Sometimes lightning strikes, and we get thunder… A non-traditional path into hunting

Sometimes lightning strikes, and we get thunder. No, I’m not referring to electricity and sonic booms. I’m making a comparison to the specific set of conditions that need to be met to be fortunate enough to hear a wild turkey gobble – AKA a thunder chicken! Knowing what conditions are required to be in the right place at the right time to hear a male bird gobble doesn’t come easy. Sometimes it feels as random as a lightning strike. For someone who didn’t grow up hunting, someone who grew up with a non-traditional urban background, understanding the intricacies of turkey hunting – but really hunting in general – without help is an entirely different stroke of luck.

I didn’t grow up hunting. I even tried to be a vegetarian for six months in college. Turns out I value Christmas ham and Thanksgiving dinner too much to stick that one out. I first began to consider learning how to hunt after spending some pretty pennies at the local meat market. Organic, free-range locally sourced protein is not cheap. Next, I was intrigued by hunting when I realized that hunters play an important role in maintaining healthy wildlife populations in the ecosystem. Finally, I was convinced when I learned that 10-11% of the sale of every gun and bullet sold goes straight back to conservation. It blew my mind to learn that hunters and target shooters pay DIRECTLY into conservation while all the other wildlife-related recreationists (except anglers) don’t have a structured pathway for financial contributions to conservation.

After knowing I wanted to learn, I asked around searching for someone to take me out, but none of the few hunters I knew ever followed through. Then one day, I was talking about the activity with an avid hunter and told him I had no idea how to get involved. Just as quickly, I was in the woods with him and his kids looking for squirrels. Matt changed my life when he invited me to join his family on their regular weekend outings. He taught me how to hunt squirrels, deer, and yes, the wild turkey. I had a lot of successful hunts with him. He made it easy for me, but eventually, I had to learn how to continue on my own. Fortunately, he also taught me HOW to learn. Guiding me through the maps, guiding me through the regulations book, and teaching me to read the behind-the-scenes data on harvest records and draw success for public properties with greater competition. I was hooked and never looked back. It took about three years of consistent contact to become independent. Eleven years later, I now have a career helping others learn the activity.

As the R3 Coordinator for Georgia, I work on the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters, anglers, and target shooters. In this position, I plan, organize, and host learn-to-hunt events. The Georgia Wildlife Federation in collaboration with the GA DNR Wildlife Resources Division, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, and the Georgia Chapter of Safari Club International all fund the position. Yet, we can’t do this on our own.

R3 is a philosophy – a way of life where all existing hunters need to pass on the knowledge they have to new participants. As mentors, we may not know all the answers, but we can teach new recruits what we do know. We can teach them what resources are out there and how to learn so that they can continue on their own. We can provide the social support they need to one day self-identify as a hunter too. So, I challenge you today. Invite a new hunter into the field with you. Go scouting, go shopping, go shooting. Spread the love and give the gift of hunting to others. Even if you don’t know everything, that’s okay, you don’t have to be a master. I don’t know everything, but I know enough to be addicted, I know enough to get others addicted, and I know enough that sometimes I get to hear the thunder!

The Georgia R3 Initiative is a cooperative effort between Georgia Wildlife FederationGeorgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources DivisionNational Wild Turkey Federation, the Georgia Chapter of Safari Club International, and Ducks Unlimited.

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