Story by 1st Lt. Caroline Pirchner, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs
NEWTON FALLS, Ohio (10/10/20)
Controlled deer hunts at Camp James A. Garfield Joint Military Training Center date back to the early 1950s. The hunts, facilitated through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, have evolved over the years and offer opportunities for the general public and military service members (active and retired) to play roles in the conservation of natural resources at Camp James A. Garfield.
Air National Guard Master Sgt. Kristin VanFossan, a personnel specialist at the Ohio National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters, found out about the event through an email encouraging Guard members to apply for a hunting permit. On the application, she discovered there was an option for a women’s hunt, which requires the primary applicant in each pair to be a woman. VanFossan was selected and joined 170 others during an Oct. 10 hunt.
“I think more women should try (hunting),” VanFossan said. “It’s not for everybody, but I think it’s a good experience that they should try.”
The women’s hunt was created by the ODNR Division of Wildlife in the early 2000s as an effort to encourage more women to become involved in hunting. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women made up approximately 11% of all registered hunters in the U.S. in 2016 and the country continues to see more women becoming involved in the sport each year.
VanFossan’s encouragement to women stems from her opinion on the larger goal of the controlled hunts.
“I think it’s really good for the health and population of the deer,” VanFossan said.
Brian Riley, the natural resources manager for Camp James A. Garfield, agrees.
“It’s incredibly important for everyone to be involved in conservation, so it’s not just limited to the guys, everyone has a part to play,” Riley said.
Ohio Guard members have many parts to play in this mission, not just as hunters like VanFossan. Full-time Guard members at Camp James A. Garfield also help with the early planning process of these hunts and provide base security. Some serve as volunteer escorts to guide hunters to their designated hunt zones, ensuring safety, and even helping with tracking deer.
“Simply put, these controlled hunts would not be possible without the selfless help and dedication of the many Ohio Guardsmen and women who assist us in this effort,” Riley said. “Controlling the deer population is incredibly important not just for maintaining the ecological diversity here at Camp James A. Garfield, but also for ensuring the long-term continued training opportunities that we provide here.”
According to Riley, controlling the population is also a direct necessity for maintaining the health of the deer population on the installation, because overpopulation can lead to starvation and disease.
As Ohio Guard members have both direct and indirect roles in the environmental management of their own training facility and protection of the wildlife within it, both Riley and VanFossan agree it’s more than just that. It’s also about having a true appreciation for enjoying the outdoors and living sustainably.
“I value the time being able to spend outdoors, it’s an experience I can do with my children,” VanFossan said. “And knowing that it may be an animal’s life we’re taking, but it’s also food we will use throughout the year.”
VanFossan brought her husband Craig, who introduced her to the sport nearly seven years ago, on the hunt. Although they didn’t harvest a deer, they enjoyed spending quality time together. At the end of the day, with the COVID-19 pandemic putting many limitations and stress on society, she said it was nice to just have a break with him from all of the chaos.
“Just being out there and listening to the birds and the squirrels bark at each other, and seeing some morning peepers,” VanFossan said. “It was relaxing, it takes you away from everything.”
Riley stressed the importance of enjoying outdoor recreational activities and how that enjoyment is the foundation for successful conservation efforts.
“The more people who participate in and enjoy hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities, the more they understand the importance of conserving our natural resources,” Riley said. “We have Guard members who are not only here to provide and ensure safety for hunters coming here on post, both military and civilian, but also being hunters themselves and good stewards of conservation of the land.”
Unlike VanFossan and her husband, Riley is not a hunter, despite being a strong advocate for the sport. He said he finds it impossible to sit still long enough to be an effective hunter when there’s always things around him sparking his curiosity in the woods. This passion for nature stems from his upbringing and studies in conservation. Through those studies, Riley said he has developed a deep appreciation for how organisms in an ecosystem function together in harmony and the importance of the science behind environmental management.
For Ohio National Guard members, everything is a team effort — just like an ecosystem. Functioning together, in harmony, with their environmental partners statewide, is key to maintaining the operability of their training facilities and their overall readiness as a force.