top of page
WebAd.png

Passing on the Hunting Tradition with the Southern Sportsman’s Alliance

By Ford Walpole


The great outdoors presents a myriad of exciting recreational opportunities for young people, but unlike other childhood hobbies, the introduction to outdoor pursuits requires instruction, oversight and direct participation from experienced adults.

Wes Chappell, founder of the Southern Sportsman’s Alliance, has firsthand awareness of this reality.

“When I was younger, my grandfather was my idol. He was the only one in my family who hunted, and since I was his sidekick, I went hunting with him every time he went. But when I was 14, my grandfather died, and I lost my opportunity to go hunting.” Fortunately for Wes, several members of his grandfather’s hunting club stepped up and continued to take Wes hunting at their Cottageville club on the Edisto River. “I just became a huge outdoorsman, and it’s all I care to do,” Wes says. “As I got older, and particularly after my own son was born, I started looking back on things and thinking about the people who introduced me to the outdoors.”

Such reflection ignited a clear desire in Wes to repay the kindness shown to him by his elders and to expose other young people to the thrill of hunting and instill in them a similar love for the land. More than 20 years ago, Wes began participating with youth hunts sponsored by several conservation organizations. Throughout the years, participating sponsors have included the National Wild Turkey Federation, Buckmasters American Deer Foundation, Quality Deer Management Association and the National Deer Association.

During the pandemic, conservation organizations lost the ability to hold banquets — their main way of raising funds. “We had to figure out a way to keep our youth program going,” Wes recalls. “When we couldn’t fundraise, I was having customers stop by my business, Southern Signs and Graphics and donate money to help us get through.”

Such generosity inspired Wes to found the Southern Sportsman’s Alliance (SSA). “The opportunity was there. We felt as though we could do more on our own, and it’s been going wonderfully!” he says. The SSA has been up and running for the past two years, guiding youth hunts for deer, turkey, ducks, doves, raccoons and squirrels. The nonprofit organization is steadily gaining regional recognition: Beaufort Charities recently invited the group to attend an upcoming partners’ party.

Early on in his efforts, Wes discovered a kindred spirit in the Take One Make One (TOMO) program offered by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). According to SCDNR, TOMO is a program “designed to teach safe hunting practices to students who have no previous outdoor hunting experience. This program will increase their awareness and the value of wildlife and the natural environment by encouraging experienced adults to ‘pass on’ traditional outdoor skills.” The effort “emphasizes teaching safe and ethical hunting, the conservation and responsible use of our natural resources and character education.”

In addition to TOMO, Wes assists in arranging hunts through the Outdoor Dream Foundation (ODF), which “grants outdoor adventures to children and youth under 21 years of age who have been diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.” TOMO and ODF locate interested young people, but they do not actually conduct the hunts, which is where Wes comes in. He works with private landowners to arrange hunts, and he and his volunteer guides assist with providing the best possible hunting experience.

“We have had some of the same guides for 20 years. Our committee has 18 members, and they are all true believers. We have boots on the ground who love to work with kids. They come along for the event, and they mentor the kid and sit with them in the duck blind or deer stand,” Wes says. “We have been very fortunate to have local private landowners who supply the areas that we hunt,” he adds.

During hunting season, SSA holds 12 events per year. The first youth hunt of 2023 will take place on Edisto. In all, seven deer hunts will occur at various locations across the state. SSA has access to hunt at a private duck club in Yemassee and to another Yemassee plantation that offers deer hunting. Private landowners in Ridgeland welcome young turkey hunters. In addition, the Southern Sportsman’s Alliance partners with the South Carolina Forestry Commission to facilitate closed youth hunts at the Niederhof Forestry Center in Jasper County.


