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Penn State course teaches hunting for non-hunters

April 25, 2012 at 07:18 PM

The Associated Press

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — Gary San Julian knew it was a sign of the changing times. But how in the heck, he wondered, could someone in wildlife management be effective unless they knew something about hunting and hunters?

So, about a decade ago, the Penn State professor emeritus of wildlife resources started a hunting-immersion class called Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow.

One prerequisite for attending: You can’t own a hunting license.

Since then, about 40 young male and female wildlife management majors at Penn State have taken the course.

Vegans, vegetarians, members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and a few staunch anti-hunters, have been included.

But mostly, they are kids of their generation who simply have not come in contact with hunters or learned much about hunting’s key role as a wildlife-management tool.

Its number of participants is diminishing, but hunting still is a significant stitch in the nation’s cultural fabric, San Julian believes.

And he thinks that lack of awareness worked against students’ effectiveness as wildlife managers.

These future policy makers, he believes strongly, need to understand the passion hunters have for conservation and their sport.

San Julian, 64, also used to teach a public relations course. “I know how valuable it is for people to be able to speak the language and be able to relate,” he says.

A disconnect between hunters and the people managing wildlife does no one any good.

So, inspired by a course taught at the University of Wisconsin, San Julian developed a prototype class that’s now used nationally.

He’s signed up sponsors such as the Wildlife Management Institute, the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Today, classes based on San Julian’s Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow are taught in about a dozen states.

In January, San Julian led a class for employees with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The hunting immersion class, and how the professor manages to bond with his students, recently earned San Julian the Gordon Kirkland Award for Lifetime Achievement in Conservation from the Pennsylvania Chapter of The Wildlife Society.

San Julian retired in December after 17 years of teaching such classes as conservation of natural resources, natural resources advocacy, introduction to fisheries and wildlife management, and natural resources public relations.

Through the years, the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow class has been held in Chicago and at Paradise Ranch, a former shooting preserve in Centre County.

Initially, it was taught on campus. It took a little persuasion for campus police to allow stored guns on campus.

In the latest class in February, San Julian met 16 wildlife management students from Penn State, North Carolina State University, West Virginia University, University of Delaware and Frostburg State University at Chesapeake Farms, a 3,000-acre wildlife and agricultural research and demonstration farm owned by DuPont on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

There, from a Thursday to Sunday, the students spent early morning to late at night learning how to handle and shoot a shotgun and attending lectures on who hunts and why.

“Our goal is not to make them hunters,” says San Julian, who loves to hunt squirrels. “That is stated right upfront. But we want to give them an understanding of how it works. They are looking at a group that is very dedicated, very giving and very passionate.”

To help the students get over their initial fear of firearms, San Julian had them view a rifle or shotgun as just a tool, not unlike a hammer.

“In this society sometimes, when you have such a negative connotation about firearms, to face that fear and reality, there’s a little bit of courage in there,” he says.

“I am so proud of the students. I am amazed at how willing they are to challenge their own fears.”

There is a great emphasis on gun safety and each student took the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s hunter-trapper education course required to get a hunting license.

Then, the students shot skeet with 20-gauge over-and-under barrel shotguns. Some become quite good.

All went on a pheasant hunt in the field with pointing dogs. The hunt is optional but San Julian says only a few have not done it through the years.

Afterward, the students were shown how to remove the guts of the game birds and how to prepare them for cooking.

The health benefits of wild game, compared to processed meats, was emphasized.

That evening, the students ate pheasant and various venison preparations. At one class in Colorado, students dined on a mountain lion. The students are not told the animal they consume until afterward.

Some vegetarians through the years, San Julian recalls, said wild game they shot themselves didn’t count and ate the pheasant.

“One biology student said, ‘If I were to start eating again, it would only be the meat I harvested myself,’ ” San Julian notes.

Even the non-meat-eaters want to take home pheasants to cook for friends and family.

By the end of the course, San Julian says, “Very few of them are anti-hunting. We learned from each other.”

Imagine San Julian’s sense of satisfaction early one spring morning a few years ago as he’s hunting turkeys in his favorite spot in the Scotia Barrens in Centre County. He hears a hunter approaching on a trail.

He’s flabbergasted to see one of his former students.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

“I’m going to go turkey hunting.”




Information from: Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era ,

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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