At its July meeting in Orlando, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) presented Cal Cooksey of Sawdust with the Landowner of the Year award for his generous support of the FWC’s Youth Hunting Program of Florida. This program provides safe, educational, mentored hunts for 12- to 17-year-olds to increase the number of youths involved in hunting and conservation.
Cooksey owns land in Gadsden County that he opens up so those new to hunting can experience the tradition through the Youth Hunting Program of Florida.
“I first got turned on to the Youth Hunting Program by John Fuller with the Future of Hunting in Florida,” Cooksey said. “I saw an opportunity to be able to share with people what I’ve had all my life.”
For the past couple years, the cattle rancher and professional auctioneer has hosted fall youth hunts on his family property. During these hunts, 50 youth have learned about wildlife and safe, responsible hunting and had the chance to harvest their first dove or deer. Cooksey even recruits neighboring landowners to participate in the program.
“I encourage them to host a youth hunt just once,” Cooksey said. “Then they’ll see how rewarding and satisfying it is, and they’ll want to do it every year.”
Cooksey said he feels the future of the program hinges on finding new ways to attract youth to the outdoors and keeping them engaged. He said he gets a lot of satisfaction from the program, seeing young people get excited about hunting and learning about conservation. He admits his proudest moment was when his entire family embraced the program and helped run the hunts and do the cooking.
“Mr. Cooksey shows his passion and dedication to the program by annually planting dove fields for the youth hunts on his property. He strives to provide a memorable experience to those attending and is always trying to find ways to get more individuals involved in the program,” said Jonathan Roberts, Youth Hunting Program of Florida coordinator. “Families like the Cookseys who open their properties and homes to provide outdoor opportunities to youth are the reason why our hunting tradition will continue on.”
To find out how to become a volunteer landowner or to learn more about the Youth Hunting Program of Florida, go to MyFWC.com/YHPF.