Taking place at the Robbins Butte Wildlife Area, the event brought together 16 members of the Wheelin' Sportsmen and Women in the Outdoors programs.
"I'm real excited for the ladies who went out for the first time and always happy to help returning hunters," said Stellane King, NWTF Arizona WITO coordinator. "I hope to see this program continue to grow and succeed over the next few years."
Each year, the hunt follows a youth hunt held at the same venue. The state-owned property features agricultural fields specifically managed for wildlife, with several fields reserved as hunting locations for the youth hunt and the Wheelin’ Sportsmen/WITO event.
In a state where many hunts are often situated far from what could be considered "accessible" locations, the event offered convenient access to dove fields for the hunters. Volunteers went above and beyond to provide parking assistance, ensure access and offer unwavering support, ensuring participants enjoyed the best possible experience.
Additionally, the Arizona Game and Fish Department provided loaner firearms for participants who did not have their own, along with informative dove hunting literature suitable for both new and seasoned hunters.
The day began at 3 a.m., with volunteers starting coffee pots, ensuring the water coolers were well stocked, assisting participants in organizing their gear, quickly identifying any missing equipment and promptly filling those gaps as needed. Volunteers play a crucial role in assisting hunters with morning setups, whether that involves demonstrating decoy use, arranging gear or revisiting safety protocols in the field.
Following a safety briefing, the hunt began, as volunteers stepped in to assist hunters in identifying species, a crucial task given the presence Inca doves, which are not game birds and closely resemble small mourning doves in flight. The Copper State Retriever Club provided skilled retrievers to enhance the hunt's success.
After the hunt concluded, volunteers demonstrated how to properly clean and prepare birds for transport. Immediately following the hunt, volunteers prepared a meal from previously harvested dove hunts for all in attendance.
"Events like this never fail to reinvigorate my passion for helping people learn to hunt," said Jesse Warner, NWTF Arizona Hunting and Shooting R3 coordinator. "The sheer sense of community that arises with such immediacy, even amongst under-caffeinated folks at 3 a.m., is the reason that these events continue to be the success stories they are. The fact that an individual can roll out of bed and drive upwards of two hours — like our participants from Yuma have done ― show up in the middle of nowhere to meet with people they probably have never met before, just to learn a new skill, shows a dedication and a passion that I have never seen outside the realm of the outdoors. Knowing that these events are helping to develop folks into safe, legal and ethical hunters makes every early alarm and gas station coffee worth it."
Recognizing the growing demand for outdoor skills training programs for women, the NWTF introduced its Women in the Outdoors program in 1998. In the last decade, the number of women owning firearms and participating in activities like target shooting and hunting has significantly increased. The WITO program, hosted by NWTF chapters nationwide, provides affordable events that offer enriching outdoor experiences. These events cater to women seeking outdoor adventures and opportunities for quality time with family and friends, fostering lifelong pursuits in the outdoors.
The NWTF's Wheelin' Sportsmen program started in October 2000 to support individuals with mobility impairments in experiencing the outdoors through hunting and shooting sports. These events offer opportunities that participants might otherwise miss due to limited access to hunting land or insufficient assistance. Participation often equips individuals with the knowledge and experience to pursue hunting independently throughout the year.