Adult Mentored Hunting Program
Alabama Hunting & Fishing
Millions of dollars are being spent nationwide in an attempt to slow the continued gradual decline in hunting license sales. R3 programs, that focus on the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters, have been one of the main focal points of all state agencies to address this concern. Like most agencies, the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) has continued to conduct various programs designed to either recruit new hunters or engage lapsed hunters for decades. Unfortunately, most of these programs have only achieved limited success.
One of the great attributes of Alabama is its vibrant hunting culture. While this sets a reassuring tone with seasoned hunters, it unfortunately, can make for an intimidating and embarrassing environment for adults seeking guidance on a subject that most of us assume everyone has extensive subject matter knowledge. In an effort to overcome this major speedbump obstructing interested individuals, WFF, with assistance from the Alabama State Lands Division, Mobile County School System, and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), initiated the Adult Mentored Hunting (AMH) Program. The AMH Program breaks the mentoring mold in that it concentrates efforts on adults. These are adults who either did not have or missed the opportunity while growing up to partake in hunting activities, but still retain a strong yearning to learn about this alluring subject, with the desired end product, to become a hunter. The Program was initiated to satisfy this need, by providing a safe and judgement-free environment, structured in a manner to prevent newcomers from being intimidated.
Interest in the AMH Program in the initial year was much more than anticipated with over 120 adults from six different states submitting applications to be considered for one of the limited hunting opportunities provided in Dallas County at the Cedar Creek Special Opportunity Area or in Mobile County at the Frey and Russell Road Properties. Of those applicants, 71 were selected as participants for big game and small game hunts. Applicants came from all walks of life, including engineers, a communications director, an army reserve trainer, a radio show producer, and a gastroenterologist and possessed varying reasons for enrolling in the program. Though a common theme among all participants was the desire to be more in control of providing themselves a healthy food source and the desire to learn something they could share with their loved ones that would allow them to spend more quality time outdoors.
Success wasn’t measured by the number of animals harvested during the events, but it certainly added to the experience for the participants. Under the tutelage of seasoned mentors, an overwhelming 40% of participants harvested their first deer, turkey, rabbit, or squirrel during a mentored hunt. Each mentored hunt provided participants with the opportunity to learn about firearm or archery safety, scouting techniques, stand selection, blood trailing, field dressing, game cleaning, wild game cooking and the vital role hunters play in wildlife conservation. When participants harvested an animal, it provided opportunities for the whole group to get hands-on experience, which they participated with a fervor. This collection of lecture and field experiences allowed the participants to leave the program with a much better understanding of what it means to be a well-rounded hunter.
Generous sponsorships from outdoor recreation-based companies equipped the new hunters with camouflage clothing and a generous gift bag of essentials to start their hunting gear collection. In addition, the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s (AWF) winning Wild Game Cook Off teams graciously provided a Saturday night’s feast for the new hunters and mentors on several of the deer hunts, highlighting the full culinary potential of the wild game which they pursue.
The AMH Program is no doubt a labor-intensive and expensive program to conduct. However, WFF staff realizes beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is well worth the extended effort. Despite the fact we are only impacting a limited number of participants, the bottom line is we are creating hunters. And in turn, these new hunters are having positive conversations with their peers about the benefits and enjoyment of hunting and how our department is providing this service.
However, state agencies and conservation groups can’t do this alone. As hunters, everyone needs to take it upon ourselves to mentor new hunters if we want to see this pastime we value continue. Many of the first-year participants had friends who were avid hunters, but didn’t feel comfortable asking them to teach or take them hunting, nor did they receive an invite to go. That statement should be a wake-up call to all hunters. Look around you at work, church, the ball field, or any place you have repeated contact with the same group of people and be a proactive mentor. Don’t forget, someone who wants to learn to hunt isn’t always a child. Thousands of adults would jump at the opportunity to go hunting with and learn from a seasoned hunter.
With hunting licenses being purchased by less than 5% of the residents of Alabama, there’s likely an abundant untapped market of potential hunters out there. Be part of the solution and reach out to these individuals to enlighten them and open the door on the great sport of hunting we all enjoy.
If this experience sounds appealing and you want more information about participating as a mentor, a new hunter, or if you’d like to assist by hosting a mentored hunt on your property, please visit our website www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/adult-mentored-hunting-program for more program information or contact Justin Grider, North-Central Hunter Education Coordinator, via email at Justin.Grider@dcnr.alabama.gov or give him a call at 334-590-4084.