On a recent warm but rainy Sunday morning, 20 newly initiated hunters entered the woods of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, armed with deer rifles, a passion for the outdoors, and newly acquired knowledge on the art and science of whitetail hunting. These dedicated service members, veterans, and family members alike made up the inaugural class of BHA Armored Forces Initiative’s Getting Soldiers Started Outdoors Program.
The BHA AFI seeks to empower service members and veterans while assisting them in breaking down barriers to hunting, fishing and experiencing the public lands they serve and protect.
This month, BHA AFI at Fort Bragg partnered with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s (NCWRC) Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation (R3) Getting Started Outdoors (GSO) Hunting Initiative; Fort Bragg Wildlife; Fort Bragg Ducks Unlimited (FBDU); and Military Warriors Support Foundation (MWSF) for a two-day GSO Deer Hunting Workshop meant for service members, veterans and their families.
The first day of the Getting Soldiers Started Outdoors first annual, pilot Whitetail Deer Hunting Workshop focused on white-tailed deer hunting knowledge and skills whereas the second day provided a mentored deer hunting opportunity on Fort Bragg public hunting land.
NCWRC, Fort Bragg Wildlife, BHA AFI, FBDU and MWSF members served as instructors, providing insight into subjects regarding scouting, tree-stands and blinds, archery and firearm familiarization, and game tracking and recovery. The training day culminated with an NCWRC wildlife enforcement officer providing a detailed deer processing overview, walking the students step-by-step, including some video footage of field dressing and skinning the harvest and followed by a live processing demonstration with an actual, pre-harvested deer. Ultimately, each student attendee would go home with a sample of venison to whet their primal appetites.
After planning hunts one-on-one with their mentors following the workshop, students were up before dawn and heading into the woods in an attempt to harvest a deer on their first hunt. Students unequivocally agreed that without this mentorship program, they would not have known where to start and would have struggled to find their way into the activity. The new hunters enjoyed varying results ranging from “dry holes” and observing game to a successful harvest. This array of experiences served well to impart one of the most important lessons of all: Doing everything right does not always result in a harvest, and hunting is about the pursuit of wild game, the outdoor experience and the importance of conservation.
Husband and wife new hunters Shawn and Jessica Hanrahan who attended together said they had heard about hunting from family and friends at work and were interested in hunting because of its usefulness. However, they agreed that without the clinic they would have maintained interest but put off the idea of actually participating.
With continued participation in hunting declining across the country, BHA AFI is exploring ways to bring new hunters into the fold while simultaneously giving back to those who serve and sacrifice for our nation. These new hunters are an asset to conservation and have found a new way to enjoy and experience the incredible lands they selflessly serve.
Military bases across the country can be tremendous sources of public land for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. Yet the means to take advantage of these benefits are unknown to most of the thousands of soldiers who make up the populations in these areas. These patriots who raised their hand in service of our nation to protect our country deserve to experience all our public lands have to offer, and BHA AFI has taken the first step of many in making that happen.
-Tom DiMiero, BHA Fort Bragg, NC