By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Restrictions from the COVID pandemic provided a new learning opportunity this spring for a group of students enrolled in the University of Montevallo’s President’s Outdoors Scholars Program.
Because of restrictions on large gatherings, Outdoors Scholars Director William Crawford and Assistant Director Chris “Scooter” Stano had to get creative with the curriculum for the program that serves students with a passion for wildlife and conservation.
“We usually have a speaker series where we bring in people from the outdoors industry to all of our students,” Stano said. “Due to COVID, we couldn’t put 83 students together at one time. William and I came up with the idea to do small groups in dog training, turkey hunting strategies and trapping. One of the small groups we came up with was survival and camping.”
Stano contacted the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division for help with the survival and camping class.
WFF Enforcement Section Chief Matt Weathers directed Stano to Senior Conservation Enforcement Officer (CEO) Ben Kiser, who has an extensive background in survival training.
With Kiser’s assistance, three classes were set up for the spring semester – fire starting and maintenance, emergency medical care and animal and human tracking.
Kiser’s background fit perfectly for the task of teaching the students survival skills. An Air Force veteran, Kiser taught those skills in the military and continued that training after he returned to civilian life.
“Before I got into law enforcement, I was a wilderness survival instructor,” Kiser said. “I took people into the woods and taught them how to survive.
“At Montevallo, I sat down with Chris and he asked me what I could do. I told him for a group of 18- to 19-year-olds my first recommendation would be a primitive fire craft class.”
That meant the students were taught how to start a fire using no modern methods, including lighters.
“They learned how to start a fire with a spark and material you find in the woods,” Kiser said. “I broke it down to the stages you need to make a fire – tinder, kindling and fuel. I taught them how to prep it, produce it and then let them do it themselves.”
The second recommendation was for a wilderness medical skills class that taught the students how to deal with accidents or other medical emergencies.
“I tailored it for them. If they’re camping and fall and break a leg, or if they shoot themselves when they’re hunting, or treating a snakebite, they will have the basic skills to more effectively deal with those events. I taught them how to use a tourniquet, pressure bandages, splinting and how to make litters out of materials you find in the woods or the clothes you are wearing.
“I taught them how to buy life-saving time if they are a long way from a roadway and need help in getting where an ambulance can get to them. They also learned how to stabilize themselves, stop bleeding and get themselves or a buddy to a place where they can receive a higher level of care.”
The third class covered the fundamentals of tracking both humans and animals.
“They learned what to do if they get in woods and get lost,” Kiser said. “It also included the basics of tracking, whether you’re tracking a deer or trying to find your buddy who is lost in the woods.”