Sept/Oct 2010Time Well Spentby Jeff Dennis
The DNR's Take One Make One mentoring program keeps outdoor traditions alive by encouraging new generations of hunters and anglers.
Daybreak finds a group of young turkey hunters and their mentors situated in ground blinds on a tract of private land in Dorchester County. A guide assigned to each pair calls to turkeys hidden amongst the trees and undergrowth, leaving the mentor free to work with the youth hunter on essential skills such as remaining perfectly still when a gobbler finally makes his pulse-pounding intonations at close quarters. While not every youth hunter will harvest a gobbler today, a high rate of success at this and other hunts hosted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' Take One Make One program is not uncommon.
The TOMO program, initiated by DNR Executive Director John Frampton in 2000, raises awareness about the value of outdoor experiences through a combination of outreach, education and opportunities in the field for newcomers to the sports of hunting and fishing. Unfortunately, the number of people pursuing South Carolina's outdoor heritage currently makes up a much smaller percentage of the state's overall population than it has in the past. The reasons for this are many and varied, including the transition to a more urban population, the rise in single-parent households and the loss of easily-accessible hunting grounds to development, just to name a few. Dwindling numbers of adult sportsmen and women in the field today means fewer adult mentors available to teach the next generation the skills that were once passed down as revered family traditions. Unchecked, this cycle could result in fewer and fewer young people in our state experiencing the lifelong benefits of good health, well-being and respect for the natural environment that come from an active, outdoor lifestyle that includes hunting and fishing. The TOMO program is working hard to reverse this trend.
The current coordinator of the TOMO program is veteran DNR Law Enforcement Officer Lynwood Kearse. Kearse partners with groups and individuals committed to providing quality hunting opportunities for youth. An example of this type of partnership was the inaugural Daniel Douglas Jr. Memorial Youth Hunt, held in November of 2009 and co-sponsored by the Mid-Carolina chapter of the Quality Deer Management Association and the TOMO program. Daniel Douglas Jr. was just 19 years old when he lost his life in an auto accident on November 25, 2008. Even though a family tragedy had just occurred, his father, Dan Douglas Sr. of Chapin, directed all memorials to go to the TOMO program. One year later, eleven youth hunters, including three girls, were able to gather for a TOMO deer hunt on private property that owner Eddie Wilson had generously opened up for the hunt.
"There is nothing better we could do than conduct this hunt to honor Daniel," said Kyle Cannon of Chapin, president of the Mid-Carolina Branch of QDMA. Cannon and Douglas Jr. were hunting buddies.
"We pulled this event together using chapter funds from our banquet and used Lynwood's connections to reach out to TOMO's network of youths who need help getting outdoors," said Cannon. The organization hopes that the publicity generated by the memorial youth hunt will serve as a catalyst to bring other landowners and mentors to the TOMO table. In fact, it's already working.
Mid-Carolina QDMA member Mike Satterfield helped organize the hunt and was impressed by the impact the program has on the kids involved. "This hunt is a good thing for these kids because there are a lot of lessons learned from being exposed to hunting," said Satterfield, "lessons that can be applied to life."
"It makes me happy that QDMA and TOMO are helping with this hunt," said Dan Douglas Sr. "My son's passions were hunting and fishing, and I want this event to give kids, - maybe kids from the city or from broken homes, - some exposure to the outdoors."
Indeed, single parent families are one group in particular that the program's leaders seek to include in TOMO events, which can include shooting sports; deer, squirrel, dove and turkey hunts; or fishing trips. Families interested in participating in the program can get more information and sign up on the DNR's website at www.dnr.sc.gov/education/tomo. Landowners, hunt club owners and members, and individuals interested in sponsoring a hunt or becoming a program mentor can also find valuable information on the site.
"TOMO is set up for kids, with an emphasis on first-time hunters," says Kearse, who reviews each application. "At any point there are roughly 300 kids on the roster. Our goal is to facilitate a hunt for a youth by the second or third year of their request." Thirty hunts were conducted in 2009, and the TOMO program is fast becoming an extremely popular and successful DNR program.
Much of the funding for TOMO comes from the federal excise taxes paid on the sale of items like guns, ammunition and archery equipment. That funding pays the salaries of the TOMO coordinator and other essentials, such as the trailers used to haul the needed gear from hunt to hunt.
