The Hunting and Fishing Academy engages youth and parents for a life of hunting together.
Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s programs work to inspire the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists. This is done by not only engaging kids but also their family in immersive outdoorsmen experiences.
For Melissa Hinson and her son Noah Hollingsworth, finding ways to spend quality time together isn’t an easy task. Melissa is a single mother working long, full-time hours. Noah is a 7th grader juggling school, homework, and after-school activities.
But after participating in a mentored hunt through the Federation’s Hunting and Fishing Academy, they discovered a whole new way to bond on the weekends through their new shared love of hunting.
Melissa and Noah don’t have a family history of hunting. They loved exploring the outdoors together and Noah recently began shooting trap. But without a close family member or friend to share hunting traditions and experience, there was little chance they’d become hunters on their own.
An opportunity to participate in a Federation outing changed all that.
The Federation’s Hunting and Fishing Academy provides novice hunters and their parents, or another mentor, a weekend of practical lessons in hunting or angling. Led by volunteer lifelong hunters called Hunt Masters, participants are taught the art of hunting—from reading the land to animal anatomy to ethical harvesting practices. This allows them to develop essential skills and knowledge so they can go out again on their own. “The Hunt Masters were great. They were very helpful and answered all of our questions,” said Melissa.
Melissa went on to praise the Hunt Masters for their patience with Noah, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age six. This makes staying still and quiet for long periods difficult, and setbacks in the blind can sting even more.
“The mentors gave good directions and were very instructive, so we knew what to expect and what to do. When Noah missed a shot, they comforted him,” said Melissa. “It was very sweet. You could tell they were all fathers.”
Forging genuine connections to the outdoors and new friendships are just as critical to new hunters as learning basic skills. Those relationships are what draw them into the great outdoors again on their own.
“Asperger’s can make social connections difficult. However, during those three days I saw Noah grow, interact, and simply have fun like never before,” said Melissa. “He was very excited and was able to just be himself. I barely recognized him!”
It was a bonding experience between mother and son too.
Surrounded by Tennessee’s natural beauty, Melissa and Noah waited patiently in the turkey blind—all day. But as time grew short on the final day, they finally heard the distinct gobble sound and Noah soon harvested his first turkey.
“It’s a dream come true for every mom. We learn together and spend time together. When we both see something, we get excited together. It’s beautiful to be out there with him—not talking about school or Xbox. It’s beautiful to just be together,” said Melissa.
Melissa and Noah reflect on the impact their hunting experiences are having on them. For his first hunt, Noah used gear loaned to him by his trap coaches. Today, Melissa rents storage space for their equipment and even considered hunting when she selected her next vehicle.
“I didn’t realize how much it’s changed us. We are really growing into this lifestyle,” said Melissa.
The Federation’s Hunting and Fishing Academy is tailored to create unforgettable family experiences like theirs and inspire the next generation of conservationists.