Whether on horseback or riding in the mule-drawn wagon, supporters of the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation (ACNRF) were recently treated to a bobwhite quail hunt and a steak dinner with Gov. Robert Bentley at the Wilson family’s Wyncreek Plantation.
During his tenure as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Riley Boykin Smith realized the need for a foundation that could promote and fund charitable and educational projects that didn’t fall under funding guidelines tied to the use of federal matching funds.
Smith created the ACNRF as a 501(c)(3) organization and started the Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt as its first fundraiser. The hunt had a very successful run of attracting business leaders and professionals to the state for a dose of good ol’ Southern hospitality and hunting while raising sizable funding for the foundation.
When the economy crashed in 2008, it was not feasible to continue the annual turkey hunt, but the need for funding the numerous projects started under the foundation remained.
“The (ADCNR) department can’t take our money and spend it directly on projects like Hunters Helping the Hungry and some of these other initiatives because of the regulations related to the federal funds,” said Curtis Jones, ADCNR Deputy Commissioner. “The foundation was started to fund the projects that can’t come out of the conservation department’s budget.
“The One-Shot Turkey Hunt was a big success for several years. They raised a good deal of money and that kick-started the foundation.”
In addition to Hunters Helping the Hungry, the foundation assists in funding the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program, the National Archery in the Schools program, Alabama Youth Hunts (deer and doves), the North Alabama Birding Trail and the Lynn Dent Boykin Youth Wildlife Scholarship at Auburn University.
The Hunters Helping the Hungry program gives Alabama hunters an avenue to help others while they enjoy their outdoor pursuits by allowing them to donate thousands of pounds of ground venison to needy families and individuals in the state. Alabama’s long hunting season and generous bag limits allow hunters to fill their freezers with plenty of venison. For the people in the state who don’t get enough protein in their diets, this program gives hunters the opportunity to share nature’s bounty with those in need. The way the program works is a hunter leaves the field-dressed deer at the processor and signs a donation slip. The processor will receive $1 per pound from the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation to cover processing costs. Since the program’s debut in 1999, more than a half-million pounds of ground venison have been donated to Alabama food banks in the state.
The Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program is based around three-day workshops in the spring and fall that are designed for women ages 18 years or older. Each workshop offers hands-on instruction in a fun and non-threatening learning environment, where participants choose from more than 50 activities, including backyard wildlife, rock climbing, camp cooking, map and compass, camping, mountain biking, shooting sports (pistol, rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, as well as gun safety), fishing, hunting, canoeing, nature photography, nature crafts, archery, ATV handling, and bird watching, just to get started.
The National Archery in the Schools Program is a partnership between the Alabama Department of Education and the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries to promote a physical education curriculum entitled, “Archery On Target for Life.” The program teaches Olympic-style target archery to 4th- through 12th-grade students. Students shoot at bull’s-eye targets placed in front of an arrow-resistant net in their gymnasium. The course covers archery history, safety, technique, equipment, mental concentration and self-improvement. Students compete on the school level and can advance all the way to the national competition.
The Alabama Youth Hunts for deer and doves are designed to introduce youngsters to the outdoors through supervised hunts. The dove hunts are part of the STEP OUTSIDE program where landowners, businesses, organizations and local volunteers team up to hold youth hunts throughout the state. The hunters, ages 15 and younger, must be accompanied by an adult at least 25 years old with all the proper hunting licenses.
The North Alabama Birding Trail consists of 50 sites in 11 counties throughout north Alabama selected for their bird-watching characteristics. All of the sites can be accessed from a vehicle, while many sites also have traditional walking trails. A few sites can be explored by boat or canoe.
The Lynn Dent Boykin Youth Wildlife Scholarship at Auburn University was started to honor the memory of one of Alabama’s most ardent supporters of the outdoors. Boykin was the first female president of the National Wild Turkey Federation and a constant source of inspiration for young wildlife enthusiasts. Numerous scholarships to study wildlife management have been awarded.
When the turkey hunt had to be suspended until the economy improved, another funding mechanism took the forefront under then Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley. That event is the Governor’s Fundraiser Quail Hunt, which gives participants the opportunity to hunt quail and have dinner with the governor.
N. Gunter Guy Jr., the current Conservation Commissioner, continued the tradition with the annual quail hunt recently at Wyncreek Plantation.
“We had 11 hunters for each of the two shoots,” Deputy Commissioner Jones said. “We raised $50,000 for the foundation. Our goal was $40,000, but we had a real good turnout. The folks who couldn’t make the hunt sent a donation.
“Wyncreek Plantation was incredible. The accommodations were exceptional. It’s just beautiful. We really appreciate the Wilson family offering their place for the hunt.”
Jim Wilson III and brother, Will Wilson, served as hosts for the hunt in Macon County.
“Our motivation to host the hunt is we are big fans of Governor Bentley, and we wanted to help the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources any way we could,” said Will Wilson. “We wanted to help raise money to promote wildlife conservation and better hunting. We all love to hunt and fish. Our dad and grandfather loved the outdoors. This is something we’ve always done together, and it promotes family values. This is such a huge part of Alabama and the Wilson family’s lifestyle.”
PHOTOS: (By Billy Pope) Mickey Easley holds back the bird dogs as Matt Pugh mounts up to get the 2012 Governor’s Fundraiser Quail Hunt started at Wyncreek Plantation in Macon County. After the hunt began, the dogs were on display, pointing in fine form and retrieving the same way.