It is our obligation to give someone the gift of the outdoors
Story and photos by Colby Kerber, Hunting Heritage Program Manager for Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever
The memories created during our recent pursuit of migrating waterfowl in the vast landscapes of the central flyway will not soon be forgotten. The aromas, sounds and visuals scorched into my mind are beyond the harvest, revealing a story about the entire experience. There is nothing like witnessing the sunrise over a decoy spread on the water, hearing the whistling duck wings above you and watching intently as the natural world wakes up right in front of you.
The only thing that can top such a breathtaking spectacle is to share this feat with someone new.
Everyone has their own story of how they started hunting and when that passion was ignited. I am extremely grateful that I played a small role in what is hopefully a lifelong journey for a new sportsman named Jarrod. As a husband and father of 3 young kids, along with a busy career, Jarrod had a desire to spend more time outdoors and regain a focus seldom offered to us in the relentless distraction we face in our daily lives. But as someone who did not grow up in a hunting family, his options were limited. When I learned of Jarrod’s desire to become a sportsman a lot of thoughts came to my mind, but mostly excitement to help create a path forward in his quest for adventure and solitude.
The night before our hunt we reminisced about life and then discussed the true meaning of being a hunter-conservationist.
I described to him that he was now accountable for being ethical, following regulations, not trespassing, leaving no trace, thanking landowners, and taking responsibility for the wildlife he was going to pursue. As we discussed the importance of gun safety and conversed on the gear we would utilize, there was a unique point in time for me to challenge the narrative and offer a different perspective on the role hunters play in wildlife management. In that moment I gifted him with a Federal Migratory Bird Stamp and described how he was now a part of the longstanding solution to conservation funding. In the silent period that followed him thanking me, I took a deep breath and realized there is still hope for a strong future in our hunting heritage.
The morning of our first hunt I felt an anticipation that I hadn’t sensed in a long time, and I will never fail to remember how anxious I was to see what sights mother nature would provide us at sunrise.
We all need an outlet from the noise of the world, and I was truly grateful that Jarrod chose to connect with me, nature and the creatures that inhabit it. As the birds gracefully flew into good shooting range with wings tucked and feet down, he was able to successfully harvest his first wild bird. As a smile came over my face, I could tell a sense of awe consumed Jarrod as he graciously picked up that magnificent blue-winged teal. I’m proud to say his journey has just begun.
Over my adult years I’ve built my entire lifestyle around conservation and hunting, to say that nature has given me more than I could ask for is an understatement. But on this particular day, I felt that I was able to give back a small amount of my debt by fostering another one of the greatest conservationists this earth has to offer… a hunter.
With the challenging times during the coronavirus, we have seen a growing number of Americans like Jarrod turning to outdoor activities including hunting. The latest research shows that many people are motivated to give hunting a try and according to many state wildlife agencies, presently there is a major uptick in either hunting license sales or permit applications across the country.
People are realizing that hunting is a healthy activity to be enjoyed with family and friends that provides nutritious meat, plus it allows them to put their busy lives on hold for a time to reconnect with nature. As more people like Jarrod start to consider self-reliance and where their food comes from, it is extremely important for us to welcome them into the hunting community with multiple opportunities and encouragement.
Now that we are seeing an influx of fresh hunters, we must focus on ways to retain them. Unfortunately, many in-person events and Lear- to-Hunt experiences have been canceled or postponed this fall, forcing us to slow down and give more thought to how we can adapt, diversify and be strategic with new ways to strengthen our hunting heritage. Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever continuously adjust to the rapidly changing social and physical environment around us, so we have modified our programs to fit social distancing guidelines while still inspiring people to get outdoors. We’ve also doubled down on our commitment to save the outdoor lifestyle by welcoming more hunters, because conservation is dependent on us succeeding!
Now more than ever, we need individuals to willingly step up and mentor someone. The true magic happens when hunters are willing to help one another and share an emotional connection together. Providing social support gives a sense of belonging and as new hunters become more comfortable through shared experiences. And the odds greatly increase that they will eventually become lifelong outdoor enthusiasts.
By the time you are reading this, many of you will already be enjoying the dramatic sound of teal buzzing overhead on a crisp morning, watching a golden prairie sunset as you follow your determined dog or soaking in the earthly aroma of a sizzling campfire with companions. How much is that worth to you? To me it is priceless, and that is why we work so hard to protect it. Those memory filled days afield should be a reminder that it is our obligation to engage new individuals in order to expand, renew and simply do better for the future of the hunting heritage we all love so deeply.