Connecting with Volunteers and Hunters during NCTC Managed Deer Hunt
By Lori Bennett, Program Analyst for the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program
The National Conservation Training Center’s (NCTC) managed hunts offers volunteers and hunters the opportunity to learn more about the sport and provides a safe place to mentor new hunters. This November I was grateful for a professional development opportunity that allowed me to shut down my laptop, get outside, and work the deer check-station at NCTC. It was a crisp, sunny, and breezy day with a high of 55 degrees. Staff and volunteers were set up in a climate-controlled space with tables, chairs, hot beverages, and a box of assorted candy waiting incoming hunters. As a program analyst for the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program in headquarters, this was all new for me, and I took in every detail as I prepared to work the afternoon shift at the check-station.
NCTC staff and volunteers were organized with checklists and were ready to guide and assist hunters and new volunteers. As hunters arrived, they first signed a liability waiver. Next, their hunter eligibility was checked by verifying various documents including government issued ID, state hunting license, and their hunter safety card. Finally, hunters were provided a permission slip and a designated hunt stand. Many hunters previously scouted their stands and already knew where to gain access. There was little time for me to visit with the eager veteran hunters. Once check-in was completed, they were on a mission to set-up in the woods.
Fortunately, I had time to visit with a father and son who patiently awaited as standby hunters. The dad was raised by his granddad who taught him how to hunt and fish at a young age. He admitted that his 10-year-old son has a passion for playing videogames with his friends. Dad added, "It is hard to get him away from the videogames and out of the house." Now his son has a new crossbow and target shoots in the backyard. Today was especially exciting for the pair as this was his son's first hunt. They spotted deer in the morning and were eager to return after lunch in town. If you are a standby hunter, you placed your name in a cup to be randomly selected after a certain time. The boy was outfitted in his new camo coveralls and black boots. He talked about his friend whom he plays videogames with and who already harvested a deer this season. This seemed to be a motivating factor and a welcomed new challenge for this energetic boy. The candy buffet helped him pass time waiting out the process. Once they were selected and assigned to a hunting stand, they quickly pranced out the door.
Time passed slowly for me as I anxiously waited for any hunter action. This gave me a chance to visit with the skilled volunteers who do this every season. This is the 21st year for the managed hunt program at NCTC. To control and promote a healthy deer population on campus, NCTC permits hunting using archery (including crossbows), shotguns with single slugs, and muzzleloader rifles during the appropriate seasons. Hunters are allowed to harvest two deer with the first being antlerless.
One check-station volunteer shared he is on a strict diet for health reasons. His doctor said he can eat chicken, pork, and venison. His words surprised me. But honestly, venison is lean organic protein while pork is known as the other white meat. For many hunting is a lifestyle and gateway to the outdoors and connection to nature. However, conversations like this highlight how people utilize the species they hunt for food for their families and communities. Hunting provides a local wild food source adding millions of meals to households across the country.
To help hunters, volunteers, and staff the NCTC check-station facility had everything needed including tick repellent spray, blaze orange vests and coveralls, utility vehicles, and a weigh scale. At dark the hunters returned one by one with stories of deer sightings. Then the dad proudly bragged his son was the first to spot a buck as he climbed up the tree stand. No shots are taken but everyone went home with a smile and stories to share. I asked the boy if his day in the woods was better than gaming. He smiled and quickly responded with a delightful, “YES!” He grabbed another fist full of candy and was on his way out the door.
While no deer were harvested during my volunteer shift, working a check-station was still a valuable and unique professional developmental experience. My time there helped me gain an understanding of managed hunts for conservation and allowed me to connect with volunteers and hunters. The NCTC staff that manage the hunt forward conservation stewardship and provide a unique hunting experience for participants. To learn more about the managed hunts at NCTC check out their informational video titled, Why We Have a Deer Hunt at NCTC.