Financial contributions from sponsors are also essential and ensure that every participant has access to quality firearms and safety equipment. Recently, the National Wild Turkey Federation partnered with a member of the S.C. Natural Resources Board to purchase .243-caliber youth rifles and 20-gauge youth shotguns to be used by participants on TOMO hunts. Ameristep Corporation has helped with the purchase of hunting blinds; the Wildlife Research Center donated deer scents; Shimano provided rods and reels for the fishing simulator; and FUJI has provided disposable cameras so that hunt memories can be preserved. These are just a few of the many companies and private individuals who donate items to assist with the program.
One of the most meaningful donations in recent years was the creation of the Thomas Caughman Memorial Fund. This memorial was created in memory of a young soldier killed in Iraq during the initial stages of that conflict. Thomas, from Lexington, S.C., was an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish. His parents, Hampton and Jane, saw TOMO as a way to preserve their son's love of the outdoors for generations to come. Since its creation in 2004, the Caughman memorial has allowed TOMO to expand in ways not possible before.
TOMO provides equipment during the sponsored hunts, but the youth participants who stay involved in the outdoors will go on to buy their own hunting licenses and equipment, purchases that will ensure the future of funding for wildlife management and conservation in South Carolina. Kearse said that a target age for youth in TOMO is 10 to 12 years old, but participants of any age can be considered. The TOMO experience can provide some common ground for parents and youth who are learning about the outdoors together, and, according to Kearse, the program has had several single moms who, after participating with their kids, went on to become avid outdoorswomen themselves.
Youth who apply can be paired with a TOMO volunteer mentor for one hunt, or they can continue a year-round mentorship for skeet shooting, fishing and hunting. Some of the TOMO success stories that show the power of getting inexperienced youngsters together with a caring mentor involve individuals who developed bonds with their mentors that have led to long-term friendships and hunting partnerships. Providing these kids with the opportunity to participate is the key to building these successful relationships, says Kearse.
The TOMO program also encourages youth participants to get involved in other educational activities such as completing a hunter education classes, visiting a shooting sports facility or gun range, attending the Palmetto Sportsman's Classic, entering the Junior Duck Stamp program, or signing up for the SC Reel Kids program. Many TOMO hunts are held on DNR managed lands, like the Marsh Wildlife Management Area, but the majority of TOMO hunts are made possible through the generosity of private land owners. TOMO partners, such as Westvaco, Southern Pines Hunt Club in Bamberg, Sandhills Hunt Club in Cottageville, and Millaree Plantation near Eastover, are a critical part of the program's success. The generosity of these landowner-partners allows TOMO hunts to occur across the state.
TOMO has also taken an active role in supporting hunts for returning veterans who have been wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. For example, the Lowcountry chapter of the Safari Club International conducts and annual Wheelchair and Wounded Warrior deer hunt every fall. During this hunt, both veterans and youth take part, as well as disabled sportsmen and women. In 2009, forty-seven veterans and others, including eight youth hunters from the TOMO program, went hunting for deer on twenty Lowcountry plantations during this event and experienced the fellowship of the hunt and the freedom of the outdoors. Youth TOMO hunter Tucker Hudson was successful in harvesting a 10-point buck and two hogs while on the SCI hunt this year. SCI hunt organizer Mark Peterson said, "Volunteers and landowners get out of this hunt what they put into it, and they are glad to give of their time and resources."
Although deer hunts are a large part of TOMO, the program has evolved every year to include a variety of hunting experiences. Squirrel hunts, rabbit hunts and other small game hunts are becoming more frequent within the program as hunters who enjoy these pastimes step forward to share their experiences. Waterfowl hunts and turkey hunts are also being offered as property becomes available to host such events.
A feeling of time well-spent is a common theme that emerges when talking to the adult mentors and sponsors who give their time, energy and knowledge to the TOMO program. They understand the lifetime of benefits that can accrue for each young person who gets a positive exposure to hunting and fishing and are proud to be part of an effort that ensures South Carolina's outdoor traditions will be passed on to a new generation. Hopefully, that connection with nature and the fellowship that comes from hunting and fishing will inspire these TOMO youth to take an active role in the conservation and protection of our natural resources, a trait that will serve South Carolina well in the years ahead.