When it comes to the Wildlife field, many people think that those in it are a bunch of rednecks. We wear all camouflage, know little to nothing unless it has to deal with hunting, and are not well-rounded in other activities. Let me tell you something, though... We are much more.
I didn't make a post last week, reason being I was competing with Tennessee Tech University's student chapter of the Wildlife Society. At 2 AM on Saturday, March 24th, we hit the road for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the 2018 Southeastern Wildlife Society's Conclave. Yes, I know it's a mouthful, but let me tell you about how this experience really opened my eyes more about how talented wildlifers really are (As if I ever had any doubt).
As I said, we headed out at 2 AM. Now, it doesn't matter how early in the morning it is, I am very much a morning person. I realize that many people are a shower and a cup of coffee away from being a morning person, and at that hour, there are not many places open to get yourself a cup of joe.
To save everyone from my chatty cathies, I decided not to sleep until I got settled in the van. Looking back, that might have been the best idea I had the whole time. As soon as we started rolling, I was out for the count. In fact, other than the stops we made for gas and food, I was asleep for most of the 12-hour trip. One thing that you learn in college is that sleep is golden, no matter if you are in a bed or a really, really cramped van.
I woke up to see LSU's beautiful campus. Lakes, trees, and most importantly for a Tennessean at this time of year, sunshine. When we all got out of the vans, every one of us let out a sigh of relief and contentment. We headed into the main building to turn in rifles and bows for competition, submit art, and check in. As all 19 of us checked in, we all received bags with goodies filled to the brim. These gems included a shirt, water bottle, and Cajun seasoning. After all, did you really go to Louisiana if you didn't get a sample of that Cajun goodness?
The rest of our first day consisted of some free time that some friends and I used to bird watch, an amazing dinner cooked by LSU's Wildlife Society and professors, and our first round of Game Calling. I thought this would be an uneventful category, but as soon as it started up, I knew it would be a great time. These calling events went on into the next evening, too. Out of three game calling competitions, we placed in two... Yeah, I think we are pretty great, too.
The next day was when things really started to get real. First up was the Team Competition, which involved our team of nineteen running between 26 different stations. These stations were located a fair distance away from each other, and we had five minutes to get to each one and answer whatever questions they had in store before running to the next one. We had our fair share of confusion, stumbling, and cheering, but in the end, we made it through each table thanks to everyone's teamwork and knowledge.
After the Team Competition, we had Individual Competitions. I had picked one that we originally had no girls competing in, and it was one that needed one girl and one guy... The Three-Legged Wader Race. This was pretty much a competition for laughs, but what made it even better was that I had never been in a pair of Waders... Like, ever.
My partner, who had experience in Waders, and I decided to be in the first group to go in. They zip-tied us together and we slipped into the absolute muddiest water I have ever been in in my life. As soon as the horn was blown for us to start... We took a step and both fell. Off to a great start, right?
We got up as quickly as we could and kept going before we (More "I" than "we") fell again... And again... And, well, you get the point. I'm not coordinated. About halfway through, our zip-ties broke, thus disqualifying us. It took us twice as long to get back, now that our waders were filled with water, but we ended up laughing the whole time. I may never get into a pair of waders again... But it was still a fun time.
That night, after showers and changes of clothes happened, we had dinner once again provided by LSU. About two hours in, they announced for those participating in the Wildlife Finger-Painting competition to come forth... That was my cue. See, I love painting, and I love wildlife. What made it even better was that the judge was a 7-year-old little girl. Challenge accepted.
We had fifteen minutes on the clock. Five colors. A guy dressed like Bob Ross. Yeah, you read that right. Happy little trees everywhere. I knew that I was done for... But I had two things on my side. One, I was, and still am, a kid at heart. Two, I love cute things... And so do little girls. Ultimately, I came up with a princess fox. People came by complimenting me as I painted, and I felt that, no matter if I won or not, that I could be proud of my work. I wouldn't know until the next day if I had even placed.
All awards would be announced at the same time at the Wildlife Formal, which was the next evening. Until then, we had time to relax, and I spent that time getting sunburnt at the pool. For a girl from Tennessee where it had snowed four days before, it was a welcome change. Painful for the next couple of days, but welcome.
When the formal rolled around, we all put on our matching Wildlife button-downs and headed out. The event was held at a local brewery, where we had 1500 pounds of crayfish. This was a new food for me, and even though I was reluctant, I loved every bite. A slideshow of all of the school's pictures from different competitions played in the background, and we were all able to cut up and laugh despite being from competing universities.
When the end of the night came, awards we announced. Every time our school was called out, we cheered louder than anyone else. When other schools were called, we cheered for them, too. In my personal opinion, we did great in everything we did, and so did the other schools. Curious about how we placed? Well, here you go:
2nd-Trail Camera Photo
3rd-Waterfowl, Cervid and Miscellaneous Game Calling
3rd-Digitally Enhanced Photography
3rd- Non-Manipulated Photography
Top 5 places: Obstacle Course and Overall Team Competition
Overall, we placed 8th!
After all of our awards were announced, they asked for those that had participated in finger painting to come inside the building. When I went in, my painting was there with a first-place plaque. I was so happy I may have cried a little. Yes, I know it was only a finger-painting... But being able to contribute to such an amazing team made me so excited.
When we left the next morning, I had plenty of time to think about the people that were around me for those few days. They were, and are, amazing people with tremendous knowledge. They are all such creative and well-rounded people that I would compete all over again with. Many of them are graduating this year and will not have another chance at this, and I am so honored that I was able to share such a great event with them.