accept a prairie chicken from the mouth of your own Labrador retriever or to witness a 150-inch whitetail buck stand up and run away after you nearly stepped on it without knowing it was there. The abundance of life on the prairies seems almost a contradiction given how barren it can appear nearly any time of the year.

The Road Ahead

Looking to the future, we face plenty of conservation challenges, foremost among them getting people to understand that climate change is on us and that it is going to affect every aspect of our lives. These changes are going to mean major modifications to all natural resources and how humans depend on them for survival.

The general public tends to be extraordinarily ignorant of wildlife, conservation, and the base of natural wealth that sustains us all. I doubt we can overcome that ignorance and get people to accept that they must change how they live. It is the challenge of the future and one we must win.

I believe the TRCP fills a unique niche in conservation, and its outlook and philosophy is sorely needed to help us organize all the other groups that have more specific missions, while also trying to organize unaffiliated sportsmen and women. The community of outdoor groups is diverse and splintered with lots of opinions and goals. TRCP is there to help them and others understand what is at risk if we continue to talk to ourselves—or, worse yet, fight silly internal battles that are unimportant in the big picture.

With conservation facing some of its toughest challenges in our history, we have to make our conservation missions relevant and known to decision makers, young people, and voters across all nations before it is too late. There is precious little time left, and this vision must be brought to light for all to see and act upon.

An additional item I appreciate about the TRCP is the focus on access. I have been lucky enough for most of my life to be able to access both public and private lands without too much worry. However I have developed a neuro-muscular problem that has left me in a power wheelchair, and access is now a critical issue for me. It has made me aware of how many people face similar challenges.

Hopefully, access issues will be a focus of public agencies and other groups, which will greatly benefit many sportsmen and women across the country.

 

Top photo by Dale Humburg.

Cory Deal

by:

posted in: In the Arena

October 2, 2019

In the Arena: Brianne Rogers

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

Brianne Rogers

Hometown: Bozeman, Montana
Occupation: Public relations consultant
Conservation credentials: A lifelong sportswoman and advocate.Worked for senators Max Baucus and John Walsh to advance conservation initiatives in Montana and nationally. Currently champions the protection of public lands in Alaska.
Favorite conservation quote: One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.

For Brianne Rogers, hunting is about experiences shared in the field and around the campfire. Her commitment to conservation has taken her all the way from small meeting rooms in Montana to Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, where she advocates against the seizure of public lands by private interests.

Here is her story.

I was first introduced to hunting by my dad, Brian Rogers. He was raised hunting ducks with his father and still recounts the childhood excitement of bringing birds home to pluck and roast whole.

After college, I moved back to my home state of Montana, got a Labrador retriever, and learned to train her with my dad. We’ve since had endless fun upland bird hunting in Montana and waterfowling across Montana, Canada, and Alaska.

I’ve had so many memorable times hunting, but nothing will match the intensity of hunting for king eiders—a large sea duck—off the coast of St. Paul Island, Alaska. We boarded a 20-foot inflatable boat and struck out into the Bering Sea to navigate eight-to-ten-foot swells.

In conditions like that there’s no staying dry. Instead, you’re being hit with freezing walls of briny water as your captain scans the waves for a line of calm water indicating the edge of the reef. The birds fly this stretch as they’re moving from roosting to feeding areas, and a good captain will position their hunter along this edge to set up for the hunt.

Ours was one such captain.

Eider ducks can fly at speeds of 45 to 65 miles per hour, so once you spot one, you need to mount your gun and lead the bird 10 to 20 feet before firing. Taking one down was so satisfying, because there were no second chances. Anything but a clean hit meant this tough sea bird would dive behind a wave, never to be seen again.

When hunting, location has always mattered less to me than the people I am with. The repartee and storytelling that comes at the end of a long day is hands down my favorite part of a hunting trip.

Hearing others share their favorite tales or having an older, more experienced hunter or colleague remind us of the “good ole days” always bring me back to something my dad shared with me decades ago: “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” The quote is from Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, and I think he captured the vital importance of hunter’s camaraderie perfectly. The shared experience that hunting engenders is so unique, it cannot be built in any other way.

I’ve focused my conservation advocacy on the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska. This 315,000-acre wilderness-and-wetland complex has remarkable expanses of eel grass and is vital to the survival of the world’s population of Pacific black brant and emperor geese. It’s an irreplaceable ecosystem that is facing a lot of challenges.

Designated as a Wetland of International Importance in 1986, this refuge has been beset with attempts by a foreign-owned company to de-list it from protected status in order to build a road that would bisect this wilderness. This seizure of public land has been prevented thanks to the work of many partners, thus avoiding setting a dangerous precedent for the opening of all wildlife refuges, national monuments, wilderness areas, and other public lands to economic development. However, if corporate interests remain, I fear that the threat will persist.

I spent my high school years helping my dad put his Townsend, Montana, ranch into a conservation easement. Every weekend, we planted shelter belts, cleared brush piles, reduced noxious weeds, and eventually watched the wetlands we constructed mature and flourish as a result of more balanced management.

Watching change like this firsthand has showed me what is possible if we bring folks of diverse backgrounds and upbringings together to be good stewards of our private and public lands.

 

Do you know someone In the Arenawho should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure.  Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create jobs, restore habitat, and preserve fish and wildlife.

Learn More
Subscribe

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!