By Lynn Seldon
There's nothing like the thrill of catching your first fish. Maybe that's why this North Carolina council's day outdoors reels in more boys to Scouting.
“I caught a fish!” screamed Zach Stone as he reeled in a small redear sunfish with the help of his stepfather, Lewis Crawford. The nearly breathless Cub Scout then regaled everyone within earshot about how much he loved to fish, shoot his BB gun, wear the camouflage he’d recently received as a gift, and just get into the outdoors with his stepfather.
A boy can only catch his first fish once, but several boys had the opportunity to experience just that at the 2nd-Annual Boy Scout Hunt-N-Fish Day last May. Held at the Old North State Council’s Woodfield Scout Preservation outside the central North Carolina town of Asheboro, the daylong get-together provides a model for other councils wanting to get their boys involved in outdoor pastimes.
About 300 Cub Scouts, 100 Boy Scouts, and 400 Scout leaders, parents, and other volunteers attended. And they shared similar goals.
According to Mike Baker, Hunt-N-Fish Day’s founder and coordinator, the event grew out of a great love for youth and the outdoors.
“We expose fathers and mothers who may never have taken their sons hunting or fishing to these pursuits,” he said. “And since we have all the activities in place, they’ll attend the event because it’s Scout related.”
Crawford agreed. “I see the event as a social activity involving outdoor sports,” he said, while continuing to help his stepson, Zach, with the mechanics of casting. “It’s the greatest thing a parent can do.”
The numbers suggest he might be right.
Waterfowl and waders
Hunt-N-Fish Day has grown substantially from the 82 people who showed up for the first event in 2007—speaking volumes for people’s interest in taking part in outdoor activities. “We’re the Cinderella story of Scouting events!” Baker gushed.
A project manager for a local construction company, Baker also serves as Cubmaster for his son’s Cub Scout Pack 513, generates support for Hunt-N-Fish Day, and spearheads the event’s Web site. But without the support of a lot of people, it wouldn’t take place.
Baker cited helping hands from individuals and organizations—local, regional, national—in money, time, volunteers, and equipment. Notably, experts from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the North Carolina Bowhunters Association turned out to give demonstrations in a variety of outdoor skills.
However, landing the Greensboro, N.C., Gander Mountain store as the lead sponsor represented a coup. After then-store manager Neysa Gregory signed on, she raised the number of team members giving demonstrations at the Hunt-N-Fish Day event from five stations in 2007 to 16 in 2008.
Gregory even played a major role in one of the day’s major events: cooking hamburgers the Gander Mountain company had provided for dinner. Members of Troop 513 helped out, too—as servers.
“Working with youth in the community is something that all of our employees here at Gander Mountain find fulfilling,” explained operations manager Jaclyn Grayson. “Being able to pass our knowledge and skills onto the kids gives us a great sense of accomplishment.”
Gander Mountain also staged one of the major attractions of the day: the “Waterfowl” station. Manned by Mace Davis and his hunting dog, Cooper, the exhibition featured demonstrations and contests that included a race in cumbersome waders among five Scouts from nearby High Point’s Troop 1.
“These events are all about what we do,” said Gregory above the racket of boys trying out duck calls. “Everyone with Gander Mountain does what we sell, and it creates a lot of passion for these events.”
Reeling in supporters
Will Hodgin of Troop 1 had only been a Boy Scout for two months before coming to Hunt-N-Fish Day. He called the stations “fun” and said that he may follow in his father’s footsteps and become an Eagle Scout. Will’s father, Tommy, hopes an event like Hunt-N-Fish Day will inspire him to do that.
“It’s an opportunity to learn about the outdoors, conservation, and principles of Leave No Trace, and to respect the environment,” Hodgin said.
Troop 1 Scoutmaster Marty Purser believes Gander Mountain’s interest in the program helped attract the attention of attendees. “This event is a way for corporations to give back,” he said while taking in a demo of duck decoys. “It teaches outdoor skills that they need to learn.”
Gregory’s success with Hunt-N-Fish Day has led Gander Mountain to get even more involved with similar events in other locations. But though the company’s presence gives a boost to such activities, many people and organizations also threw their hooks into the water.
Baker recruited an impressive roster of supporters in a short period of time. In addition to the contributions of the federal and state wildlife agencies, other sponsors included the Wal-Mart in Randleman, N.C., Chick-Fil-A in Asheboro, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Crosman Air Rifles.
Generally, Baker said, securing their participation was just a matter of asking—like one phone call he made to Chad Laman.
A local field director for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, Laman helped make the event a “Trailblazer Adventure Day.”
