By Oliver Hartner
On February 9, 2019, South Carolina Ducks Unlimited (SCDU) and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) partnered to gather hunters and non-hunters to Bear Island for a full day of exploration and education inside the preserve. This was the first of several small Ducks Unlimited Experiences planned for 2019, and was by all accounts an extremely successful event.
Attendees gathered under a metal roofed shed where they were greeted with coffee, doughnuts, and SCDU volunteers with SCDNR staff. Participants received a briefing, along with some cards for identifying specific species of wintering waterfowl before trekking out into the preserve. While on the tour, guests observed several groups of teal, mottled ducks, and Northern Shovelers as they were guided by Daniel Barrineau of SCDNR, Emily Purcell and James Meadows with Ducks Unlimited, along SCDU volunteers, Sarah Nell Blackwell and Robert Blackwell. After the tour, everyone enjoyed a catered lunch followed by a Q&A with the SCDNR staff and SCDU volunteers.
Feedback from the event was positive, and several attendees had never hunted or made an association between hunting and conservation. John Griffith said, “It was great to go out in the field with SCDNR staff and a smaller group. Asking questions was easier and we really got to see our conservation dollars at work.” Though John is a hunter and regularly submits for a draw hunt at Bear Island, several non-hunters attending the event came away with a better understanding of how hunting and conservation are intertwined. Ray Herndon said, “It was a great experience and the biologists were very knowledgeable and helpful. My wife and I will definitely be attending another one of these.” The size of the event was intentionally small to foster more fellowship and provide better engagement with attendees.
With the success of The ACE Basin Experience, SCDU plans to have at least two more events before the beginning of early teal season in September. Their next event will be The Retriever Experience to showcase the popular breeds we hunt with across South Carolina and how these dogs are used as conservation tools, followed by The Wood Duck Experience at Santee National Wildlife Refuge, where attendees will band wood ducks and build wood duck boxes. Once the dates are finalized, more information will become available on our website at sc.ducks.org as well as the South Carolina Ducks Unlimited Facebook and Instagram accounts.