A new hunting, fishing backcountry club catches campus attention

Senior Hank Freese first got the idea for an Augustana chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers while he was driving home from Minneapolis this past fall.

As he journeyed home, he tuned into the MeatEater podcast as he does every Monday. In this particular episode, a Backcountry Hunters and Anglers board member described membership benefits and the organization’s purpose.

Freese was intrigued. At his next stop, he pulled out his phone and signed up. 

“I joined BHA at, like, a gas pump,” Freese said. 

Once he arrived home, he searched through the organization’s website to learn more about their mission. Not long after, he and his friend, junior Cooper Benning, had started the process of bringing the first ever South Dakota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers collegiate chapter to campus.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to both educating and working with the public to preserve North America’s “natural setting” of outdoor fishing and hunting. Their efforts advocate for “wild public lands, waters and wildlife.”

Currently, almost all 50 states and parts of Canada house Backcountry Hunters and Anglers chapters. Many of these state-wide chapters also include collegiate chapter programs.

Senior and avid hiker, Noah Hovorka, recently joined the Augustana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers chapter and said he enjoys going on hikes. 

“This feels like the easiest and, you know, simplest way to go about doing that with Augustana students,” he said.

Emily Fairbanks, hunter and Augustana senior, expressed a similar interest. She considers hunting’s quiet nature scene to be relaxing. If she wasn’t graduating this spring, she said she would have loved to join the chapter.

“I think it would have been nice to get to know more of the community around who hunts,” Fairbanks said. “I think it’s a great idea. I think it will be well attended.”

Freese, the chapter’s president, and Benning, the chapter’s vice president and an ASA senator, proposed the club to ASA on April 3. Besides his own abstention, Benning said the senate unanimously approved the club. Freese noted that the club will hold more social events this year but won’t really be underway until next semester.

While the chapter’s name implies a strong focus on hunting and fishing, Freese said the chapter offers much more. According to Freese, the chapter’s focus breaks down into three parts: hunting and hunting education, fishing and fishing education and anything else that relates to the outdoors.

“It’s open to any outdoor recreation on public land,” Freese said.

The chapter prioritizes educating students on the opportunities of South Dakota’s almost 5 million acres of public land. Freese said they want to make more people aware that this public land exists “and then how to take care of it, and how to use it in ways that minimize damage, so that people will be able to use it for years and years to come.” 

Freese said the outdoors also acts as a mental health resource. He views the outdoors as an escape from daily struggles. As president of Augustana’s Backcountry Hunters and Anglers chapter, he will introduce others to the same benefits. He said he wants to help provide a healing resource by exposing more students to the outdoors. 

“I just think it would be such a powerful thing that we can do,” Freese said.

Benning said many students are involved with the outdoors in their hometowns, but once they come to Augustana, the outdoors become somewhat unfamiliar, or they become a lesser priority. As a result, Benning said these students may find it hard to express their passion for the outdoors with other like-minded people.

Benning said the board wants to create a space for these students. According to Freese, campus outreach will help create this space in three ways: building community on campus, community outreach and infrastructure.

 They plan to build community on campus through small, low stress events. This includes professor and student speakers and casual conversation. These social events look like “where you just sit down over a bonfire, over playing some cards, over coffee, and you just exchange and swap outdoor stories and activities,” Benning said.

Freese said that bigger community outreach events could include out of state speakers, getting community members on campus and getting students out in the community.

Both Benning and Freese said they hope to create some type of infrastructure on campus, like gear sheds or game lockers. 

The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers chapter is student led. The board is made of four students, with secretary and sophomore Weston Peschel and treasurer and junior Matthew Schoessow completing the leadership.

The student-led aspect allows for the chapter to better adjust to members’ interests. 

“I think we’ll have a little bit more creative freedom,” Benning said. 

For example, Freese said if the students at the time show a greater interest in bird watching, the chapter will focus more on that. 

“That’s kind of the power of it being student-led,” Freese said. 

Benning said the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers chapter will also host socials in addition to events.

Earlier this semester, the chapter hosted an ice cream social, and set up a table in the Commons to share more about the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers as a nonprofit and chapter at Augustana.

The Augustana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers chapter will also host a weekly trash clean-up on South Dakota public lands. According to Freese, the clean-ups provide an opportunity to explore the outdoors.

Students do not need to join the North American organization and pay the fee. They can simply attend the Augustana chapter’s events. The board is working to create an official email and social media accounts that students can message with questions.

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