Hunters Growing Hunters Though Weekend Duck Hunt
Artemis Georgia is an answer for ladies looking to learn about hunting, fishing and shooting sports.
Editor’s Note: Tina Johannsen is WRD’s Assistant Chief with Game Management. Olivia Menard helped tell the story.
I probably don’t have to tell y’all that hunters are a small group (less than 10% of the population), and in most states, our numbers are dwindling. State wildlife agencies like mine (GA DNR WRD) are funded by hunting and fishing license dollars and matching federal funds (Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson). Hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) is a big deal for us. Hunter education, shooting sports programs, youth events and new hunter/angler courses are all part of our efforts to continue our hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting sports traditions in Georgia.
For me personally, it’s something I do even outside my professional duties. One R3 activity I participate in is a group called Artemis Georgia, a collaboration with Georgia Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation. Its mission is to engage, empower and encourage women in conservation through hunting, fishing and shooting sports. Last year and this year, a hunting buddy and I hosted some women interested in learning more about hunting. We took them on a Screven County beaver swamp duck hunt in hopes of seeing some birds and maybe even getting their first ducks. Last year, our two newbies and my friend’s daughter harvested their first birds. This year, two ladies returned to serve as mentors to our new newbies. This is how new hunters are made!
We first set very low expectations; our beaver swamp can be productive, but shooting a limit is unlikely for even proficient wing-shooters. Most newbies just want to see how it all works, and that part we can show them. Mentoring is really quite simple and fun—do what you normally do, but narrate and answer questions.
We camp on site, so the early rising is less painful (but the cold still hurts!) Through experience, we have found decoys not very useful, but on the first day, we put some out to show our mentees how a standard u-shaped setup looks and should work. Waders are the way to go in this swamp, so we wade out to a likely looking spot between the tree lines and wait. As always, the ducks like to fly 15 minutes before shooting light. This is the best time to help our mentees learn to identify ducks from other early morning swamp birds, like woodpeckers. Our most common duck is the trusty wood duck, but the occasional teal, ringneck, hoodie or Canada goose keeps us hopeful as our toes slowly go numb in the thigh deep water.
For us mentors, having new folks along makes us appreciate even more the intangibles of hunting. The peacefulness of watching the swamp slowly light up, the excitement when a flock of teal buzzes by, the muted whine of an eager retriever. Last year, we also got the satisfaction of seeing our mentees fold a flying duck, hear the satisfying splash and join in the joyful whooping of the successful shooters.
Olivia Menard, 2022 newbie and 2023 mentor, described this year’s hunt: “Our group includes six hunters. Two of us are in our second year of slogging through swamps in search of tasty dabblers. Two others are growing hunters looking to better understand waterfowl and their habits in south Georgia swamps. This is our first morning in the swamp, each of the curious learners paired with a more seasoned hunter.
“Canada geese honk as they string just below the far side of the closest tree line. Distant shots follow their progress as first shooting light releases us. Fingers at the end of the vulture’s long black wings swoosh through the wind low over our heads as their committee gathers in a single tall tree above the highest branches touched by the moss. Splashes and quacks erupt between ‘mek’s and rapping from a ringneck ducking around, sampling a peppery leaf of swamp smartweed and feasting on the abundant pondweed floating between the canes.
“We are here, watching the rising sun set fire to the treetops along the edge of this cold, dark swamp. All around us the whistling croaks of drake wood ducks herald the arrival of each skein stringing low and fast between the trees—then the thunder of the guns.
“After a full day of getting to know each other, we all decided to rotate partners for the next morning hunt and try new spots. Mentees get to spend time with different mentors who bring their own style to the hunt. One gets to stand alone for her first solo morning in the swamp. This weekend is about trying new experiences and growing.”
What a weekend! The tally was five wood ducks and one drake green wing, and I feel like we were successful in growing a few new hunters and showing them the entire hunting process, not just the trigger pull.
For more information on Artemis GA: https://gwf.org/artemisgeorgia.
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