HUNTSVILLE — When it comes to all things outdoors, count William E. Stone “in.”
Since his childhood days on a farm, the 61-year-old Central Florida native has been involved in some aspect of agriculture and wildlife management.
For more than a quarter century, he has played an integral role in producing and presenting to the world a new generation of minority foresters and environmental scientists, culled from the classrooms of Alabama A&M University’s College of Agricultural, Life and Natural Sciences.
Truth be told, Stone has carried out his noble mission in myriad ways, including serving as a major professor to numerous master’s students and a handful of doctoral candidates. He has dutifully kept office hours, founded the AAMU student chapters of the Society of American Foresters and The Wildlife Society, worked afterhours to ensure the construction of ag-related floats for Homecoming, maintained contact with grads and quietly performed the other duties as assigned.
Last year, Stone was approached by the Delta Waterfowl, an entity wholly dedicated to duck management and research. Based in Bismarck, N.D., the organization had launched a program designed to encourage duck hunting. Delta Waterfowl sponsored a hunt in January 2022.
Stone, fellow professors and his AAMU student wildlife chapter were granted access to a private farm in Jackson County to hunt ducks. The outing netted about seven ring-necked ducks taken from the skyline. The hunting squad is planning to participate in the opportunity again in January.
Not long after the event, Stone was contacted by the Georgia Wildlife Federation. The group has a successful Academic Afield program and was expanding it to also encourage wildlife research and hunting among students at historically black colleges and universities. The program recognized the need for such fundamentals as a Hunting 101 class, as well as such prerequisites as practice shooting, rifle cleaning, hunting basics, to name a few.
“I’m really excited about the Academics Afield program they are starting on campus,” said Bradley Massey, AAMU Forestry Club president. “It’s a great opportunity for students to learn and participate in educational workshops and hunting events. The students I have talked to about the program are excited because it gives them chances to go hunting. I really enjoy outdoors, and it’s an opportunity for other students to be part of a college hunting community.”
“I am honored to be a part of helping run these activities,” said the Forestry Club Vice President Austen Johnson. “Academics Afield won’t necessarily be a new club, but it will be a new program that will build upon the wildlife club.
“I have always supported hunting and have wanted to be a part of the hunting community but I have never had the opportunity to do so. We hope that we can provide students the same opportunities that I have searched for.”
Johnson said his role as an officer entails finding new students interested in hunting, planning hunting and team hunt events, and helping instructors teach hunting safety.
As for AAMU’s role, Stone said the Academics Afield program offered on The Hill will strive for a club of 12 to 15 students who possess some outdoor inclination.
A few arranged hunting-focused and shooting-focused events are already on the distant radar for spring 2023. One such outing, if all goes well in the planning, is a deer or squirrel hunt next January.
By mid-January, the hunting team even could find themselves participating in an Oak Mountain State Park activity involving the entire after-hunt process — from skinning deer to cooking venison, Stone said.
Later in the spring semester, perhaps next April, the Bulldog hunting club will engage in a turkey hunt sponsored by the South Carolina-based National Wild Turkey Federation. Between January and April, Stone hopes to work in a fishing trip.
On an organization and association level, Stone noted a push nationally to encourage minorities to take up hunting. Programs such as Academics Afield aim for the newbies, those with little to absolutely no hunting experience or mentors.
“From a wildlife and conservation perspective, hunting is a very important and key component in the protection of the health of our ecosystems and wildlife,” said Johnson.
Moreover, through their various taxes and required licenses, hunters contribute a lion’s share of the funds used for wildlife management, said Stone.
“We have seen general interest from students, but we have also encountered those that are hesitant or don’t believe in the practice, yet we hope to show people its importance,” Johnson said. “We also want to help those who have never had the opportunities to participate in these activities.
“Some students have felt like they wouldn’t be welcome or that it isn’t for them, but I hope that we can show students that everyone is welcome in this community and that it is meant for everyone to enjoy.”