Author: Cassie Gasaway
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, life changed for people and businesses. Some struggled with the changes, and others embraced them. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources fell into the second category. Staff members started to provide online Field to Fork courses and programs after in-person events were canceled. Educators and community members opened computers instead of car doors to access the events. As a result, the department introduced a record number of participants to hunting in 2020.
Becky Wallen, Field to Fork coordinator for the KDFWR, led the way.
“(The Field to Fork program is) for adults who have a nonhunting background,” Wallen said. “We know the desire to learn to hunt is out there. People want sustainable meat. They want to be self-sufficient. Those desires didn’t go away, they were heightened with the pandemic. We knew we had to get the information out there. We didn’t know how successful online programs would be, but we knew we had to try something, so we pivoted very quickly.”
The KDFWR expanded the program as interest grew. Photo Credit: KDFWR
Before the Pandemic
The department and its partners had been hosting learn-to-hunt-deer-for-food workshops annually since 2010 in the Lexington and Louisville areas. Each event had about 20 participants. The program goal was to provide education, resources and opportunities for community members interested in learning to hunt for food. As community interest grew, the department expanded to offer a mentored hunt for workshop participants. It also created a collegiate program in 2013 to teach college students how to hunt. The department launched the Field to Fork brand in 2014. Wallen joined the team in 2016 to coordinate FTF programs that included a workshop and mentored hunt opportunity. She also taught the program to participants across the state.
The ATA conducted a case study on Kentucky’s collegiate FTF program in 2018 that explored the program’s goal, marketing strategies, training sessions and post-program opportunities. Later that year, the department expanded to offer FTF programs for turkeys, doves and squirrels. As such, the frequency of events rose. As the program’s momentum grew, the pandemic hit. Wallen taught one in-person turkey workshop in March 2020 and was told to stop — but she refused to stop altogether.
Pivoting To Offer Online Courses
“When we couldn’t do in-person workshops anymore, I worked with my director on a solution to get people the turkey hunting information they needed,” Wallen said.
The solution was a five-part Facebook Live series. The director for the Information and Education Division at KDFWR used Wallen’s suggestion and coordinated with partners to conduct one part each week leading up to the youth turkey season. Each live session was about 30 minutes and had thousands of viewers. In fact, the videos have received more than 52,000 Facebook views and were later uploaded to YouTube and viewed another 850-plus times. The five topics included shotgun information, the status of wild turkeys in Kentucky, turkey hunting setups, a turkey calling tutorial and a turkey hunting safety briefing.
Wallen said the videos went over well. So well that she started planning for a six-part fall deer hunting series. She took the agenda for the in-person workshops and transferred it to the online platform. She hand-picked presenters for the six topics, including basic deer ecology, public-land hunting, field scouting tips, e-scouting tips, deer processing and cooking lessons and information on the state’s Hunters for the Hungry program. They conducted the series on Zoom because they couldn’t capture participant information on Facebook. More than 135 people registered for the webinar event, which was taught in the six weeks leading up to the state’s modern firearm season.
The series was well received, but recording, editing and video uploading issues kept the team from posting the videos to YouTube. Wallen continued to adapt and recently offered a 2021 online turkey hunting workshop on Zoom and YouTube Live. Offering the video simultaneously on YouTube Live eliminated the previous issues because YouTube automatically saved the footage after the course ended. The course had 106 Zoom participants and 1,073 YouTube viewers. Its content was similar to the 2020 event. Participants learned about wild turkeys, calling, hunting equipment, scouting and hunting tactics, processing the bird and cooking the meat.
Capturing participant data for the 2020 fall deer and 2021 spring turkey webinar series allowed Wallen and her team to invite participants to follow-up events and a private Facebook group. The group was created so newcomers could ask questions, share stories and advice, and continue to receive information from KDFWR staff. The Facebook group has over 415 participants and strives to provide a safe, comfortable learning space for newcomers.
With participant information, the KDFWR could also conduct post-webinar surveys. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Here are a few anonymous participant comments from the most recent turkey webinar:
– I’ve really enjoyed these Zoom classes. They allow me to attend when normally I could not due to work.
