That splendid sage of the Santee, incomparable chronicler of Southern sport, and longtime Poet Laureate of South Carolina Archibald Rutledge often wrote about the advantages associated with hunting. Noting that there was “much more to hunting than hunting,” he enumerated benefits such as “renewed health, a more wholesome outlook on life, and a reverence for the miracle of creation.”
He reckoned something was inherently American in the expression “shoot straight” and firmly believed that “the privilege of hunting is about as fine a heritage as we have.”
Nothing faintly resembling today’s Take One, Make One program existed then. Instead, youngsters looked to parents, grandparents, other family members, or adult friends for guidance and introduction to the wonders of sport. Such was my charmed lot as a boy. Dame Fortune blessed me in a special way — I had a father who was a hunter, a man who appreciated the manner in which immersion in the natural world could mold and influence his son, and an individual who joyfully adopted the role of mentor. He gave me a treasure beyond measure, the heart of a hunter, for from early boyhood onward, hunting had firm hold on a corner of my soul.
Sadly, in today’s bustling, success-driven, increasingly urbanized world, opportunities for youth to be exposed to and develop a love for hunting are in abject decline. That is precisely the reason for and premise underlying the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Take One, Make One initiative. “The program is designed for youth ages 10 to 17 who do not hunt or have anyone to take or teach them,” says Mark Ferrell, one of two TOMO coordinators in the state who work under the supervision of Ken Cope. “It provides them with the opportunity to learn and experience hunting in a safe environment.” Interested youth begin by completing a hunter education course and then filling out a TOMO application found under the hunter education link on the SCDNR website.
Once accepted into the TOMO program, budding hunters have access to youth hunts across the state. According to Mark, he and his colleagues, along with plenty of volunteer assistance in the form of both landowner support and mentors, have a variety of hunts — dove, deer, ducks, squirrel, turkey — that are set up nearly every Saturday when some type of hunting is in season. The burgeoning Nimrods are accompanied by experienced mentors, who undergo background checks prior to becoming a key component of TOMO.
According to Mark, “By the time the participants finish high school and age out of the program, these young men and women should have had the opportunity to hunt several different species of animals and feel confident enough to go afield on their own.” Hopes are that these one-time tyros will make the transition not only from understudy to accomplished hunter but also will eventually become mentors in their own right.
Mark’s story of the manner in which hunting has figured in his life, how he became an employee of SCDNR, and how meaningful TOMO has been to him on a personal as well as a professional level goes to the essence of the whole concept. Some of his fondest boyhood memories revolve around hunting and fishing experiences shared with his grandfathers, father, and brother. One suspects that some “honorary” uncles may have been thrown in the mix as well. He feels blessed to have been reared in such circumstances and is committed, through TOMO, to the vital matter of stemming the decline in hunter recruitment among youth.
“We want TOMO participants to become hunters and conservationists. The future of our wildlife depends on them, and our job is to make sure our youth understand that,” says Mark. Individuals involved in TOMO will be key factors not only in the future of wildlife but in the continuation and perpetuation of the sport hunting that has been an integral part of the American way from pioneer days.
Mark’s comments have common threads with others who serve as volunteer mentors in TOMO. Wes Chappell apologized for the lengthy nature of his thoughts on the subject by saying, “I am very passionate about the program,” acknowledging that he could not resist waxing enthusiastic whenever the subject of TOMO is broached. He shared a deeply moving tale of how his grandfather had shaped and nurtured his sporting life. Then, two weeks prior to Wes’ 15th birthday, his grandfather succumbed to a stroke. It left the lad absolutely devastated.
To their lasting credit, men who had formed the membership of his grandfather’s hunt club took Wes under their collective wings, nurtured him, and continued as bastions of support until he reached adulthood. He never forgot those men and their efforts, and his way of honoring the memory of his grandfather and those who became surrogate mentors after he died is to do all he can to support TOMO. “I spend as much time as possible in the program,” he says, “but it’s never enough.”
Wes emphasizes that it is the totality of the TOMO experience, not simply harvesting animals, that makes it distinctive. That involves time practicing with and sighting in guns, meals featuring game dishes, overnight stays, and the construction of relationships that are both endearing and enduring. He also refers to what must surely be one of the most common and gratifying themes in mentoring. “We, as mentors, get as much out of the experience as they do if not more. I’m just picking up where Granddad left off.”
The background of Alan Abernathy, another longtime TOMO mentor, is somewhat different, but like Wes, he stresses how much the program means both to youth and to him. A forester and biologist, Alan is an avid hunter and devoted conservationist who participates in numerous TOMO hunts each year. Interestingly, he has found that youth who say they want to hunt but lack a parent or family member who can introduce them to the natural world actually have wide-ranging motivations for being part of the program. “Sometimes they just want someone to listen to them and discuss life’s problems with them,” he says. “Others are excited to get firsthand exposure to the outdoors, but the end result is the desired one — it adds a deeply meaningful dimension to their lives.”
Alan’s fondest hope is that TOMO gives the youth who are involved a better life and maybe an element of meaning that may have been missing in their existence. He is constantly aware of how fortunate he was, as a youngster, to have plenty of family members to take him hunting any time he wanted to go. He also sees his participation in TOMO, much like Wes does, as part obligation, part blessing, and all pure joy. “I am really the lucky one here,” he says.
That type of interaction, where the fostering of strong relationships and the perpetuation of the hunting experience are meaningful to teacher and pupil alike, go to the heart of TOMO and, in a wider sense, to the future of sport hunting in South Carolina and beyond.
Old Flintlock, as Archibald Rutledge was fondly known to family and close friends, when looking back on a lifetime of hunting and being a hunting mentor, expressed his fixed conviction that outdoor experiences “develop a serenity of spirit that makes for long life and long love of life.” He reckoned that if children are given “a passionate and wholesome devotion to the outdoors … they will always enjoy life in its nobler aspects without money and without price … because they know and love the natural world.” Those thoughts could almost be a mantra for TOMO, for the program’s ultimate goal is not only to create hunters but provide them a legacy to last a lifetime through enjoyment of the grand American heritage of hunting.
Literature on Sporting Mentors
Everyone who revels in the concept of introducing the next generation to the joys of hunting can learn more from the works of two great hunting scribes. Archibald Rutledge’s essay, “Why I Taught My Boys to Be Hunters,” which provides the introduction to this article, originally appeared as a chapter in An American Hunter and is also offered in Hunting & Home in the Southern Heartland: The Best of Archibald Rutledge. Robert Ruark’s timeless tales of youthful sporting days spent under the tutelage of his grandfather can be enjoyed in his “The Old Man and the Boy” stories, which first appeared as a long-running column in Field and Stream magazine and subsequently were brought together in book form in The Old Man and the Boy and The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older. Ten additional pieces not included in these works are found in The Lost Classics of Robert Ruark.
Jim Casada is a full-time freelance writer whose work has appeared in scores of regional and national magazines. He is the author or editor of more than 40 books.