In the Field: A Cooperative Story

Anna Mitterling Anna Mitterling
by Anna Mitterling, Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator
When I think about a Cooperative meeting, I think of venison chile, antlers getting scored, a few kids running around, and of course venison sausage and cheese. There is typically a map where landowners can highlight their parcels, a sign-up list to collect email addresses of interested individuals, a table where antlers can be displayed, and a speaker or two talking about habitat, scoring, or how to remove the deer jaw. My favorite part of a Cooperative meeting is hearing all the stories.  Whether from this past season, or many seasons past, sharing and hearing good hunt stories never gets old.

I was able to attend Red Creek Cooperative’s annual post season meeting on Sunday. They met at the MSU Clarksville Research Station, provided great food, had a gigantic map of cooperative properties, Red Creek Cooperative signs, and a pile of great resources including copies of QDMA’s Quality Whitetails magazine. Kurt Laux, one of the cooperative leaders, brought in a couple speakers as well. I had the privilege of announcing my new position to the group, as well as brainstorming a few ideas on how they can grow as a cooperative.
A few ideas that were brought up included a pig roast, inviting some neighbors and having grilled steak, going door-to-door, and creating a brochure that explains the goals and objectives of the cooperative. These were all great ideas. We talked about being strategic with their approach, and using the knowledge of local landowners and relationships established between existing members and potential members.
Red CreekIt is important to keep in mind that time is valuable, and by strategizing which properties would provide the most value and potential to the cooperative, time knocking on doors and reaching out to individuals can be reduced by having a plan. The group decided they wanted to meet for breakfast in a few weeks to make a plan and work on the wording of their brochure that they can hand out to prospective members.
Melissa Elderige with the Ionia Conservation District spoke about the different programs that are available to assist with habitat improvement on private lands. She talked about how being part of an organized group of dedicated members who are committed to wildlife management, youth recruitment, and improving habitat for hunting will increase the opportunities they have for receiving grant money for habitat work. Wildlife cooperatives can have a significant advantage when it comes to applying for grants. Writing a good narrative talking about how they plan to improve habitat, increase hunting opportunity, and allowing youth on the properties to hunt will show the grant agencies the value in investing in a cooperative. Cooperatives also have the structure in place to recruit volunteers and equipment, which adds value and contributes match dollars.
Red Creek Cooperative also asked Scott Bronkema, owner of a local seed company called Boneyard Seed, to come and talk about his company. While Boneyard Seed is known and sells nationally, the advantage they have for Red Creek Cooperative, is that the distribution store is located in the cooperative boundaries. This can provide a great working relationship for the cooperative to invest locally, and utilize Scott’s knowledge and willingness to come out and work with the landowner to strategize where to put food plots, and what seed mixes will work best on their property. This local relationship will be great both for Boneyard Seed as well as Red Creek Cooperative.
And then there are the hunting stories!  There is the story about the guy who thought he had a bad shot with his bow, but it just happened to hit the carotid artery near the deers hind quarters - the deer dropped instantly.  Another gentleman told his story about his hunt in Saskatchewan, and how he had the guts to ask an acquaintance who had land up there if he could hunt. He had the opportunity to harvest a beautiful buck, and build a lasting relationship with the landowner - and was even invited to come again!  And there is the heartwarming story of the mom who had the pleasure of taking her son out with her for his first hunt when he was three years old.  The stories and experiences hunting provides are testament to the value and appreciation hunters have for the opportunity.  This is why cooperatives are important - it keeps the legacy alive.
If you are interested in starting your own wildlife cooperative, or you have questions, comments, stories, etc., please feel free to email Anna at amitterling@mucc.org

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