LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources Assistant Professor Kevin Ringelman has found an interesting way to bring the lessons he teaches in the classroom to life. He arranges what some may think is an unusual field trip. He and his students visited the Pine Island Hunting Club to take part in the seasonal hunting of Blue-winged Teal last fall.
The fieldtrip was optional for students enrolled in Wildlife Techniques, a senior-level course for Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Biology majors. The reason Ringelman offers this optional fieldtrip is because hunters are major constituents for wildlife professionals, and the fieldtrip offers students an experience to better understand them and the environment to be better prepared for post-graduate careers.
“There is something visceral and indescribable about watching the sunrise on the marsh and actively trying to harvest the wildlife resource,” Ringelman said. “In addition to these intangibles, students learn to shoot accurately, safely and ethically. They learn about waterfowl species, their habitats and the management of both. They learn ‘native ecology’ directly from the waterfowl guides, most of whom have hunted every day of every duck season for years; they know the marsh better than anyone.”
Ringelman will present on Louisiana waterfowl for the general public at LSU Science Café on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at the Varsity Theatre.
While his students learn practical skills and techniques during the fieldtrip, the education doesn’t stop when they leave the field. Ringelman extends the learning experience, even after returning to Baton Rouge.
“After harvest, the students learn aging and sexing by wing; and in lab, they dissect these ducks to learn diet and internal morphology,” Ringelman said. “Finally, the students get to grill these ducks and enjoy the wild bounty.”
This trip is one of two college hunting programs in the U.S. The other program is offered at the University of California, Davis, where Ringelman received his Ph.D. What makes the program at LSU so unique, is that it is the only program to include lessons on hunter’s safety in-house. It also provides hunts for every student interested, rather than through a competitive application process. Furthermore, students do not need to know how to hunt prior to the fieldtrip. Of the seven students who went to Pine Island, only three had hunted before. The others were able to learn everything in the field.
“I had not been exposed to waterfowl, ecology, management or hunting prior to enrolling as a natural resource ecology management major,” said Sydney Cottingham, a natural resources ecology management student from Greensboro, North Carolina.
This uncommon field trip is an informative experience for wildlife undergraduates. Robert Owen Richard, a natural resource ecology management student from St. Amant, La., said that although he had been duck hunting before, this class exposed him to an entirely new way of thinking about ecology and natural resources.
“The hands-on experience you get from the Renewable Natural Resources department is second to none,” Richard said.