In May I was given the opportunity to attend an outreach event put on by Pheasants Forever held at the beautiful Trout Lodge YMCA of the Ozarks in Missouri. The event brought together Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation and North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association and focused on the tactics and techniques of outreach with the goal of moving conservation efforts forward.
“Scott... David was asking for you” Jonathan explains over the crowded room. As I scan the room, looking for David, I prepare myself for another social interaction. For me, these interactions are work. They demand more mental focus than writing this article. What’s worse is I don’t consider myself very good at them. It’s the small talk, in my 32 years I have improved, but it’s simply not natural.
David, sitting next to his son Sawyer, waves me over to his table. I kneel down next to him and we talk about dogs, hunting and my home state, Michigan. As the conversation starts to dry I ask how the shooting clinic went. I had attended the day before and knew it was excellent.
“I kept missing… I mean I haven’t been able to shoot a clay in sometime,” David said. “The coach came up and I tried to explain... but she already knew. Apparently, she had experienced this within her own family. Sally took some time to work with me, one-on-one. The next thing I knew clays were breaking… Being diagnosed with MS is hard but this was a powerful and emotional moment for me and my son.”
In my mind the room went silent… Often these type of events are like a conversation replete with small talk. They seem pleasant enough but what they accomplish is unclear. In this instant I knew that this event was different. This made me reflect, did I miss the substance for the chatter, was the noise covering the signal?
“Man, that event was awesome! I think I really found a passion,” Jonathan explains as we walk away from the pollinator event. We had just finished learning about bees, butterflies and milkweed. As we left the classroom and headed towards the field I had a newfound respect for the challenges and problems that a field biologist confronts.
In the field, we plant native plants that will eventually nourish bees and other pollinating insects. Jonathan continues “This is something that I can do with my wife. It’s perfect working with kids and helping the environment at the same time. Plus we can do it in an urban environment.” As we leave the field I clean the dirt from underneath my nails and wonder who else might find a passion at this event.
After lunch, I walk downstairs towards the classrooms and hear the familiar sound of a turkey yelp. The yelp invites me into the classroom adorned with different types of turkey decoys, calls and turkey hunting gear. A gentleman sitting next to me starts asking the instructor questions about shotgun gauges, shot types and calling methods. The conversation gets deep in the weeds and is teeming with the type of jargon hunters like to use.
A lady, about my age, confused by all this, raises her hand. “I’m not sure I am in the right place. It seems like you all have advanced knowledge in this area and I am just learning.” Keith, one of the instructors pauses for a moment and then responds “You’re in exactly the right place.” Keith then moves forward and expertly explains the details with a novice in mind. It served to remind me about the double edged nature of expertise. I make a mental note to communicate vernacularly and not lose anyone in the details.
On the final day of the event we broke into the specific group to which we belonged. For me this meant having a meeting with about 13 other North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) members. We talked about what we learned and the take aways from the event.
Ideas flew back and forth and the hour and half time frame was not nearly long enough. The main theme that we kept going back to was that this event represented a bigger opportunity. A chance to be open to and work in coordination with other groups. NAVHDA is a comparatively small group. But what we lack in numbers we make up for with an important niche. A niche that automatically makes us more relatable… a love for great dogs. We should use our love and leverage the cooperation of like-minded organizations to further the North American ideals of conservation.
Over the weekend I learned numerous techniques on making outreach efforts more effective and long lasting. But I also learned important but non-technical lessons. I learned first hand the effect that a good coach or mentor can have in a life. I learned that finding a passion involves trying new things. I learned that being a great teacher involves more than being a great expert. I learned that many organizations share in our vision.
The most important lesson I learned was that individuals working in cooperation is the only way to move our conservation efforts forward. If we are to succeed we need to embrace the hipster from Madison, the good ol’ boy from Arkansas, the talker from Chicago, the funny accent from New England and everyone in-between. Only with a mind open to new ideas, ideals and heart open to new and different people, will we find people that share in our passion.