Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Getting in DEEP about Elk

Ask most kids in Connecticut if they’ve ever seen an elk, and you’ll likely see a lot of shaking heads. Heck, some might have never even heard of the beast. It’s understandable. After all, no one’s found physical evidence that they ever existed in the state, and no wild elk freely roam there today.

But that doesn’t mean elk-junkies don’t reside in Connecticut. They do, and the most dedicated of the bunch populate two RMEF chapters in Danbury and Manchester. One of the volunteers, Dan Armstead, RMEF state chair for Southern New England and chapter chair of the Connecticut River Chapter in Manchester, wants everyone in his state and beyond to know about elk, especially young people. Armstead, along with his wife Jean, travel to several events throughout the year—including PBR events, Scout shows, state fish and game events, and SAFE programs—to set up and staff a booth that teaches folks about the wily wapiti and the good work of RMEF.

One of those events is held in conjunction with Connecticut Hunting & Fishing Appreciation Day every September. The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) teams up with Friends of the Sessions Woods to host the free, daylong event which is held at the Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area and Education Center in Burlington. The program features field dog demos, target shooting, archery and casting pools for attendees of all ages, as well as a host of youth-related crafts and activities, including making casts of tracks, a scavenger hunt and a chance to visit with live reptiles.

RMEF co-sponsors the event through its state grant program. Thanks to the Armsteads, RMEF also joins more than 30 other conservation, hunting and fishing organizations in attendance to teach Connecticut’s citizens about wildlife, conservation and responsible hunting.

The Connecticut River Chapter’s booth is donned with the usual RMEF banners, Bugle magazines and membership brochures. But the big draw is the head mounts of a bull elk and mule deer and pronghorn antelope bucks, along with an elk hide, moose antler and other animal parts.

“The kids love it,” Armstead says. “The most common question we hear when they see the bull elk is, ‘What is it?’ Growing up in Connecticut they know deer, but they have no concept of bigger game animals. They are curious, they want to touch the hide and antlers, and they want to learn more.”

As they teach the biology behind the elk and other critters, the couple also works in messages about wildlife and habitat conservation and our hunting heritage, along with a healthy dose of how to be responsible, ethical hunters—a message they pass along to adults who visit their booth as well.

“Regardless of their age, we want them to leave our booth knowing that hunter-conservationists are responsible for the opportunities we have today to view, hunt and enjoy wildlife, and that we need their help if we are going to continue this tradition for future generations,” Armstead says.

-Lee Lamb

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