A new professional development program gave University of North Dakota (UND) fisheries and wildlife students their first exposure to waterfowl hunting. The program, developed by Ducks Unlimited (DU), UND and North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGF), teaches students about hunting, which is a critical component of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and North Dakotas economy.

"As our fisheries and wildlife program has grown, we are seeing more diversity in the backgrounds of our students," said Susan Ellis-Felege, UND associate professor of biology. "One notable difference is the number of students who do not come from a hunting and fishing background."

Before the September hunt, the students took a hunter education class and received hands-on firearm safety training. Eight students were guided by eight mentors who taught them how to scout for potential waterfowl hunting spots, decoy setup, dog training, shooting safety and situational awareness in the blind. Other important aspects to hunting were discussed, including duck hunting regulations and waterfowl identification. After the hunt the mentors showed the students how to process the waterfowl they harvested and how to make sure the ducks were identifiable and legal to transport.

The mentors were experienced hunters and conservation professionals who shared information about their careers and the importance of hunting to the wildlife and fisheries conservation profession.

"The purpose of this mentored hunt was to introduce these students to a great outdoor activity, give them the knowledge to be successful in the field and provide them with the opportunity to interact with North Dakota private landowners," said Dane Buysse, DU biologist and mentor for the hunt. "We want to thank Rex and Lori Hollenbeck for providing housing and hunting opportunities for the students on their first North Dakota waterfowl hunt."

A grant from Prairie Pothole Joint Venture was used to purchase equipment and meals for the hunt and the NDGF provided firearms and ammunition. Scheels donated hats and gave a discount for waders and hunting jackets used to outfit the student hunters.

"We plan to make this mentored hunt an annual event, so we will focus on obtaining annual funding and maintaining our collaborations with partners to facilitate this," Ellis-Felege said.

UND raises funds for a Game Management Scholarship Endowment to support research on game species for graduate and undergraduate students and has a strong commitment to maintaining game management in their teaching, research and outreach. The student mentored hunt is part of the effort to promote game management among the wildlife and fisheries students.

See more photos of the students' adventures.