By JIM ABRAMS

The gathering of gatherers is a tradition that’s been around since the first hunters set out on their search for food. I can picture them sitting around campfires while swapping stories and lies about the latest mammoth hunt, marveling at some adventures while guffawing others.

There’s little doubt that when a Bavarian Benedictine monk wrote the first angling book, “Tegernsee Fishing Advice,” in the 15th century or when Izaak Walton penned “The Complete Angler” in 1653, either could have been found sharing a few glasses of wine with other fishermen while comparing notes. The evolution of those early story-telling sessions certainly birthed the first ideas of creating sportsmen’s clubs.

Two-and-a-half centuries later, President Teddy Roosevelt spearheaded the formation of the Boone and Crockett Club, our nation’s first official conservation organization, while John Muir and the Sierra Club pushed a preservation viewpoint. As these philosophies spread, the idea of organizing blossomed.

Conservation clubs are now found in nearly every county in every state and province in North America. While created as a gathering place for people of similar interests, it wasn’t long before some became rooted in specialized aspects. In Ohio, there were clubs dedicated to pheasant, deer and raccoon hunting; trout, bass and walleye fishing; as well as those devoted to birdwatching, trapping, archery, muzzleloading and more. It seemed any outdoors person could find a home.

This camaraderie continued as game populations, land access and interest remained high. Women, while generally welcome, were usually not found as regular members but as attendees with their significant other.

As target shooting became more popular, many clubs converted their grounds to include those sports. They developed rifle, shotgun and pistol ranges while also building membership opportunities. Women’s growing interest in becoming individual members quickly opened that opportunity.

These localized sportsmen’s organizations became the grass roots of the conservation movement, an importance that didn’t escape state and federal natural resource agencies who used these developing contacts to monitor the outdoor community’s pulse.

As time passed, members became more informed about fish and wildlife management and the growing habitat issues. This spawned the next evolutionary development of the expanding growth and influence of these emerging conservationists. Nationally based organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Sportsmen’s Alliance and many others soon followed.

Their goal was to create habitats for wildlife to thrive, to educate the public, to inform the political electorate of the importance of conservation and to protect those interests from people that abuse the resources and are opposed to sound conservation concepts.

Today, sportsmen’s clubs have taken another step forward. More of these groups are exploring the idea of purchasing property, but not as venues for club functions. Their goal is the direct participation in the enhancement of diminishing wildlife habitats and in conservation education. They want these areas to act as an example to others; a place for landowners and students to learn conservation techniques that can be carried over to private land. These areas are also proving to be wonderful recruiting and learning centers for novice hunters and anglers.

The Henry-Wood Sportsman’s Alliance is the latest group to join this progression of active conservation. They’re eyeing the possibility of purchasing and managing nearly 100 acres of prime upland habitat along the Maumee River, just west of Grand Rapids.

They’re in the process of seeking support for the plan and have gained assistance from the Black Swamp Conservancy. The proposal, named the “Maumee River Riparian Forest Protection Project,” includes both wooded and agricultural acreage. There’s hope that they may be eligible for partial funding through H2Ohio grants.

If funding is achieved, some of the work that’s planned for the area includes wetland development as well as demonstrations of windbreaks, oak savannas and wildflower, pollinator, and wildlife food plots. The area would also provide public hiking trails, bird watching and fishing opportunities while hosting special events for youth, veteran, handicapped and women’s activities.

If you’d like to show support for this undertaking, you can contact Greg Carson, president of the alliance, at 419-467-8321. Letters of support for the project are also important and can be addressed to Carson at P.O. Box 55, Grand Rapids, OH 43522.

Like many evolving sportsmen’s clubs, the Henry-Wood Sportsman’s Alliance is striving to make a difference in managing our natural resources. Formed in 2014, the group has already given out over $100,000 to help fund habitat plantings, conservation grants and college scholarships.

Sportsmen’s clubs have a long history of paying their own way for conservation. The majority of the cash collected from these hunter-gatherers for hunting and fishing license fees, access permits, excise taxes placed on ammunition and firearms, and specialized license plates for their vehicles is earmarked for wildlife and fisheries management and protection.

I see these wildlife learning projects as a continuation of that ethic, an invaluable advance in how our sportsmen’s clubs are responding to the changing conservation challenges of the future.

“Being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful.” — Anonymous

Along the way:

Hunter and trapper education programs are designed for every age and ability and are run by some of Ohio’s most knowledgeable hunters and trappers. They’ll help you understand the where, when and how to get a good start.

Certified volunteer instructor-led courses last about 8-12 hours and take place in a classroom environment. Topics include conservation, safety, proper handling of guns and bows, and more. A 100 question, multiple choice test must be completed with a 75% or higher grade to pass.

Home study courses are available to Ohio residents. Students must first complete the online course, which takes about four hours, but you are able to stop and return to the course where you left off. After completing each unit and their quizzes, a final exam must be completed to receive a voucher to attend the final, in-person classroom portion. A fee is charged once you pass the final exam and prior to printing the voucher.

The final classroom session lasts 3-4 hours, and is led by a Division of Wildlife employee or certified instructor. At this session, you’ll take the same 100 question final test as the instructor-led course.

Online hunter education courses are available to Ohio residents 12 years of age or older. This version allows students to complete the entire course online and takes about eight hours. You must pass each unit’s quiz to proceed to the next. Students must pass a final exam to receive certification. Once completed, there will be a fee required to the online vendor.

While hunter education is a vital part of becoming an Ohio hunter, new hunters also have the option of hunting with an apprentice hunting license before taking a hunter education course.

Fees collected for these online classes are paid to the course vendor, not to the Division of Wildlife. View all your options at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov

Step outside:

• Sunday: 50-bird monthly trap shoot, practice opens at 11 a.m., program at 12:30 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.

• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public at 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.

• Aug. 24 and 25: Mixed-target archery shoot, registration opens 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109. Contact Harold Spence at 419-423-9861.

• Beginning fly-fishing clinics, Castalia Fish Hatchery, 7018 Homegardner Road, Castalia. Sessions are from 9 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 30, Sept. 6, Sept. 13 and Sept. 20. Register at https://apps.ohiodnr.gov/wildlife/educationregistration/

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com.

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