Chelsea Plantation Youth Deer Hunt. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

“For me, deer camp was about cooking and fellowship,” Wes recalls, as he considers all aspects of the hunt. To provide this important comprehensive component, a number of hunting events include an overnight experience. “At some properties, the kids arrive early enough to cook lunch and fish in the ponds before they hunt; after the hunt, they come back for a meal. At night, kids can share the experience of the hunt at the evening meal — to give the kids time to mesh and socialize,” Chappell says.

The hunt-camp experience is made possible through generous hosts. “One property we use a couple of times a year has a phenomenal bunkhouse that comfortably sleeps 28 people,” Chappell says. In addition, hunters may enjoy the lodge and facilities at Donnelley Wildlife Management Area (WMA) when they hunt duck on the private property nearby.

Wes Chappell outlines the mission of the Southern Sportsman’s Alliance: “One of the key things we always try to let people understand is that our main goal is not just to get kids to kill things; we want to get kids outdoors and teach them about conservation and conservation-related careers.”

Chappell’s work with youth hunts strengthened his own son Logan’s bond with the outdoors. By the time he was four, Logan was helping serve hungry hunters from the pot and socializing with the other youth participants. “He was blessed to have lots of places to hunt with me. It helped keep him in check to be around kids who didn’t have an opportunity to hunt. He always turned down opportunities to hunt on youth hunts with landowners. It was really good for Logan to build some character when he was growing up,” Wes says.

“You aren’t going to have every kid to get passionate about the outdoors,” Chappell admits, “But you do give them an opportunity. If it’s in them, it will come out. It becomes a lifestyle and really helps build character. After they hunt with us, these kids live on the Outdoor Channel and get involved. We give them some structure and something to look forward to experiencing. The kids get really excited! Going hunting gives kids something to occupy their time. You grab the first thing you see shining, and for some kids, that first thing shining is a bad crowd. We want hunting to shine for them!”

Many of the young people Wes takes hunting become repeat customers. “It has changed their entire focus,” he says. One such young man was raised by his grandfather, his father was in jail, his mother was not involved in his rearing, and he was failing in school and falling in with the wrong crowd. His final TOMO trip was a turkey hunt before he aged out of the program at 17. “He wanted to pursue a career as a game warden or another outdoors-related field. We gave him a lifetime hunting license and a $500 scholarship to the Citadel. We have so many stories like that about young people who have turned their lives around,” Chappell proclaims.

“The Southern Sportsman’s Alliance, and in particular Wes Chappell, have been instrumental in creating a passion for hunting in my oldest son Cooper. We are so grateful for his dedication to teaching the youth — not just how to hunt but the entire hunting experience!” says BeBe Dalton Harrison.

Cooper adds: “Wes and the SSA have provided an amazing opportunity for me to hunt and I appreciate it greatly because I would not have many opportunities to hunt without them. I have also learned a ton from these hunts, and I plan to use what I have learned when I am hunting by myself.”

Other conservation organizations Wes has worked with in the past have had broader areas of focus, but when it comes to the Southern Sportsman’s Alliance, “every dime goes towards introducing young people to the outdoors.” SSA opened a Charleston chapter and the group is excited about growing and supporting any endeavor “that helps the community and helps bring awareness to the outdoors and conservation.”

“We are actually doing better financially than ever before, and we can now donate more lifetime hunting licenses,” Chappell says. “We are selective. We try to give those licenses to kids we feel are going to stick with it and who we feel have the mindset to develop an outdoors-type lifestyle and start teaching others.”

Many youth hunters have no prior experience in the field, so the Southern Sportsman’s Alliance takes time to teach firearm safety, rifle sighting at the range and tree stand safety. In addition, they educate young outdoorsmen “about the general hazards of being in the woods and hunting. My biggest thing is to make sure we carry on that tradition,” Chappell declares. “We came to a realization there are kids out there who just don’t have anybody to take them hunting. For those who want to do it and don’t have anybody to take them, we open up that door for them!”


Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at fordwalpole@gmail.com.

Comments


Featured Articles
Tag Cloud
bottom of page