A Youth Waterfowl Education Center Focuses on the Future of Waterfowl and Hunting
Taking aim--Camp Woodie Director Brad Jones shows Blake Cogdill, age 9, the techniques of safe wing-shooting
For the past three years, my husband, Eli Haydel, has been asked to be a seminar speaker and waterfowl instructor at Camp Woodie, South Carolina, and consequently I was asked to attend. I was a little hesitant at first, but I decided to go and am I ever happy I did! This camp is located about 50 miles from Columbia, South Carolina, and is only one of the many projects sponsored by the South Carolina Waterfowl Association, an aggressive conservation organization with 5,000 active members not to mention the more than 13,000 people who attend SCWA events yearly. With 30 chapters and approximately 450 committee volunteers, they have an annual budget of $1.9 million. The association office has 14 full-time staff members, six university wildlife biology student interns (seven-month positions) and eight university wildlife biology summer camp counselors. Their quarterly magazine has a circulation of 6,000 per issue.
One of their projects, the "SCWA Waterfowl Enhancement Project" added some 100,000 ducks and geese to South Carolina's waterfowl populations in the year 1999 alone. Eli and I were provided the opportunity of watching the young campers and counselors at Camp Woodie round up the ducks for the banding event--a part of this project. The group stretched out in a line all the way across the water and slowly herded the birds toward a small cove where the banding would begin. These ducks were still too young to fly so they had no choice but to swim "as directed." The banding takes just seconds for each duck but participating made the campers feel a great sense of importance.
Camp Woodie, located near the small community of Pinewood, is held throughout the 11 weeks of summer and over 500 boys and girls attend each year. Although still a fairly new organization, the camp doubled in size from 1997 to 1998 and continues to show a steady increase each year. Camp Woodie offers not only a lot of fun and excitement, but always provides learning opportunities as well. The facilities are excellent in every way and yet additional projects are constantly being proposed to help make this camp a state-of-the-art facility.
The camp has been recognized nationally and is supported by national sponsors including Remington Arms Corporation, Garrett W. Dietrich Family Foundation, DuraCraft Boats, The NRA (provide ATVs for transportation), Herters, Mack's Prairie Wings, Pro Line, Haydel's Game Calls, Swamp Thing Mallard Calls, Mossy Oak, S.W. Early, Flambeau Decoys, Bi-Lo Corporation, Bismuth, McAllister, Avery Outdoors, AGFA Film, ATSKO Waterproofing Compounds, Foiles Migrators Goose calls, Bear Archery, Easton Arrow, Fatal DeDUCKtion, Southern Game Calls, Zink Outdoors, Knight & Hale, Final Approach, Buck Gardner Game Calls, Gunbrella, McKenzie Targets, 0l' Man Tree Stands, Preston Pittman Game Calls, Quack-'Em Back and Kirk McCullough.
At the camp, youngsters get a first-hand view of quality waterfowl habitat. At the entrance, they are greeted by a beautiful swamp where cypress trees with mossy branches quietly guard the dark water. It's a place where mysterious sounds coming from marsh draw them like a magnet.
On down the winding narrow road, a large sign announces the arrival at camp. From the sturdy log cabins voices of newly arrived campers could be heard, and Eli and I knew we were in a special place. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were met by several of the camp staff members, including Brad Jones, the camp education director.
Brad and his staff completely amazed me as I watched them carry out their responsibilities each day. Their attitudes, hard work, professionalism and determination to make this "a camp to remember" for all the kids.
Camp Woodie is diversified in its schedule of programs. Activities are geared to the ages of the kids. While some groups learn the basics of waterfowl and wildlife conservation along with hunter safety and education, others may be getting a first look at waterfowl identification, wing shooting, archery, boating, swimming and other hands-on programs aimed at introducing a child to the great outdoors.
Older campers are introduced to all aspects of waterfowling heritage along with the skills needed to become an avid duck and goose hunter. Expert teachers provide instruction on decoy carving, duck boat building, swamp ecology, blind building, decoy rigging, retriever training and hunting techniques. Toward the end of summer, another week-long session is offered to youths who are considering careers in waterfowl management. These are students between 16 and 18 years of age who will work hand-in-hand with South Carolina Association biologists. This course features cannon netting, banding of wood ducks and mallards, habitat evaluation, creation and management techniques, plus waterfowl ecology instruction.
Roughing it, not really--the cabins at Camp Woodie are not the norm for a camping
More than just learning goes on there. Camp Woodie participants use the large fishing pier, basketball court, volleyball court, board games of all kinds and numerous other functions to keep these young minds entertained.
