By: Carson Love
The R3 Initiative primarily focuses on hunting and encapsulates hunters’ recruitment, retention, and reactivation through Georgia Wildlife Federation programs. However, at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources Annual Sporting Clays Tournament, I was able to see R3 coming together firsthand.
The Sporting Clays tournament hosted every April by Warnell is targeted to thank the donors, sponsors, and alumni of the school. Several local businesses and alumni sponsor teams or pairs shoot in the tournament together, and Warnell hosts a field lunch to encourage networking. Academics Afield has partnered with Warnell to encourage new and experienced shooters to participate on teams with alumni and faculty to strengthen the school’s past and present relationships. This year, in particular, we had a fantastic turnout for student shooters. In fact, I had more new shooters wanting to join in on the fun than I was able to accommodate.
The new shooters represent recruitment into the field of firearm sports and hunting. Although for this event, we were not pursuing game. Instead, new shooters learned about the level of respect and safety required when handling firearms. They also realized how they were contributing to conservation efforts through the purchase of their ammunition. Athens Rifle Club generously allowed us to host the firearms training at their facilities, giving the new shooters a feel for how the tournament would look. We were able to speak to several members of the club to get different perspectives on the use of firearms and the sporting community. Several of the new shooters indicated they had an interest in hunting but were not sure if they were ready to harvest. Others supported hunting but were not personally interested at that time. Creating the opportunity for them to be engaged with hunters and shooters showed them how supportive and inviting the community can be.
The previous UGA Academics Afield Coordinator, Cody Ellis, also participated in the tournament on my team, along with two new shooters. We were both able to coach them as we worked our way through the stations. We were able to talk to them about the retention aspect of the initiative by explaining that Cody was the coordinator before me, and his brother before him, and how our connections were still strong. Cody has supported me and the new shooters and offered advice and new opportunities even as I have taken over the role. We spoke to one of Academics Afield’s former participants that sponsored her own team for the tournament and were able to see her shoot confidently in the tournament and even beat her previous score! Several new shooters hoping to join in future hunts met with mentors and already made plans for upcoming seasons.
During the team pairing process, we looked at goals, interests, and personalities to make the best possible pairing between new and experienced shooters. Since a couple of new shooters did not have a team, we recruited several faculty members who had not shot in several years. This is where I saw the reactivation aspect of the program. Once they realized that they would be helping new shooters get comfortable in a potentially intimidating setting, they were excited at the opportunity. One faculty member remembered what it was like to show up at the range for the first time and wanted to make it as easy for the new shooter as possible. A familiar face always helps ease any nerves a new shooter might have.
Although it poured down rain and we were all soaking wet, everyone had a great time. The new shooters seemed very proud of how much they improved since the training and are looking forward to shooting again. For me, as coordinator of the program at UGA and passionate about creating a low-pressure entry into firearms and hunting, the sporting clays tournament always proves a challenge — Introducing someone that is completely new to firearms into a competitive atmosphere can be very daunting. However, seeing all aspects of R3 in front of me during this event and hearing positive remarks from new shooters, I have a lot of faith that we will have some new hunters and shooters joining the community very soon.
The Georgia R3 Initiative is a cooperative effort between Georgia Wildlife Federation, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division, National Wild Turkey Federation, the Georgia Chapter of Safari Club International, and Ducks Unlimited.
Academics Afield is supported by a grant (#F21AP00678-00) from the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Academics Afield: gwf.org/academicsafield
Georgia R3 Initiative: https://gwf.org/r3/
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About Georgia Wildlife Federation
Georgia Wildlife Federation was founded as a sportsman’s organization in 1936 and is Georgia’s oldest conservation organization. Today, members include hunters, anglers, bird watchers, hikers, educators, and all Georgians who are interested in preserving our natural resources and outdoor heritage.