– The turkey calling webinar was extremely good. A lot of information was disseminated in a way that made it very clear how to use the information for or during a successful hunt. Webinars tailored in that manner are beneficial to me.
– It was a well-run program. It sure has my son excited for turkey hunting this year. It is helpful to have programs like this to back up the lessons we teach our children and apprentices. Learning from someone other than dad also helps keep their attention. Keep up the good work.
– Thank you for the webinar series. It was so good for a beginner like me. Thanks to all that lead the program.
– I really enjoyed the Zoom format. It was more convenient than taking time away from family and adulting to attend. I hope this is something that will be offered more.
Perks and Challenges of Online Learning
Wallen said online learning has many benefits.
“We’re able to reach a wider audience, and it’s more convenient for people,” she said. “We’re still able to capture their information so we’re still able to send them to follow-up opportunities. The sheer number (of participants) is hard to beat.”
The KDFWR worked with 133 new hunters in 2019. After harnessing the opportunity to provide educational events on a virtual platform throughout 2020, the department reached over 54,000 new and prospective hunters.
These numbers trend with the state’s hunting license sales. Kentucky sold 271,612 resident hunting licenses in 2019, with 17,411 of those for new customers. In 2020, the state sold 285,736 resident licenses, with 20,830 new customers. It’s likely meat shortages and increased participant free time (as a result of the pandemic) affected these numbers alongside the FTF program.
Overcoming technical issues was a new challenge, but Wallen said participants were patient despite connection troubles — even after numerous connection tests. They received requests to fix the lighting and sound quality, but that feedback only made them improve with each video they completed.
“There’s always room for improvement, but we’re definitely at a good point,” she said.
The department is offering a mashup of online and in-person events for the rest of the year to reach more people. Those events include a mentored in-person dove hunt and a deer workshop with a follow-up mentored hunt, and two online events, including a squirrel hunting webinar (starts May 12) and a dove hunting webinar (starts July 22). Wallen recommends that state agencies and others push themselves to provide different, unique learning opportunities.
“There’s no one way to do it,” she said. “If you limit yourself to one version of your program, that’s what it is, it’s limiting. I’d encourage other practitioners that work with new hunters to offer multiple opportunities over multiple formats.”
Wallen said none of this success would have been possible without partner support.
“In the original case study, partnerships made this program a success,” Wallen said. “That’s still the case today. When I look back on a year like this, I’m proud and thankful for our partners. I’m thankful for people I work with and the support that I have from the top down.”
Wallen looks forward to continuing to work with the National Deer Association and National Wild Turkey Federation, and growing the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension partnership.
Wallen started teaching University of Kentucky cooperative extension agents how to teach the FTF workshops. Forty-three agents were trained in-person in January 2020, and an additional 112 agents were trained virtually in February 2021. All 155 agents are ready to cohost in-person events soon.
The KDFWR also worked with the extension agents to create the “Cook Wild Kentucky” series, where they team up to host Facebook Live wild game cooking demonstrations. They’ve done seven segments so far, and the videos have over 6,740 views. Demonstrations included how to pressure-can meat, oven-fry fish, saute frog legs, bake dove breasts, and make rabbit soup, venison meatloaf and venison chili. They’re creating “Cook Wild” publications about fish, deer, turkeys and small game, too. The series introduction is available online. Additional “Cook Wild Kentucky” instructional processing posters with cooking recommendations will also be available for free.
Americans are seeking opportunities to learn about hunting and take an active role in conservation, whether online or in-person. That’s good news for ATA members and partners who want to provide educational events. Now’s a great time to analyze the events you currently provide to determine which ones could be adapted for an online setting and how to enhance the course material for all audiences, regardless of the setting. Adapting current programs, such as ATA’s Explore Bowhunting and Bowfishing programs, to meet your customers’ needs is a good starting point. These programs can be implemented in almost any setting.
If you’re unable to provide online learning options, partner with an organization or state wildlife agency to get involved. If nothing else, share resources (like Kentucky’s video series) on your social platforms.
Not sure where to start? Contact Josh Gold, ATA’s senior manager of R3 and state relations, for guidance and support at email@example.com.