This year while visiting the camp, I took the opportunity to interview some randomly selected youngsters to get their impressions of Camp Woodie. The comments were pretty much the same--they "love the camp," were "already making plans to come back again next year" and no one could think of a single thing that could make the camp "even better." The only complaint? They wished they could stay longer than just a week.
I also noticed a politeness that was impressive. As the campers came into the dining area at each meal, they were required to sit at assigned tables with their designated staff member and to always remove their caps. There they would remain quiet until everyone was seated, and then, oh my, could these campers eat!
Another pleasant surprise was that after each meal, different campers were selected to help clean up the dining area. Some would wipe down the tables, carry items to the kitchen or trash cans, sweep floors and handle other tasks that help teach basic responsibility. I never saw a single person protest these duties. Another responsibility they are required to do halfway through the week is to write letters to their parents. This is something I can really appreciate, and I feel sure most parents would agree.
Activities vary and campers can choose wha
t they would prefer to do. They can attend duck calling seminars where they are each given hands-on instruction on how to properly hold and blow a duck call and then later watch films on waterfowl hunting and techniques. Or they might go to the archery range, skeet range or even shoot out of a blind.
Some campers prefer to go on nature walks where they are taught to identify "things" that live in the wild, plus they are shown how to plant food plots such as peas, rice, clover, corn and other high-protein foods that will help feed creatures who live off the land. Instructors take time to identify the various plants growing in the area. Respect of the environment and wildlife in particular is always emphasized, and all events are closely supervised by well-trained counselors.
The archery range has 20 targets, and the camp furnishes all equipment. In the woods, the young archers are given opportunities to shoot at numerous decoys of turkey, bobcat, deer, bear, coyote, hog and others.
At the fire-stand stations, campers are taught gun safety first and then are permitted to shoot from blinds assembled to duplicate different hunting scenarios. This is one of the favorite activities for the campers and, like the archery range, all guns and shells are provided by the camp. The skeet station is another favorite, and it is here that each youngster is fitted with hearing protection, shown the proper stance, how to hold a gun and safety techniques before even being allowed to shoot skeet. By the end of each week, it is amazing as to how most of them have improved their accuracy. My favorite activity--always held on the last night of camp--is called "Capture the Flag." It's basically like a game of hide and seek, but the goal is to capture the flag from the opponent. It is held on a small island located in the middle of the largest camp pond, and the campers are literally covered in mud by the time the game is over. This is an event they really enjoy and anticipate each year. I get exhausted just watching them play!
Toward the end of the summer each year, Camp Woodie offers a three-day camp for adults. "Hard Core" is set up to give those already interested in waterfowl hunting an opportunity to brush up on their skills. There are qualified people present with expertise in areas including duck and goose calling, decoy making and setup, and retriever training. Videos on hunting are shown, and plenty of time is set aside for questions and answers. On Saturdays, attendees are exposed to the same activities as previously mentioned for our younger campers but on a more elevated level.
Duck banding involves all campers
Social hours are held and delicious meals and sleeping facilities are provided. In the spring, a camp for women only is held. This camp teaches basic waterfowl skills plus they are also given the opportunity to experience the activities mentioned previously for the other campers. Although still a new project, last year's group numbered around 45 women, and hopefully that will increase as more people are made aware of it. I'll be there.
Our children are all grown now, but I have five grandchildren that I worry about all the time. I am particular about where I feel they should be permitted to go and yet, when they are older, Camp Woodie is one place that I would highly recommend to parents. After seeing the type of supervision, care and education the campers receive, I wouldn't hesitate to let one of my grandchildren attend. The knowledge they will receive will be "icing on the cake," and I honestly encourage everyone--nationwide--to give camp woodie some consideration.
Although I've mentioned Brad Jones, the camp's education director, it would be very negligent on my part to not mention the entire staff. These are some of the most conscientious people I have ever met.
Each year as we drive away from the camp, I feel a mixture of so many different emotionsÃ‚â€¦happiness, sadness, gratitude, enthusiasm, etc. but, more importantly, I know that if I had young children still at home, this would be my first choice to send them for a summer retreat. The folks at Camp Woodie are setting the example for others to follow. If not for projects of this nature I fear the future of waterfowl and those who care so much about it would be bleak. Do your part--don't leave it up to others. It won't get done unless we all work together.
For more information on Camp Woodie, call 803/452-6001 or write to them at: South Carolina Waterfowl Association Camp Woodie, Rte. 1, Box 319, Pinewood, SC 29125.