Tom Cucinotta graduates from the Gary Dietrich Wildlife Management Apprentice Program

Tom Cucinotta became a part of the Gary Dietrich Wildlife Management Apprenticeship Program at SCWA in August of 2020. He has recently accepted a position in Mandeville Island, California as a Waterfowl and Habitat Manager. Tom tells all about his experience at SCWA in the letter below. We wish him the best!

“I first joined SCWA as a naturalist for Camp Leopold 5 years ago shortly after receiving a wildlife management degree from West Virginia University. During my time there, I was introduced to duck hunting by my co-workers. I became addicted. I then spent my first season chasing wood ducks in Hickory Top WMA and guiding hunts for SCWA.

From that point on, I knew that I would work in the world of waterfowl. It took me all over the country to places like North Dakota, Colorado, New York, Oklahoma and New Jersey. I started by conducting waterfowl research for state and non-profit agencies, and after many years of travel and enjoying the journey, I knew that I had to make a transition to make a life long career in the field. I had pondered pursuing a masters degree to become a biologist, and while starting the application process to schools, I remembered the Gary Dietrich Wildlife Management Apprentice Program. When I was working for Camp Leopold, I realized everyone that finished the program found incredible positions at various locations. I then knew I needed to go back, and upon reaching out to JP, the Habitat Manager at the time, he asked me ‘how soon can you get here?’ I packed up from Oklahoma and headed back to the place I once called home. 

The past 2 years have been some of the most challenging but satisfying times of my life. Learning the ins and outs of running a duck club and manipulating habitats to achieve desired outcomes has been a very rewarding experience. This place can teach you many things, but above all, it taught me that if you have a positive outlook and drive to learn and work hard, great things can happen, and they have. I will be moving on from SCWA with a boat load of memories and many great friends to become the Waterfowl and Habitat Manager in Mandeville Island, California. It is a dream come true, and I am forever grateful to the great people I’ve met here that helped me along the way.” (Tom Cucinotta)

The Gary Dietrich Wildlife Management Apprentice Program: Mason Briggs

The Gary Dietrich Wildlife Management Apprentice Program is a 2-year program with a goal of improving habitat management throughout the Southeast. Candidates who have completed a 2-year or 4-year degree can come to learn hands-on wildlife, fisheries, and natural resource management skills. Through the implementation of a quality curriculum, expert instructors, and a host of industry and landowner partners, we are equipping apprentices with the training and on-the-job experience needed to provide quality wildlife management on public and private lands. We are working to grow this program to 10-12 annual graduates. SCWA also assists in placing each graduate in a quality wildlife conservation job. Most recently, Mason Briggs has graduated and taken a position at Orton Plantation in North Carolina.

“Before coming to the South Carolina Waterfowl Association, I studied Biology at the Virginia Military Institute and worked on a small hay farm in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I really wanted to find a way to merge my passion for the outdoors, use my degree, and learn how to manage habitat. The Gary Dietrich Apprenticeship Program was a great way to accomplish all my goals. I learned many skills while at SCWA and was allowed to guide many hunts which was a great experience. The Apprenticeship Program also allowed me to work with many private landowners and see how a variety of plantations operated. I am thankful to SCWA for giving me the educational opportunities as I recently took a position at Orton Plantation in Winnabow, North Carolina.” (Mason Briggs) 

We wish Mason many years of success with his new position. 

Apprenticeship Success: Aaron Stewart accepts position with Horse Shoe Plantation

Aaron Stewart began his time at the Gary Dietrich Wildlife Management Apprenticeship Program at the South Carolina Waterfowl Association (SCWA) in February of 2020 and recently accepted an Assistant Wildlife Manager position in Tallahassee, Florida. Below is a description of Aaron’s time in the apprentice program.

“I first found out about the apprenticeship opportunity because of my previous involvement with the organization. In the past, I hunted at SCWA with my Dad and a family friend, Mike Smith, a member of SCWA. At this point, I realized being a part of the apprentice program is the learning experience I needed to jumpstart my career in Wildlife Management. I began my apprenticeship with SCWA February 4th, 2020 and was there just under two years. It has always been a dream of mine to turn hunting and wildlife management into a career and profession. This job helped me take a passion I have in Wildlife Management while developing critical thinking in working to improve wildlife habitats for many years to come. I am very grateful for the opportunities provided to me by the apprentice program such as working alongside multiple different hunting plantations, especially Horseshoe plantation in Tallahassee, Florida, where I am furthering my career and passion.” 

(Aaron Stewart)

John Higgins returns to Camp Woodie for 2022

Camp Woodie is excited to welcome John Higgins, the owner of CSM Clay Target Shooting Academy, back to Camp Woodie for the summer of 2022. Last year, John spent two days each week out at camp assisting campers with their shooting education. We are pleased to have him returning this summer.

