The New Salem Longbeards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation has demonstrated how local chapters of national conservation organizations can easily organize significant local youth outreach projects. In conjunction with a special “Youth-Only” turkey hunting season available in the state of Illinois, the chapter follows a basic formula for success which can easily be duplicated. They start with a basic advertising campaign, then they simply match up interested youth with volunteer guides and willing local landowners. In addition, the chapter also hosts concurrent local events during the special hunt weekend that provide a social and educational framework.
The New Salem Longbeards NWTF chapter is located in Menard County, Illinois. They have been locally recognized for their innovative “Operation Matchup” youth turkey hunt events, which have been held since 2003 during the statewide Illinois Heritage Youth Turkey Hunts. The NWTF nationally recognized the outreach efforts of the chapter within the Fall 2003 issue of “The Caller,” which was received by over 500,000 members of the organization.
In creating their project, the chapter especially wanted to match up landowners and guides with beginning local youth hunters who would otherwise not have an opportunity to hunt. Several participating youth hunters have come each year from non-hunting families or single-parent households. However, youth hunters who already may have a guide and a place to hunt are still invited to participate in the social and educational aspects of the local events.
To get the word out each spring, ads designed to attract both interested youth hunters and willing landowners are run in the local area newspaper (Petersburg Observer) before the Illinois state permit drawing. Local chapter volunteers are assigned as hunting guides, and a "Hunt Central" location in the Oakford Community Center provides a family hunting camp experience Friday night and throughout the weekend hunting hours. The volunteer guides and landowners work in friendly competition, and the hunting results have consistently exceeded state averages. From 2003-2005, chapter records show that 26 of the 67 participating youth hunters have bagged turkeys in either Menard or eastern Cass counties during the single-weekend events.
According to Chapter President Doug King, the New Salem Longbeards expect to continually refine their successful planning formula, which could also be used by other groups in conjunction with youth deer seasons. Success continually brings new challenges, such as accommodating the increase in participating youth hunters from 14 in the first year to 34 in 2005. Plans are underway to increase pre-event instructional activities and continually expand the base of participating landowners. The New Salem Longbeards hope that their successful experience will serve as an inspiration to other NWTF chapters or other conservation organizations in Illinois for outreach to their own local communities in the future.
Article and photos by Larry Dale
Persons wishing to learn additional details about the strategies used in order to host their own local outreach events should send an information request by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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