Dove Hunt Shows Appreciation to Hunter Ed Instructors
By DAVID RAINER
The highly successful Hunter Education Program in Alabama thrives on volunteers who help teach young and inexperienced hunters safe firearm handling and safety in the field.
Showing appreciation for those who volunteer is an aspect the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFFD) deems essential to maintain its treasured volunteer workforce.
In Baldwin County recently, Conservation Enforcement Officer Thad Holmes and Hunter Education Regional Coordinator James Altiere made sure those volunteers knew how important their help is via a jam-up dove hunt at Alligator Alley in Summerdale.
With landowner Wesley Moore pulling pork from a freshly barbecued pig he and his crew cooked overnight, the instructors started rolling in to partake of some fine barbecue and a hunt that featured mainly doves of the white-winged variety.
“We’ve had a lot of volunteer instructors help us,” said Thad Holmes, one of three conservation enforcement officers in Baldwin County, the largest county in Alabama in terms of land area. “These volunteers make it easier and more accessible for the kids coming of age (16) and younger to take the hunter education course.”
Open to individuals 10 years and older and required for those born on or after Aug. 1, 1977, the Alabama Hunter Education Course comes in three versions – a regular classroom setting with 10 hours of instruction plus a written examination; a CD-ROM course taken on the individual’s computer; and an online course available at www.outdooralabama.com. Those who use the CD or online courses must also complete “field day” instruction. The internet and/or CD course have many activities and questions, including a 50-question test that students must complete. The course includes but is not limited to firearm safety and handling, responsible hunting and hunter ethics, wildlife laws, wildlife management and identification, archery, muzzleloading, first aid, survival, and game care.
Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries personnel and volunteer instructors supervise and instruct at the field day, and students must learn and demonstrate skills such as loading and unloading different types of firearms, safely crossing fences, and other hunter safety activities. Students who successfully complete the hunter ed course receive a certification card that is recognized by other states across the nation.
Holmes said at one time the hunter education field days were set for the weekends, which consistently led to scheduling conflicts for volunteers and students alike.
“We got together with James and asked how we could change the field day to where it would be consistent,” Holmes said of fellow officers Clem Parnell and Sgt. Henry Lowery. “Now we have a field day course once a month. It’s from 6-9 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month. That way, individuals can plan their time to be there. It doesn’t interfere with the sporting events. Plus, it gives them ample opportunity to plan to be there. There is no excuse to not attend. Another good reason to have it on Tuesday is it doesn’t take officers out of the field on Saturdays when they are needed the most.
“Of course, we talked to the volunteer instructors and they wanted to move it to Tuesday, too. Saturday is when they were going outdoors or to a ball game and taking their children. Everybody was happy to do it.”
Altiere said the volunteers are especially crucial for the field days for the online and CD courses, which have become the dominant methods used to complete the hunter education training. He said the traditional three-day course instruction could get by with only a few instructors. However, the online/CD field days take from 10-12 officers and volunteers to deal with a typical graduating class.
“Sometimes we just barely have enough instructors,” Altiere said. “At a field day, it takes about a dozen volunteers. The advantage and disadvantage of the field day is it’s a shorter period of time, but it takes a lot more people to do it. We need to do whatever we can to show our appreciation for these volunteers, so the dove hunt was for them.”
Holmes and Altiere said the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association provides some funding to offset the cost of the volunteer events, which also includes a sporting clays outing at Gary Cox’s Bushy Creek Clays.
“We can’t thank Wesley Moore enough,” Holmes said. “It was his pig, his property. He’s one of the most generous people I know. The reason he does this is he believes in what we’re doing.”
Not only did Altiere achieve the goal of showing appreciation to the volunteers, he was also able to introduce a youngster, 10-year-old Clay Newton of Greenville, to the world of dove hunting.
“Clay had a big time,” Altiere said. “It was his first time to shoot doves. He had never shot a 20-gauge before. I took him hunting on my farm a few days after the dove hunt and he got five squirrels and a rabbit. Now he wants to know when are we going to have the next one.
“The main things I set out to do were done. That little boy had a blast, and the volunteer instructors had a good time.”
PHOTOS: Top - James Altiere, WFF Hunter Education Regional Coordinator, points out a group of white-winged doves to 10-year-old Clay Newton of Greenville on a hunt recently at Alligator Alley in Baldwin County.
Middle - The white-winged doves migrate occasionally to the Alabama Gulf Coast from Mexico and the southwestern U.S.
Bottom - Wesley Moore, owner of Alligator Alley, pulls pork from an 80-pound pig barbecued for the hunter education volunteers.