“The Coordinated Shooting Method (CSM) is based on the concept of student-centered learning. It offers a realistic, relevant, appropriate, and modern approach to shotgun shooting education. We aim to provide safe, positive, fun-filled experiences for all ages of participants and to try to make the connection between creativity and development.

One of the benefits of the CSM Academy Camp Woodie program is its ability to connect the student with the power and joy of learning. It is about coaching in a way that develops individual character, confidence, self-reliance, and belief in his or her own competitiveness. We encourage all of our students to become active participants in their learning process because when athletes and coaches become learning partners a magical transformation takes place.

Transformational learning is deep, profound, and lasting. Oftentimes, what is changed or transformed are the methodologies, unchallenged assumptions, and habits that have never before been questioned. Once the learning partnership takes place, and young athletes actively take part in the learning process, they begin to see what they can accomplish on their own. When this happens, there is no turning back! They are on a fast track to success!

This is particularly relevant today, with shotgun sports becoming more popular than ever before with middle and high school students. This growth emphasizes the need for high-quality educational programs that provide athletes with the knowledge, physical skills, and attitudes that are necessary to thoroughly enjoy shooting and to develop a lifelong love of the sport. Now is the time to embrace a modern, new approach to the instructional paradigm, to start making positive changes that will enhance performance and highlight the many benefits that shotgun shooting sports can provide.” (John Higgins)

Plantersville Cultural Center Builds Wood Duck Boxes 

Back in August, the Plantersville Cultural Center was invited to Milton Hall to engage in wood duck box building as part of a fundraiser for their school.

Milton Hall served as a conservation educational opportunity to show students what Milton Hall, a large landholding plantation, is presently used for. Denmark Lumbar Company was kind enough to donate cypress wood along with the South Carolina Waterfowl Association’s donation of metal to build predator guards. The students were able to safely navigate an excavator and learn how planted rice fields support waterfowl habitats. Several SCWA employees came to assist in these activities: Draikel Tindal, Mike Kruze, Mason Briggs and Hunter Horn. Overall, it was a great learning experience for all parties involved. 

The South Carolina Waterfowl Association exists to enhance and perpetuate South Carolina’s wildlife heritage through education and habitat conservation. The mission of Camp Leopold is “to create an ecologically literate citizenry by heightening student awareness of the natural world, fine-tuning the skills necessary to read the landscape, and instilling a love, respect, and admiration for the land so that each individual might develop a personal land ethic.”

New Camp Woodie Director

TJ Morgan

The South Carolina Waterfowl Association is pleased to announce the promotion of TJ Morgan to the position of the Camp Woodie Director. TJ studied Camp and Outdoor Adventure Leadership at Liberty University. After college, he started as an outdoor educator at Camp Hanes for two seasons. Growing up in the small town of Cornelius NC, TJ always attended YMCA Camp Hanes in King, NC, where he first fell in love with the camp atmosphere discovering his passion to serve in the camping industry full-time. Every summer after high school, he dedicated his summers to learning to better prepare him to be a Camp Director. He worked at Camp Hanes as a counselor and on the leadership team as the Shooting Sports Leader for two summers. In this role, he was in charge of teaching gun safety and 5-stand to the campers and staff. He worked a summer as a tower staff member at Camp Eagle Rock in Charlotte NC, where he worked to help campers reach new heights and challenge themselves to overcome their fears. He branched out from his normal summers at camp and served as a High Ropes Guide at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, helping guests on zip lines and challenge courses. TJ always knew that camp was his home away from home. TJ started his journey with SCWA as a Camp Leopold Instructor in the Fall of 2019. He was then promoted to the Assistant Camp Director and Heritage Program Director in March of 2020. We are thrilled to have him in this new position as the Camp Woodie Director. 

“Super Flats” Restoration Project on Lake Marion

PINEWOOD, SC – The South Carolina Waterfowl Association (SCWA) has partnered with Ducks Unlimited, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Santee Cooper on The Super Flats Restoration Project. “SCWA is excited to partner with such great organizations on this exciting project to enhance fish and waterfowl habitat along with enhancing public waterfowl hunting opportunity.  SCWA has committed funding of $15,000 per year for the next three years to help fund the project” according to SCWA CEO, David Wielicki.

Santee Cooper will be “conducting aerial herbicide treatments, by helicopter, on 580 acres of giant cutgrass and giant salvinia around areas in Lake Marion throughout the month of August. The treatment is intended to improve public access for fishing, boating and duck hunting, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and reduce further spread of giant salvinia to other areas of the Santee Cooper Lakes system. Giant salvinia is an invasive plant from Brazil. It was found in the lakes in 2017 and has since rapidly spread from upper Lake Marion to other areas of both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. Giant cutgrass has also created dense stands restricting public access in the area known as the ‘Super Flats.’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved aquatic herbicides will be used for the application and pose no water-use restrictions in the areas treated.” (Santee Cooper)

This project will focus on several areas of Lake Marion including Persanti Island, Hickory Top, and Jacks Creek and will continue over several years. If there are any inquiries, please contact Santee Cooper at aquaticplantcontrol@santeecooper.com.