Similar to the Hunt-N-Fish Day, the Sportmen’s Alliance Trailblazer day promotes youth involvement in outdoor activities at about 70 venues in more than 30 states every year.
The group also provides bows, BB guns, shotguns, and giveaways such as patches, whistles, fishing poles, and archery equipment.
“This type of event promotes outdoor skills, hunting, and fishing,” Laman said. “We love being here.”
Baker also credited Laman for a trove of information that helped him locate equipment, volunteers, and groups that wanted to contribute.
To fish or to hunt?
Lending his knowledge to the Hunt-N-Fish Day was Jeff Davidson, a former technician with the Inland Fisheries division of the Wildlife Resources Commission.
Davidson ran a mobile-aquarium station and explained the history and methods of fishing to kids and adults. His exhibit drew a lot of attention with its two 300-gallon tanks, one a coldwater version that contained trout and the other a warm-water tank where bass, sunfish, and catfish swam.
Down a dirt trail from the main Hunt-N-Fish site, Inland Fisheries’ representatives Corey Oakley and Jessica Baumann ran a catch-and-release demonstration. As Oakley helped a young Scout bait his first hook and sent him back to the pond, he commented about parental involvement being the key to the success of the event.
Involvement such as Chris Teague’s. The Pack 513 den leader had accompanied his son, Grant, to the first Hunt-N-Fish Day in 2007. They were back because “Fishing’s my favorite event,” Grant said after catching a big fish. “But I still can’t wait for archery and the BB guns, too.”
The BSA also manned its own fishing station, where Scoutmaster Melissa Quick of High Point’s Troop 67 said that all her Scouts were having a good time. “This is basically the first time most of our Scouts have been exposed to fishing and hunting.”
Quick learned about the event at the Old North State Council’s Web site and quickly signed up her troop. She believes that word-of-mouth promotion of fun events such as this one act as a strong recruiting tool. So strong that eight new boys had joined Troop 67 since the first of the year.
They were attracted, no doubt, by the opportunity to have fun and spend time together. But the youth and parents also learned safety and responsibility, Baker added—not just about hunting and fishing but about each other.
“Two boys came up to me and said that their dad had just bought them fishing rods and started taking them fishing. They were so excited. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, that is great.’ Walking away I also thought what a shame that these boys were 10 to 11 years old and had never owned a fishing rod.”
While manning the hunter education station, Lynn Lancaster told a similar story. Lancaster, the Scoutmaster of Asheboro’s Troop 501 and a commission-certified hunter education volunteer, demonstrated firearm safety.
Showing weapons that the state’s wildlife commission uses to teach classes in basic hunter safety, Lancaster gave Scouts the opportunity to heft some exciting props.
“We like to attend events that have a positive impact on firearms safety and specifically hunter safety,” Lancaster said. When he asked the boys if they’d been hunting, only three to five boys raised their hands. “So this was good opportunity to instruct them on the safe, proper way to handle firearms.”
Lancaster said he hopes that similar events will result in more raised hands (and raised awareness) about hunting among today’s youth.
Patches and prizes
At the end of a full day of outdoor activities, the Scouts and Scouters regrouped at the camp’s dining hall for hamburgers and hot dogs. As they waited in line, every youth received a colorful 2008 Scout Hunt-N-Fish Day patch and a whistle from the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.
Pack 513’s C.J. Stickler, of Seagrove N.C., planned to add his patch to an already crowded collector’s vest. His father, Chad, said C.J. had been collecting patches even before he became a Cub Scout, but that events like Hunt-N-Fish Day provided additional incentive to add patches to his vest.
After a raucous dinner with lots of reminiscing about the day’s activities, everyone went outside for door prizes.
The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance had donated six BB guns and 20 fishing rod-and-reel combos for the lucky winners of a drawing. Other prizes included compasses, emergency blankets, hats, T-shirts, shorts, pants, fish stringers, flashlights, bags of tackle and tackle boxes, fishing bags and hunting safety bags, and hunting and fishing videos.
Asked if he planned to return next year, first-time attendee Daniel O’Quinn yelled, “I want to come every year!”
Daniel’s father, Danny, smiled. His 8-year-old son had been born with only one lung, and the boy can only attend occasional meetings and events of Pack 513.
“Scouting is the best thing that ever happened to Daniel,” said his father.
“That’s what makes it worthwhile,” Baker added. “Helping Daniel is our prize.”
North Carolina-based travel writer Lynn Seldon has contributed features to Southern Living, Our State, and several AAA magazines.