CAMERON EVANS, Montana Free Press
MISSOULA — Ada Smith had no camouflage when she first started hunting. Or a rangefinder, or bait, or turkey calls.
The Ph.D. The candidate at the University of Montana’s College of Forestry was fortunate to befriend a community of adult hunters and mentors who lent her the equipment and taught her the skills she needed to hunt.
Among those mentors was DeAnna Bublitz, a founder of DEER Camp, a Missoula-based hunting gear library for new hunters.
“DeAnna literally took her shirt off her back to lend me some camouflage in the early days,” Smith said.
Accessing gear presents a challenge for many new hunters, and Bublitz knew this firsthand after entering the world of hunting as an adult. This knowledge, coupled with a desire to give back to the hunting community, led Bublitz to start DEER Camp with co-founder Madeline Damon.
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The two met at a women’s leadership class at the University of Montana in the spring of 2020, where they came up with the idea for the Missoula-based gear library with the goal of making hunting more accessible.
“I started thinking about how I could give back to the hunting world because I wouldn’t be a hunter if I didn’t have friends who lent me gear and got me to this point,” Bublitz said.
DEER Camp allows new hunters in the Missoula area to borrow clothing, backpacks, a variety of calls and bugles, decoys, and harnesses, among other items. Anyone interested in renting or donating gear can email [email protected] or message DEER Camps Instagram @deercamp_mt. There are currently no fees for renting equipment. Bublitz said she hopes to keep the gear library free or offer a sliding scale as the program grows.
The name DEER Camp came from researching old photos of hunting camps.
“We kept seeing this consistent image of all white older men around a fire or hunting in a log cabin,” Damon said. “There were no women or people of color, so the idea of DEER Camp is to reinvent that image and make it more inclusive and accessible to all.”
Damon, a hunter since she was 12, used her background and experience to help new students break into hunting and fishing as the student officer for the UM chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Bublitz shared her experience as a new hunter trying to break into the field later in life, soliciting equipment donations from friends and fellow hunters she’d met throughout her eight-year hunting career and during her time as an ambassador for the Montana Wildlife Federation.
Bublitz said DEER Camp has received a lot of support from the hunting community across Montana through donations and partnerships. DEER Camp recently partnered with Hellgate Hunters & Anglers who helped organize a gear drive and will soon provide storage for the gear library currently housed in Bublitz’s basement.
Recruiting new hunters is a priority for many conservationists. For decades, the number of hunters has steadily declined, raising concerns about the loss of conservation funds among state wildlife agencies, which rely largely on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.
“Hunting is a really necessary activity for wildlife conservation,” said Damon, who researches how racial and gender bias and scientific publishing create gaps in wildlife management and policy.
“We know that the number of hunters has been declining for years, and we know that the hunter demographic is mostly older, white males,” Damon said. “If we’re really going to keep conservation funding going, we need to be more inclusive and welcoming of other hunters.”
Smith said she experienced some of the social barriers associated with the hunting world as an adult and as a woman.
“I think some of the biggest challenges in my opinion and experience have been the social restrictions, and then just the gear,” Smith said. “It’s expensive. You need a lot of different equipment, and most people don’t have thousands of dollars to spend right away.”
Understanding the social barriers and equity issues associated with outdoor recreational activities such as hunting is of increasing interest to scholars, including Smith. She recently completed a study titled “Trust, Community, and Conservation: Exploring the Relationship Between Self-Efficacy and Experience in Female Hunters” through her research at the University of Montana.
Smith and her colleagues found that social support is important for the recruitment and retention of all hunters, regardless of skill level or experience.
“That’s one of the reasons I think DEER Camp is such an important resource in making hunters and other minority hunters feel really welcome in this space,” Smith said.
DEER Camp has hosted various workshops including a butcher workshop in partnership with the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD) and packaging workshops held at Free Cycles in Missoula and mentee-mentor meetings.
DEER Camp will continue to host some events, but Bublitz said the focus will remain on meeting the need for an equipment library.
“A lot of people do workshops to learn to hunt, but there was no source of equipment,” Bublitz said.
Bublitz is currently working on expanding the library and connecting with new hunters. DEER Camp is still collecting some larger items requested by hunters such as: B. optical equipment and backpacks.
“I just want people to know that this resource exists,” Bublitz said. “It’s still in its infancy, but it’s there and we’re putting stuff in people’s hands now.”
This story was originally published by Montana Free Press at montanafreepress.org. You can read the original story here.