“You can help control the spread of invasive species. Remove any visible mud, plants, fish or animals before transporting boats and trailers. Eliminate water from equipment before transporting. Clean anything that comes in contact with water (boats, trailers, equipment, clothing, dogs, etc.). Never release plants, fish or animals into a body of water unless they came out of that body of water. Report aquatic weed problems in public waters to the SCDNR Aquatic Nuisance Species Program at 803-755-2872.” (Santee Cooper)

SCWA hires new Camp Leopold Director

SCWA hires new Camp Leopold Director

SCWA is excited to welcome Abby Zabrodsky as the new director of Camp Leopold, SCWA’s school-year natural resource education program. Abby first joined the SCWA team back in Fall 2020 as a Camp Leopold instructor and had a large part in the success of the Camp Leopold +PLUS in-school program adapted due to the restrictions on field trips as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abby was raised in Brookfield, IL, a suburb of Chicago. She grew up visiting family in Seattle, WA, which lead to exploring national parks, national forests, and long stretches of amazing wilderness. Abby recalls, “From a young age, I had a great affinity for the outdoors—I was always on the lookout for cool insects or interesting plants. I developed a deep love for all things outdoors and became dedicated to conserving nature all around me.”

Abby attended Iowa State University where she pursued a Forestry major and Spanish minor. She was also an active member of the ISU Forestry Club and timbersports team, competing in ax throwing, underhand cut, crosscut sawing, and log rolling.

Abby is excited to start her conservation education career at Camp Leopold. “I’m especially looking forward to meeting students and educators from across the state, further developing our curriculum, and learning more about the wonderful ecosystems South Carolina has to offer. Growing up, I had so many wonderful outdoor educators who helped foster my love and curiosity of the outdoors. I am so excited to give back to my community by fostering that same passion for the outdoors in students across the state of South Carolina!”

Camp Woodie shatters attendance record

Camp Woodie shatters attendance record

Camp Woodie has reached a new record attendance number with 1,148 campers registered for Summer 2021, shattering Summer 2018’s record number of 1,125, and still climbing! After a challenging 2020, including a pandemic and the cancellation of ten weeks of traditional summer camp, Camp Woodie is looking forward and working toward a full capacity summer at the Wildlife Education Center beginning next week. Camp Woodie Summer 2021 will kick off this Sunday, June 6th, and staff will spend the next ten weeks delivering hands-on, fun-filled outdoor education to a record number of campers, passing on our wildlife heritage to the next generation.

Thank you to all of the parents who have registered their child(ren) to participate in this record-breaking summer after a difficult year. Another thank you to those who have provided scholarship support for deserving campers and children of frontline medical personnel to attend Camp Woodie. We are so grateful for your continued support during these unprecedented times. To those who are not registered for Summer 2021, you don’t want to miss it! Multiple weeks are completely full, but there is still room for your child if you act now. Summer 2021 is going to be our best summer yet!

A Father Son Hunt to Remember

A Father Son Hunt to Remember

One of the most sought-after items on our Sportsman’s Ball Online Auction list this year was a parent/child turkey hunt at the SCWA Wildlife Education Center guided by Rob Keck, former longtime CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Rob has been a driving force in the world of conservation for over three decades and now serves as the Director of Conservation at Bass Pro Shops. We appreciate Rob for being gracious enough to donate his time for this hunt and share his passion for conservation throughout this experience. Rob relayed, “The opportunity to take young people and introduce them to turkey hunting is really reloading our heritage. It’s important to me and so many people at SCWA that we introduce young people to a great hunting experience.”

Shad Rowe and his son Abel arrived at the Wildlife Education Center on March 19th to roost a turkey with Rob. This weekend being their first turkey hunting adventure, there was much for them to learn and much to experience. According to Shad, “Rob shared with us some of his hunting stories from a lifetime of turkey hunting, as well as hunting techniques and tips for beginners like ourselves.” The trio’s hunt on the 20th for the youth day lead to the harvest of Abel’s first turkey, a very proud moment for both his father, Shad, and Rob. The following day, Shad was able to harvest his first turkey as well.

Shad expressed many thanks for the experience provided by Rob and the South Carolina Waterfowl Association. “It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to hunt with Rob for my son’s first turkey, as well as my own. The SCWA and Rob truly have a passion for the outdoors, as well as wildlife conservation. It’s great what SCWA is doing with the youth to introduce them to the outdoors, hunting, and conservation.”

Rob enjoyed the hunt just as much as the hunters themselves. “To share it with a father and a son, I think made it even better, because the chance for repeat experience is going to be very high. It was quite moving to have the father watch that son take his first bird. And the following day, for the son to watch his dad take his first turkey.” This one-of-a-kind hunt experience has spurred a great interest in the sport of hunting and conservation for the father son duo. In the words of Shad Rowe, “We are now hooked and will be in the woods chasing turkeys for years to come.”