Delta Chapters Prep For New Waterfowlers

Bismarck, N.D. -- When hunting buddies Matt Kneisley and Jay Kreider decided to form a Delta Waterfowl chapter, they had one goal: To give back to their local community. Thanks to Delta Waterfowl's Waterfowl Heritage Fund, they've been able to do just that.

"The question for us was where our time and money and effort were going to go-were we just going to pump money back into the national organization, or could we spend some of our fundraising dollars locally?" said Kneisley, chairman of the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) chapter of Delta Waterfowl. "We found out about Delta in a magazine, and we researched the organization extensively. One of the driving forces behind us forming a chapter was Delta's Waterfowl Heritage Fund. I think 90 percent of our committee members came on board because of it."

The Waterfowl Heritage Fund (WHF) allows Delta chapters to keep 25 percent of their fundraising proceeds for local projects, events and other initiatives. The fund can be used for nesting structure projects (wood duck boxes and Hen Houses), conservation education and scholarships, among other uses.

Like dozens of other Delta Waterfowl chapters across North America this spring and summer, the Lancaster chapter is utilizing its WHF for "off season" hunter education and skills training for new waterfowlers, particularly youth. The education effort dovetails into First Hunt, Delta's new program to recruit and retain waterfowl hunters in the U.S. and Canada, where participation has been declining for years.

"For us, waterfowling is a year-round pastime, and our chapter is trying to develop the next generation of hunters through our events, because hunters write the checks for conservation," said the 40-year-old mechanic. "We work feverishly with our local youth. Without kids, our hunting traditions will be lost. It's an obligation we take very seriously."

Kneisley learned to hunt waterfowl from his father, beginning at the tender age of six. He's now a waterfowling addict with a pay-it-forward philosophy. "I was very fortunate, because my father taught me to hunt the right way," he said. "It was a family affair. It wasn't about whacking and stacking. It was about being outside and learning and watching nature. Many kids nowadays aren't so lucky, but we're trying to change that one hunter at a time.

"We have three off-season events planned for this spring and summer, one of which was already held," he added. "And in all three events we were able to use our WHF dollars to defray expenses."

On May 13, the Lancaster chapter hosted a field trip for 70 fourth-grade students from a local elementary school. They conducted a stream cleanup on the Susquehanna River (a feeder stream to Maryland's iconic Chesapeake Bay and a local waterfowling hotspot) and a wood duck seminar, among other events. Student-participants received goodie bags (including a Delta hat and sticker) and First Hunt educational materials.

On June 4, the Lancaster Delta chapter will participate in the Lancaster County Sportsmen for Youth event, which will include trap shooting, muzzleloader instruction and other outdoor-skills training. "Our chapter is one of the stations at the event, and each kid who comes through will receive a free duck call, a Delta sticker and educational pamphlets," Kneisley said.

The summer finale is Delta Days on July 16. Held in partnership with the Southern Lancaster County Sportsman's Club, the free event is open to kids aged 10 to 15 and will include trap shooting, a calling clinic, a dog demonstration, a trapping seminar and more.

"It's easy to get kids hooked in the off season, because the weather is so nice," said Kneisley. "Our off-season events get them fired up, which, we think, is a catalyst to get them hunting when the weather might turn bad

"Our chapter has a passion for teaching waterfowling," he added. "If a kid can't get to one of our events, we'll pick your child up and we'll bring your child home. What we're trying to do is provide a network for families to make our youth events succeed."

The Lancaster chapter has been up and running for a year and a half, and Kneisley says momentum is starting to build, thanks to organizing local events funded in part by WHF. "We've come along way since our first meeting in my basement with nine guys," he said. "We now have 20 top-notch committee members who are committed to the cause. For us it's about families and kids and enjoying the outdoors. Our emphasis is kids because we want to keep them away from drinking and drugs and help them find their love of the outdoors, particularly waterfowling."

The chapter is also becoming a pillar of the local community, working with other local organizations and holding chapter meetings at local businesses. "With WHF, we don't have to beg for donations, and that's a real plus for us," Kneisley said. "We hold our meetings at different locations, we patronize their stores, and in turn they really support our efforts."