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Staff Stories: Bianka Goes to Washington – Hunters of Color Western Hunting Program

Photo Credit: Randy Schwitzer

Staff Stories highlight GARNA staff and what we do in our “free time” and how we live out GARNA’s mission of conservation and environmental education in our daily lives. 

I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of a Hunters of Color western hunting mentorship program. It was a two-part program with the first portion having taken place in April and the second in October. I flew out to the Nature Conservancy’s Moses Coulee Preserve in Waterville, Washington. The participants of the program has varying experiences, varying from people who had never even touched a firearm, to people who had hunted but had a skill plateau, to our mentors who had years of experience under their belts. The best part of the varying skill levels is that we all learned something from each other. There was no hierarchy, and it reinforced that the best way to learn is to teach and skill share. We covered topics ranging from map and compass navigation, to tracking, to hands on firearm safety and operating. The range days was one of my favorite parts.

During the initial week in April, we also had the opportunity to assist in harvesting and processing two goats. This was a completely optional component that people had the choice to not participate in. Aside from learning how to field dress in preparation for our hunt later in the year, this was presented as an opportunity for those who had never hunted to understand what their mourning process was. This isn’t something I think we would have had the chance to learn and made the week feel like it was really meeting people where they were and allowing for multiple levels of growth. As the week wrapped up we were encouraged to further develop the skills we had learned and develop our hunting plan for later in the year.

The second half of this program took place the the second week of October (Check the GARNA Instagram for my posted stories). We returned to the same location, with similar conditions to carry out our hunt plans. I chose to team up with two of my mentors on different legs of my weeklong hunt. I had planned to do two-day hunting trips and one overnight. I arrived in the hunting lodge on Sunday and laid everything out that I would be needing for the week and packed. My week consisted of 5am hikes, scoping out suitable mule deer habitat, looking for and following fresh signs.

We all took a mid week break to do a service project with folks from The Nature Conservancy removing old barb wire fence that was a remnant of when the property was used for cattle and agriculture. Not having to wake up before sunrise was already a reward in and of itself, but seeing just how much fence got pulled was a bonus.

Unfortunately, everyone participating in the program saw signs of previous poaching as well as active poaching as trespassing during our time there. We believe this was one of the causes of us not seeing as many deer as we had planned. While I ended up not being able to harvest a deer, I would still consider this program an overwhelming success. I was able to overcome my plateau and meet an amazing network of people who I can learn from. I grew many of my skills and felt fully confident about being able to plan and carry out my next hunting trip. I was also able to slowly outfit myself with enough crucial gear and build out a reliable rifle for my next deer hunt. I am also ecstatic to announce that I will be joining a cohort of 3 ambassadors for the state of Colorado to represent Hunters of Color. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming events and collaborations.

– Bianka Isabella Martinez, GARNA Equity & Outreach Coordinator


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GARNA works with communities of the upper Arkansas River valley to foster the stewardship of the region’s natural environment and the resilience of our communities.

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