On a dreadfully hot summer night in July, I carefully aligned and tightened my vest. No, this wasn’t a suit vest, shooting vest or even a hunting vest. It was a bullet proof vest. Mandatory protective wear for spending a night shift on the streets with the Lancaster City Police. Over the course of the next eight hours, I stood side to side with the officers of the police force as they navigated through a full measure of typical activity that included accidents, shots fired, domestic disputes, two arrests and the break-up of a fairly substantial fight. The most prolific event of the evening was our second call where we were the first responding unit to what proved to be a fatal heroin overdose – the victim dying on a bathroom floor between myself and my assigned officer in front of his mother, daughter and granddaughter. It was unbelievably sad. My night on the city streets was certainly memorable, but that night represented a typical night in the life of our communities. How did I end up spending a night in the thick of police action?
Several months prior, I had the privilege of connecting with Officer Josiah King, a 13-year veteran of the police force, and leader of the Lancaster City Police Athletic League (PAL). Through a mutual contact, he discovered that I had served as a Past President of SCI and wanted to meet to discuss hunting as well as PAL. We connected, and I began a discovery journey of PAL and the important benefits of this impactful program. Part of this journey for me was to experience a front seat view from a police cruiser, and come face-to-face with the community our police force serves every day.
Lancaster City Police started their PAL effort in 2014. PAL is designed to connect police officers and kids in a positive environment through sports and physical activities. PAL programs are a mainstay across the United States, where police officers conduct youth development activities with neighborhood kids. PAL has proven itself to be an effective method for connecting law enforcement officers and community members in a positive manner. Police officers mentor local youth through programs such as basketball, archery, music, dance and outdoor recreation.
Many of the aforementioned activities are relatively easy to organize, but expanding the menu to include hunting is most challenging if not virtually impossible. Understand that most of the youth entering the program come from extraordinarily challenged environments, limited (if any) family structures and nominal knowledge or understanding of legal hunting and the role it plays in wildlife conservation. This is before you have the political and cultural challenges of taking kids hunting, safety issues, logistics and the expense of actually making it happen. Introducing hunting to PAL students is a challenge!
Josiah, an avid hunter and SCI member himself, and I discussed his vision for introducing hunting to PAL students and, a few short weeks later, we made a trip to Tyrone Pennsylvania to visit Russ and Lori Walk of Quest Haven. The Walks have been longtime exhibitors at SCI and own a spectacular deer ranch on 2,200 acres in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. While Pennsylvania is renowned for its public whitetail hunting, there was virtually no way we could put any of the students into a truly engaged and potentially successful hunting situation without the support of a deer ranch. The Walk’s, after hearing our proposal, agreed to partner with our effort and endeavor to make this hunt a reality.
We scheduled the hunt between Christmas and New Year’s Day, timed to land on the school holiday recess, and accommodate Quest Haven’s schedule. In addition to the generous contribution of our hosts, we also organized another donor to help cover the cost of the trip.
PAL announced the trip, and established several requirements to participate including the successful completion of the Pennsylvania Hunter’s Safety Course, and firearm instruction with police officers. Five students completed the requirements and, on a bitterly cold late December day, we unloaded the PAL van with five eager hunters, two police officers as chaperones, two cameramen and a small group of observers at the spectacular Quest Haven Lodge.
As hunting has it, the two-day doe hunt was accompanied by record low temperatures, (the high reaching 15 degrees over both days), heavy wind and snow, all of which proved most challenging for both hunters and deer. Thankfully, the heaters in the blinds worked well allowing us to stay out for several hours each day, but high winds made the hunting unusually hard on normal deer patterns and the students were not always fitted with the best of cold weather hunting gear – as one could imagine.
The morning of day one yielded no deer sightings, but the afternoon proved a different outcome. Austin was the first hunter to score taking a nice doe at 125 yards. His success was immediately followed by Braylon and Allura, both taking mature does right at dark. In all three cases, each of the animals was harvested with one shot – a true testament to the firearm training the students were required to pass before going afield.
Day two brought an unexpected bonus as Lianna came across an injured buck that needed to be harvested. She shot her first deer, a 200-point whitetail, while it was crossing an ice covered corn field! Colton hunted hard for a full two days and unfortunately, circumstances did not afford him a shot.
Whitetail hunting is often tricky and on several occasions, he passed on shots that were simply not sportsmanlike. Well done Colton and you will return to the woods! Additionally, all of the hunters participated in the butchering and processing of the venison before leaving with their own supply of venison.
Connecting PAL and Quest Haven was an extraordinarily satisfying experience for all involved. The positive impact to these children – many who would never even dream of hunting – was one of the most memorable excursions of my outdoor adventures. I am grateful to Officer King and his wife, Ellie, and Sergeant Thomas Cole who took their time to organize and chaperon the students.
I am thankful that these men and women are spending time making a difference in the lives of young people, teaching respect, appreciation, sportsmanship and now, hunting.. Also, thank you to Russ and Lori Walk of Quest Haven for their generosity and support of the hunt. Their grateful benevolence impacted many and provided an opportunity to our future generation to experience a hunt never imagined.
As we move into the future, I would like to challenge all SCI Members to consider giving back to the future of hunting and wildlife conservation. As an SCI Member, there is no better way to make that happen than by simply supporting the SCI Foundation. SCI Foundation supports many conservation, education and humanitarian efforts that impact our community, hunting and wildlife conservation. It’s your Foundation, and I would encourage you to consider making an investment in programs that impact the lives of many today, and in the future, and support wildlife for future generations.– Craig L. Kauffman, SCI Past President, SCI Foundation President-Elect