By Kenny Johnson, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Learning to hunt can seem out of reach for those who didn’t grow up with hunting as part of their family experience. Fortunately, Alabama’s Adult Mentored Hunt (AMH) Program teaches all the skills needed to put wild game on the dinner table and help start new traditions.
Jessie Barcala grew up in a military family that moved several times when he was a kid. While his dad was stationed at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Barcala finished high school in nearby Arab, Alabama. After graduating, he entered the U.S. Air Force where he would serve as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hunting was never a part of his childhood. However, the sense of peace Barcala experienced while fishing and camping as a Boy Scout was one of the motivating factors that led him to participate in the AMH program.
“As a combat veteran, I suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),” Barcala said. “I fondly remember growing up fishing and being outdoors. I figured this would be a good way to calm my mind and get into an activity that I have always wanted to do.”
It was turkey hunting, in particular, that fascinated Barcala.
“The fact that you can call an animal, get them to come into your area and hopefully harvest them seems like the ultimate sport,” he said.
Barcala learned about mentored hunting programs while living in Virginia. One of the first things he did after moving back to Alabama in 2019 was sign up for a Turkey Hunting 101 workshop at the Cahaba Wildlife Management Area (WMA) through outdooralabama.com.
After completing the workshop, Barcala was chosen to take part in a three-day adult mentored hunt at the Portland Landing Special Opportunity Area (SOA) in Dallas County. His experience on that hunt would lead to a freezer full of turkey meat and a friendship with his mentor, Justin Grider, from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’(ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF).
“It was absolutely amazing to be out in the woods again,” Barcala said. “There are so many different sounds and sights that people who don't get out there just won't experience. The sound in the morning as the woods come alive, from the crickets and owls that stop sounding off at dawn to the morning songbirds and crows making a ton of racket. Nothing compares to watching the sunrise and going out for a walk with a purpose.”
The workshop instruction combined with mentoring in the field paid off for Barcala when he harvested a 17-pound Eastern wild turkey.
“I could have come away from the hunt empty-handed and been perfectly fine,” Barcala said. “I learned so much from Justin that I felt 100% ready to hunt solo. Having said that, being able to harvest my turkey was so exciting. The adrenaline rush afterward was overwhelming. I still talk about the hunt to this day.”
Harvesting his first wild turkey wasn’t the only lasting memory Barcala took away from the mentored hunt.
“Justin and I had a great time and I consider him a lifelong friend,” he said. “Hunting with another person is a special bond that some people don't get to enjoy. He and the other mentors took time to explain everything I needed to know about turkey hunting. It was one of the most invaluable instructional experiences I've had.”
Like Jessie Barcala, Dianne Jordan from Mobile, Alabama, didn’t grow up with hunting as part of her life, but she had been interested in learning how to hunt for years.
“I finally decided one day to search the internet for any information I could use to teach myself to hunt,” she said. “That’s how I learned about the Conservation Department’s mentored hunting program. It took another year before I worked up enough courage to register for one of the workshops.”
A variety of interests can spark a non-hunter’s desire to hunt. For Jordan, establishing a deeper connection with nature and a desire to harvest her own food were her primary motivations for developing new outdoors skills.
“Having a closer connection to the food cycle and being more sustainable are becoming more important to me as I find myself getting older,” she said.
To begin her journey, Jordan registered for a Hunting 101 workshop at the Upper Delta WMA near Stockton, Alabama. She was later chosen to participate in a mentored deer hunt at the Portland Landing SOA. While white-tailed deer was the target of her hunt, the woods sometimes offer unexpected opportunities.
In the waning minutes of her first day hunting, Jordan harvested a 162-pound feral hog.