By Jim Abrams
Young Alex loved to hunt squirrels, a gateway hunt that can teach an inexperienced hunter the importance of personal ethics. He was a quick study, and hunting blossomed into a lifetime passion of pursuing game in the uplands and lowlands across the country, but especially around his home in northwest Ohio.
Born in 1938, Alexander Andreoff was raised in Springfield, Ohio. He witnessed some of the best pheasant hunting ever experienced in North America as well as an abundance of his beloved fox squirrels. He watched as turkey and deer made their slow journey from extirpation to abundance and the pioneering efforts of waterfowl management as they fermented into the creation of Killdeer Plains and other specialized management areas.
From his early days as band commander at Howe Military School, to earning his law degree from the Ohio State University, to his 53 years of practicing law, he was known to be one that liked to get things done. Alex understood that talking about doing the right thing is of little consequence unless it’s followed by sweat and dirty hands, neither of which ever made him shy away.
He also grew to realize that the formula for success included more than a willingness to work. That work must be guided by knowledge and often supported by the appropriate finances necessary to the task. Hunting, which had by now turned into a passion for conservation, became consuming.
As Alex witnessed changes in agricultural practices render vast declines in pheasants across the Midwest, and as once squirrel-friendly woodlots transformed into farm fields and housing developments, he realized that he wanted to preserve what he most loved. It was beyond the time of talking.
Alex turned to his friends in the Division of Wildlife and to experts from Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited. He knew that he could use their knowledge to guide his work for conservation.
He recognized that wildlife thrives when it has a blend of the essentials vital to its survival: variable food sources, sheltered sections, wetlands, and safe nesting and rearing areas. He also realized that these things can be compatible with modern farming. This led to his purchase of 1,089 acres in Logan County, which eventually led to a 3,600 acre conservation effort.
With the advent of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Alex placed nearly 1,100 acres in the program to help restore upland habitat vital to remnant pheasant and grassland bird populations. The program carries the bonus of preventing erosion and naturally filtering ground water. He also used the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) to develop wetland areas ideally suited for waterfowl.
In about 1999, Alex made another conservation breakthrough. Harold Longbrake had farmed a portion of Alex’s farmland in Logan County while also owning a 583 acre farm in Hardin County, a property that often remained wet and difficult to farm. The men worked out a trade and the Hardin County parcel became the latest of Alex Andreoff’s acquisitions.
Using the WRP and CRP programs, Alex developed the Longbrake property into an upland and wetland habitat complex that includes nine pothole water areas, the largest covering 103 acres. Also included were food plots, windbreaks and other wildlife friendly plantings.
Alexander Andreoff passed away due to cancer on Oct. 10, 2015, but neither his story nor his love for wildlife ended that day. This Oct. 5 saw a young squirrel hunter’s dreams transferred to future generations. The Ohio Division of Wildlife and the Deptartment of Natural Resources, working closely with Alex’s estate, purchased and dedicated that 583-acre property south of Forest and another 135 acres next to Lawrence Woods Nature Preserve south of Kenton. The cost, held to less than $1,700 per acre, is an admirable addition to the state’s wildlife lands.
The properties, which will appropriately carry the Andreoff name, will be committed to the R3 program. It will be devoted to introducing the less experienced to fishing, trapping, birding and outdoor photography through mentored experiences and training programs to help grow the interest of sustainable wildlife conservation.
The Division of Wildlife will be working with the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) to manage the property to its full potential. Additional programs, projects and opportunities will continue to grow as new avenues are explored. Access will be limited without prior approval.
While visiting the property prior to last Saturday’s dedication, I watched as a mature bald eagle sailed low over the property and landed in a nearby tree. I can’t help but believe that it embodied a young boy’s spirit as it surveyed its realm in the hopes of spotting a careless fox squirrel.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy, but to matter — to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.” — Leo Rosten
Along the way:
The R3 Program (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation) points out the necessity to reach out to the younger generations, especially those that may not have a family history in which hunting and fishing was a regular activity.
The problem is that those Boomers, who are potentially some of the best teachers, don’t dress or look like them and don’t understand what motivates their desire to hunt and fish. Studies indicate that they have aspirations to be in the fields, but they have different ideologies; they want to attack it as independent thinkers.
They want to study the art of hunting and fishing, attend specialized seminars, explore the cultural and natural impact of the hunt, and examine the nutritious nature of eating meat collected from the back-forty, like they would when shopping for vegetables at a farmer’s market. They’re also more electronically connected.
If you think hunter-education courses are the answer, they aren’t. They’re designed to address safety and conservation concepts, not mentorship. While not a barrier, they sometimes prove to be a bottleneck. Agencies have updated the training process and redesigned portions for these new-gen thinkers.
Unfortunately, we tend to want to mentor the person who’s predisposed to hunt. Maybe it’s our own child, grandchild or neighbor’s kid who’s been watching us waltzing around with rod and gun and shown an interest in joining in. While admirable and necessary, more is required.
We need to be less selfish with our haunts and be willing to share our happy hunting and fishing grounds. Recruitment also takes time. You’ll need to commit to support the skill building and earn their trust to develop that new license buyer, a process that could take several seasons.
These future sportsmen may not look or live like you, either. They may be a different color. They may have never set foot on a farm, owned a dog or been in a boat. They may not be a sports-man, but rather a sports-woman.
Where to search for someone to mentor? Young adult populations from college students on up have time, have money, have solidified socially and exhibit the motivation. They also want to feel the whisper of the spiritual in the adventure, something you and I know well.
As wildlife enthusiasts, we love the outdoors. The bad news is that we aren’t going to be here forever. Pass along that love and allow it to linger. One day they may carry your memory to the fields and streams.
• Sunday: Sporting clays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.
• Oct. 19: Try wild game for the first time. 6 p.m., Table One restaurant, 1 N. Detroit St., Kenton. This event is for those with little or no experience eating wild game. Admission is free, and donations will be accepted. Register by Oct. 17. Contact https://apps.ohiodnr.gov/wildlife/educationregistration
• Oct. 19: Hunter safety training, UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243. Registration information is available at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov
• Oct. 26: Youth pheasant hunt, hosted by Seneca County Pheasants Forever. Applications will be taken until Oct. 19. No walk ins. For information, contact Don at 567-278-1551 or visit www.senecacountypheasantsforever.org
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 firstname.lastname@example.org