Members of Delta Waterfowl, a nonprofit organization focused on the conservation of waterfowl and the pursuit of waterfowl hunting, might just find a few familiar names in the 2022 Annual Hunt issue of the organization’s magazine. Commissioner Anne Marie Doramus of Little Rock and Luke Naylor, the newly promoted Arkansas Game and Fish Commission chief of wildlife management, were both featured for their work in Delta’s innovative hunter recruitment effort, the University Hunting Program.
With the exception of 2020, overall hunter numbers have been on a steady decline for decades. However, when you dig deeper into the numbers, two particular segments of the hunting public have seen some growth: waterfowl hunters and nontraditional hunting audiences such as women.
The University Hunting Program from Delta Waterfowl capitalizes on those nontraditional audiences, offering mentored hunting opportunities to students in biological science fields who have little to no previous experience in the waterfowling woods. According to the article, a recent trend has shown a growing number of students in natural resource management fields who don’t have hunting experience and don’t come from traditional hunting families. Even in rural states, such as Arkansas, there are students learning to manage resources who don’t have the first-hand outdoors experience that their future decisions could impact. Doramus and Naylor, with the help of Delta Waterfowl, hope to change that.
Naylor worked with the University of Central Arkansas to host one of 39 University Hunting Programs conducted nationwide in 2021. Fellow AGFC staffer, Cody Walker in the AGFC Education Division who is based in Jonesboro, helped biology faculty member Jerad Henson lead another program with students from Christian Brothers University in Memphis. Combined, they had a dozen students attend classes on waterfowl management, duck identification, hunter education and the basics of duck calling and hunting. Each group had range days where they were introduced to safe shotgun-handling skills and shooting at moving targets by instructors in a controlled atmosphere.
“Bill Haynes at the AGFC’s range in Mayflower was a huge help with training some participants to shoot,” Naylor said. “They really connected with him and had a great time learning from an experienced and patient instructor.”
The program culminated with hunts sponsored by Delta, who furnished waders, shells and other needed equipment with the help of their partners in the waterfowling industry.
In addition to instruction, both AGFC staff members also guided participants on their first waterfowl hunts. In the case of the UCA students, Doramus was able to open her private duck-hunting club, the Hasty Drake, to participants and even help guide them during their hunt.
Doramus of Little Rock knows full well the challenges that face women and non-traditional hunting audiences. As one of the youngest commissioners to be appointed to the AGFC and the first female to be appointed to a full term, she adds a new perspective to traditional hunter recruitment campaigns.
“I think it’s incredible that this program is around and that I was able to be a part of it,” Doramus said. “We talk so much about teaching kids about the outdoors and that’s important, but we need to invest in these young adults even more.”
Doramus says not only are the participants in the University Hunting Program learning about hunting, but they’re learning how to be more independent and gaining life skills about getting outside of their comfort zone and relating to people from all sorts of backgrounds.
“It’s just like the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program the AGFC does,” Doramus said. “We’re showing these adults who have taken that step forward to learn the proper way to hunt and setting them up with the tools they need to be successful. And the social aspect of these hunts and programs is the icing on the cake.”
Walker said his experience and motivation to work with the mentored hunt program was very similar.
“These are people that very well could be making conservation management decisions in the future,” Walker said. “It’s really important to me that they know they aren’t just preserving waterfowl and habitat, they’re preserving the memories and relationships we as hunters build in the duck blind. Getting a bird is only a small part of the experience we hunters enjoy, and these younger conservationists that may one day take our place should get to understand that whole experience firsthand.”
Many of the participants were able to bag their first bird at the Hasty Drake, but a few did not see the same luck. Naylor took the opportunity with some of these students to apply for one of the AGFC’s Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement Program fields, where Arkansas rice producers are paid leases to flood fields and allow limited permit hunts through online draw programs.
“Two of the participants didn’t get a chance to shoot ducks, but were really interested in completing the program,” Naylor said. “We took them on two hunts using the WRICE program opportunity, showing them how they can sign up and do it themselves in the future. We were able not only to show them some success, but also the steps it takes to recreate the experience.”
Hopefully all the participants have found a new passion in waterfowling and will continue to pursue hunting other species. Naylor, meanwhile, has already begun the next class of University Hunting Program students, again at UCA. This time he has 15 fledgling hunters eager to learn.
“We hope this expands to other colleges in Arkansas, and are working with University of Arkansas faculty at Fayetteville to see if we can get a program off the ground,” Naylor said. “The main thing we need is a faculty member at the university with the time and enthusiasm to work with us to set up the meetings and gather students. But if you’re in Arkansas, there’s always someone wanting to learn more about ducks.”
Visit https://deltawaterfowl.org/deltas-university-hunting-program to learn more about Delta Waterfowl’s University Hunting Program.