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Conservation Organizations Better Deer, Grouse Hunting

BY NATE KENNEDY

Get ready folks! Fall is here and hunting season is upon us.

I’ve spent the last week fine tuning my gear for the season, packing my bags, and continuing my archery practice.

As I loaded the truck on Friday to head north for the weekend, two hunting implements took their places alongside my gear. The first is a 2016 Hoyt Powermax, my bow for this weekend’s northern zone archery opener. The second is a 1935 Western Arms .410 shotgun, an heirloom from my grandfather and my go-to gun for ruffed grouse. To me, deer and grouse are the heart and soul of hunting in New York state.

I cut my teeth chasing these animals, and would argue that they’re the tastiest critters around. They are by far my favorite fall game, and they’re both coming into season now! Last month, I purchased memberships to two conservation organizations: the Quality Deer Management Association and the Ruffed Grouse Society. Both groups display an overall mission to promote and protect the wildlife that I love, and have set and accomplished goals to focus on hunter education and recruitment, habitat protection and wildlife management. They have tremendous online and print content, a long-standing culture and hunting heritage, and a dedication to conservation ethics. I’m excited to support these organizations as I enter another season of deer and grouse hunting in New York state.

I first heard about the QDMA from my grandfather, who attended a local chapter banquet every spring, and from the state Department of Environmental Conservation Hunting Regulation booklet, where an infographic encourages hunters to “let young bucks go and watch them grow,” a sentiment I can certainly support but have not always participated in. In recent years, I have come to know the QDMA for much more than their deer management objectives. Their habitat conservation outreach and hunter education efforts are at the forefront of their work, and it’s easy to see the people behind the scenes are a dedicated bunch! The QDMA Field To Fork, Deer Steward, and Deer Hunting 101 programs are next to none when it comes to hunter education and recruitment programming. Recently, I attended an introductory Zoom meeting for the 2020 New York Field To Fork program. On the call were Mike Edwards and Matt Ross, QDMA staff from New York, and Hank Forester, QDMA’s Hunting Heritage Programs manager. Joining them were branch presidents, hunting mentors, past participants and this year’s slate of new hunters participating in the Field To Fork program. What an awesome group! Since its inception in 2016, the QDMA Field To Fork program has risen to the top of hunter recruitment and education. It has been incredibly successful in New York state, and the Upper Hudson River Valley and Greater Rochester Southern Tier branches were recognized in 2019 when the New York Field To Fork was named QDMA’s Event of the Year! The QDMA teams are excited, remarking that they look forward to another year of Field To Fork, that they’re happy to see new hunters taking their place at the table! Previous participants spoke to this year’s group about their experiences with the program, the incredible camaraderie, the excitement and the lasting impact it had on themselves and their families. Each participant walked us through the whole season from first hearing about Field To Fork at a farmers market, to hunter education and the gun range, to their first hunts and eventual successes. One person said, “It’s a really important part of the way we live now” when speaking about the wild game that fills his family freezer, and another said that Field to Fork was a “completely positive, life-changing experience” for her. Listening to the participants talk about the cold, dark mornings and the crunch of the snow and leaves is the same as listening to someone who has done it since they were a child. They did it, and now they understand it. It was really awesome to hear! This year the QDMA in New York state will bring out 18 new hunters in the Field To Fork program, in addition to some returning hunters from last year. QMDA encourages people to reach out if you are interested or would like to get involved! It’s easy to justify my QDMA membership through the stories I heard from participants in this program. As I head out this weekend for my own first deer hunts of the season, I am grateful for the hard work of the staff, mentors, partners and participants involved, and I wish them all a great season! The early archery whitetail season opens in the northern New York zone on Sunday, Sept. 27. But before I strike off in hopes of getting a deer, I’ll have spent Saturday in search of grouse! Ruffed grouse are simply amazing creatures. They are a great representative of the northwoods and of healthy forests, they’re fun and challenging to hunt, and on top of that they’re phenomenal eating. As a member of many conservation organizations and a lifelong grouse hunter, it only made sense to join the Ruffed Grouse Society. This year, I have been trying to contribute my time and money whenever possible to those groups working to conserve, research and celebrate the land and wildlife that I love, and RGS fits that bill! Established in 1961, RGS has spent nearly six decades working to preserve hunting tradition, conserve habitat, and implement management strategies for ruffed grouse, American woodcock, and other species across North America. In addition to land management and habitat conservation, RGS has a strong reputation for maintaining a great sense of community and culture through hunting and shooting events, fundraisers, banquets and specialized programming. Their website and social media outreach is full of educational information, habitat and hunting tips, shotgun and hunting dog content, and much more. RGS offers a New Hunter Mentor Program that aims to accomplish goals similar to the QDMA Field To Fork, offering a place and space for new hunters to safely learn the fundamentals involved in hunting, shooting, cleaning, cooking and eating wild food. It sounds great and it looks like fun, and if these programs get people out hunting deer, grouse or anything else, they have my full support! I can vividly recall my first grouse, and my first deer for that matter. Hunting for these animals in September and October is such an amazing way to spend time, connect with nature, and learn about the world around us. It gives me great pleasure to see new hunters from all walks of life joining groups like QDMA, RGS and others. I’m proud to join these groups alongside them, and to try to lend a hand whenever I can. If you are interested in hunting (or fishing or trapping for that matter), or if you’re interested in mentoring new hunters, please reach out! There are great programs from awesome organizations available! ----------------- Nate Kennedy is a Liverpool resident who works in Waterloo. An Ogdensburg native, he is a lifelong hunter and angler who holds a master's degree in environmental communication from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and he is a 4-H educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. Kennedy loves to write about and share his outdoor pursuits and his column appears the final Sunday of the month. Online resources DEC hunting: www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/hunting.html Quality Deer Management Association: www.qdma.com Ruffed Grouse Society: ruffedgrousesociety.org The Wild Harvest Table: www.wildharvesttable.com/2020/09/23/camp-grouse-improv

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