Arizona Youth Turkey Camps: A Partnership Success Model

In Arizona, strategic partnerships have been key to the success of the statewide hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation model. The shared focus of promoting hunting and shooting sports brings together a vast array of conservation and hunting organizations to protect the future of Arizona’s hunting heritage. More than 60 hosting partners and hundreds of other involved organizations come together every year to teach hunting and shooting sports by providing hands-on mentored events. The common goal creates a successful model serving thousands of new sportsmen and women in Arizona annually.

When it comes to multi-partnered R3 events, there might not be a better example than the mentored youth turkey hunting camps that occurred in Arizona this past April. More than 500 people attended one of the three available three-day hunt camps, including more than 200 youth hunters. Many of the participants were being exposed to hunting for the first time, adding to participants who had previously attended the camps. In addition to the participants, the events welcomed parents and guardians, nonhunting family members, hunting mentors, partner volunteers, and Arizona Game and Fish Department conservation officers.

The NWTF, in cooperation with Youth Outdoors Unlimited, Arizona Elk Society, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Phoenix Varmint Callers, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Xtreme Predator Calls, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department, sponsored the camps. Nearly 10 different organizations contributed by providing financial support, event registration, meals for attendees, camp volunteers, hunting gear and hunting mentors. The capacity of these hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation camps wouldn’t be possible without the Arizona’s successful partnership model.

The turkey camps, established in 2009, focused on teaching youth participants how to safely and ethically hunt turkey, while developing the outdoor skills needed to continue hunting on their own. Attendees enjoyed three full days of mentored turkey hunting, which included returning to camp where they could relax, share hunting stories and have a hot meal. The events have a “hunting camp” type atmosphere, making the overall experience more enjoyable and less intimidating for the young hunters.

Each hunting camp was fully equipped with kitchen/cook trailers, covered tents and a team of cooks who prepared hot meals daily for the attendees. Camps were also outfitted with bathrooms and sanitation stations, something not always accessible when hunting in remote locations. Registration was required in order to attend the event, ensuring that event coordinators arranged enough food and amenities to accommodate the large capacity of attendees.

In addition to the time spent hunting, camp attendees enjoyed activities such as archery shooting, visiting a fishing hatchery, hunting seminars, meeting conservation officers, storytelling around a campfire, raffles and prizes, and even a falconry demonstration. Lastly, the NWTF JAKES programs give every youth hunter a complimentary one-year JAKES membership, which includes a year subscription to JAKES Country magazine, a chance to win a hunt of a lifetime, a membership card and membership decal. The free JAKES memberships are supported from the sales of a firearm raffle by the Yavapai Yelpers chapters located in Prescott, Arizona.

The tireless effort from partners, mentors and volunteers created an enjoyable experience for the participants, many of whom were new to the camps. Creating a positive experience with abundant social support helps new hunters feel comfortable while being exposed to hunting for the first time. The diverse partnerships allow event participants to connect to a network of R3-focused organizations, many of which host numerous hunting and outdoor recreation events throughout the year. These relationships give new hunters access to numerous outdoor and mentored hunting opportunities, allowing more than just a one-time exposure to hunting. By continuing to attend hunting events that provide guidance and social support, new hunters are able to work their way through the outdoor recreation adoption model, which involves a trial period, the decision to continue, continuing with support and eventually continuing without support. The model is aimed to create independent hunters through exposure to plenty of social support along the way.

Joe Wambach and his son have attended the Unit 1/27 turkey camp for numerous years. This year they were finally able to put together a successful hunt, creating a lifelong memory. Joe attributed much of their success to the camp volunteers and mentors they had worked with at past turkey camps.

“Can’t thank you enough for all you do for the young hunters of Arizona,” Wambach said. “After three outings, we finally got our bird! The mentors over the years had given us good coaching and advice. That, combined with some good hunters luck, helped us to bag our first bird. Such a great father/son moment. We were both so excited. A memory we will both cherish for a lifetime. Thanks to YOU, the NWTF and RMEF for continuing to sponsor these important events. Can’t say enough good things about all the men and women involved in taking the time to mentor boys and girls in the field, while teaching conservation, respect and good sportsmanship. Seems rare these days.”

Arizona has shown that strategic partnerships with a common focus of promoting the hunting heritage creates an effective hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation model. The NWTF continues to be a leader in Arizona by generating positive partnerships with other organizations and the Arizona Game and Fish Department for the betterment of wildlife conservation. Although organizations may not agree on every issue, the future of hunting is dependent upon a united front for a bigger purpose. It will take a team effort to ensure that future generations have the same hunting opportunities that we do now.

— Ryan Conat, NWTF Arizona R3 coordinator

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