Habitat & Conservation  |  02/12/2024

National Volunteer of the Year Award Finalist: Catherine Thompson


Leading the charge for Women on the Wing

This year, for the first time, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever will recognize a national “Volunteer of the Year.”

The award celebrates the very best the organization has to offer — the members and volunteers who optimize the Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever mission, who seek to protect and grow our wildlife habitat, and who help ensure our heritage continues for generations to come. 

We have chosen eight finalists (Four Pheasants Forever and four Quail Forever) for the award. The winner will be announced at the upcoming National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic, which runs March 1-3 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. 

“Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are dynamic conservation organizations, fueled by the dedication of volunteers,” said Tom Fuller, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s vice president of chapter and volunteer services. “The Volunteer of the Year award seeks to honor individuals who have made a profound impact on our mission. Our volunteer network is a vibrant community of passion and talent. This annual award is a celebration of the remarkable accomplishments of these volunteers, and is intended to inspire others to join the movement for upland conservation.”

Over the course of the next four weeks we’ll get to know each finalist, and celebrate their accomplishments in the world of habitat conservation. The next volunteer we’ll highlight is Catherine Thompson, from the Yuma Desert Doves Women on the Wing Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Arizona.  

Let’s start by just telling us a little more about yourself. Your history with bird hunting and conservation, how long you’ve been a member of Pheasants Forever, etc

 My name is Catherine Thompson, I'm 62 years old and have been involved with recruitment, retention and reactivation for around five years now. My daughter and I started a program in Yuma, AZ called the "Women's Five Part Hunting Series" (aka Yuma Desert Doves). Basically, it's a learn to hunt program spaced out into five months. We meet once a month starting in May, end in September and learn a different skill every month. 

I’ve worked for the Arizona Game and Fish Department for the last 20 years. I’m somewhat new to bird hunting and trap shooting, and am still trying to master both skills. It's a challenge I take on by giving it all I have as often as I can.  When I started the learn to hunt program, I was not a hunter at all, but I wanted to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, so I went to as many learn to hunt programs as I could.

I have a daughter who is 37 and shares the same passion that I do, she has a Ducks Unlimited chapter in Oklahoma. I also have a 32-year-old son, who has a passion for building trucks and cars. My five grandchildren are the loves of my life and we all enjoy being outdoors and meeting likeminded people. I try to include my husband in many of the events that we put on and he helps with the learn to hunt programs since he is a long-time hunter. 

What initially spurred you to get involved with your local chapter? 

When my daughter and I started the learn to hunt series, there weren’t any outdoor resources in Yuma for women. That’s the reason we started the program, then I figured out that once women completed the series, there was nowhere for them to move on or meet other likeminded women. That's where David Gutierrez came into the picture. David (aformer Pheasants Forever regional representative) talked to me about Women on the Wing and it sounded exactly like the thing we were looking for. At this time I had five female mentors helping with the learn-to-hunt series, I spoke to them about becoming a chapter so we had a place for women to move on with hunting and shooting sports. They were all on board, so now we are Yuma Desert Doves-WOTW. Our chapter is growing fast and women are excited to learn and build relationships within the chapter.

Talk about the work you and your chapter have been doing over the course of the last year. 

 Our main event is the Women’s Five Part Hunting Series. We recruit 20 women for this program and since it’s a five-month long series, we end up building relationships with the women and they tend to migrate to the chapter. 

We also have a Learn to Shoot clinic where we partner with 4-H Shooting Sports. This event also takes 20 women for a one day clinic teaching women how to shoot muzzleloaders, shotguns shooting clays, archery and pellet guns. They also get to shoot 22 LR where they compete using targets. We have an annual learn to turkey call partnering with the NWTF. The NWTF comes to Yuma in the spring and we setup in a park, this event is open to the public. Adults or children can attend and they are taught to use turkey calls and given information on wild turkey conservation and invited to youth camps by the NWTF. Everyone that attends this event, leaves happy. We’ve also had a women’s mentored waterfowl hunt, but had to cancel this year due to the pump being down at the refuge.

We’ve hosted a pint night with Ducks Unlimited for the women’s waterfowl hunt and invited the public to attend. We had a really good turnout for that event. 

There are nearly 140,000 Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members, and eight total finalists for Volunteer of the Year. What does it mean to be nominated for this award? 

 I’m honored to be a finalist for Volunteer of the Year. It means so much to me to be recognized for the hard work that goes into volunteering with Pheasants Forever — mentoring women, working with board members and continuously building local relationships to help the chapter. If I am selected, I will do my very best to make Pheasants Forever proud to have me as their mentor of the year. 

One of the most profound aspects of volunteering for Pheasants Forever is you can see and touch the work. It’s not abstract, or done in some far away place. When you accomplish a habitat project, you can stand in the dirt and witness the progress firsthand. Same is true for outreach — you get to see new people discover the world of conservation or watch a bird dog work for the very first time. What’s it feel like to sit back and watch your work come to fruition?

Watching the face of a woman shooting her first bird or taking her first shot with a shotgun means everything to me. I’m an emotional woman, so when I want to tell someone that I’m proud of them for taking that first shot or harvesting their first bird, I will cry. I just can’t help myself. It’s the reason I keep doing this, women are grateful for the experience and I’m grateful that I get to be that person to give it to them.