Cambridge, Maryland — Twenty-three aspiring hunters gathered to learn how to pursue big game and provide food for themselves and their families at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Oct. 26-27 during the refuge’s inaugural First Shots deer hunt.
The hunt was sponsored by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA), Maryland Department of Natural Resources and National Wild Turkey Federation. More than 60 applications were received for the 23 available opportunities to be mentored by an experienced hunter and learn hunting basics including scouting, stand placement, biology and field care. The individuals selected were all new adult hunters who did not have a support network to help them develop a new lifelong passion.
Applicants were also eager to harvest their first deer, and at press time the apprentice hunters had harvested a total of 17 deer, with additional hunting opportunities set for later in the week.
In September of 2017, the USA partnered with the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to conduct a sika and white-tailed deer population survey using infrared imaging technology. The long-term goal was to provide necessary population data to the refuge—allowing for more opportunities for sustainable deer hunting.
USA put out a call to local members asking them to consider volunteering as a mentor. International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 24 Apprentice Coordinator Brian Cavey wasted no time applying to be a mentor.
“I was honored and privileged to take part in Maryland’s Mentored Deer Hunting Program,” said Cavey. “What a way to introduce new hunters to the wonderful world of the outdoors and hunting.”
Cavey, of Pasadena, Maryland, is a third generation insulator—having followed in the footsteps of his retired father and grandfather. His father was also responsible for introducing him to hunting and the shooting sports—which became a lifelong bond they shared.
Cavey’s mentee, Nasr Majid, of Ellicott City, Maryland, explained that no one in his immediate family hunted—therefore he had no one to learn from but was still determined to pursue the sport. When he saw the ad for the mentored deer hunt on the Maryland DNR’s website, he was hopeful for a learning opportunity and applied.
“My driving intent in wanting to hunt is passing along a lifelong outdoor skill to my three young kids, and to be able to enjoy the most local, organic food I harvested myself,” said Majid. “With all these natural resources around us, I’ve realized that hunting and conservation go together and being involved not only benefits the individual, but provides resources for local conservation as well.”
Cavey and Majid were all smiles after their deer hunt—having successfully harvested a hind (female sika) on the last day of the hunt.
“Lo and behold we were successful in the last hour of the last day of the hunt,” said Cavey. “If you ever get the chance to take part in a new hunter mentoring program, do it! You won’t be disappointed.”
Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex Project Leader Marcia Pradines highlighted the importance of partnering on these mentoring programs.
“Helping new hunters gain confidence and experience through the First Shot mentored program not only helps grow the hunting community but also supports conservation,” said Pradines. “We at Blackwater NWR appreciate the partnership with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. The Millennium tree stands USA donated allowed our 23 mentors to safely and effectively learn to hunt.”
The USA donated $3,700 worth of Millennium Treestands for the mentored hunt—one for every hunter. Other top brands and USA partners including Carhartt, Buck Knives, Plano Synergy, Outtech and Burris also donated a variety of products for mentors and mentees to enjoy.
Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA): The USA is a union-dedicated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose members hunt, fish, shoot and volunteer their skills for conservation. The USA is uniting the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage. For more information, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Work Boots on the Ground (WBG): WBG is the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s flagship conservation program that brings together union members willing to volunteer their time and expertise to conservation projects that improve and enhance public access to the outdoors, conserve wildlife habitat, restore America’s parks and mentor youth in the outdoors. The USA’s WBG program works closely with federal, state and local agencies and other conservation groups to provide manpower needed to complete critical projects that may otherwise go undone.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, protects over 29,000 acres of rich tidal marsh, mixed hardwood and pine forest, managed freshwater wetlands and cropland for a diversity of wildlife. To learn more, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuge/blackwater or @BlackwaterNWR.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.