Jim Dawson tends to get a little bit grumpy when he hasn’t been in the field hunting at least 60 days out of the year. Although his home state of New Jersey provided him with little hunting experience as a kid, he knew as far back as seventh grade that he wanted a career in wildlife.
“Obviously the hunting opportunities were not there, but the interest was, growing up,” said Dawson, 58, who recently retired from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD). “I had some friends in high school that we were just crazy about the outdoors and did whatever we could.”
Dawson was recently elected to the International Hunter Education Association’s (IHEA) Hall of Fame, an honor that only 55 people have achieved in the organization’s 66-year history. He has been a member of the IHEA since 1981 but really got involved when he became the WGFD hunter education coordinator in 2006. The two entities work closely together to provide hunter education services to people around Wyoming.
“That is a unifying body, the IHEA; a unifying body for all the state agencies. They’ve actually set the standard for hunter education across the country. I was just in awe. I’m real proud to be listed in that group because there’s some real important people,” Dawson said.
Of all his accomplishments, the former WGFD employee says his proudest feat was establishing the new Hunter Education Instructor Academy in 2008 when the department decided to make the orientation mandatory. Every year the academy takes 50 new instructors and trains them in six major core areas in hunter education curriculum: hunter responsibility and ethics, wildlife conservation and management, firearms and firearm safety, game and fish statutes and regulations, wildlife identification and field care, and outdoor safety and survival.
“For the 20, 30 years beforehand, the training program really relied on mentors that perpetuated some of the good habits but some of the bad habits as well,” Dawson said. “I truly think the new instructor academy is something I’m pretty proud of and something that really enhanced the overall hunter ed program in Wyoming.”
Many states have looked to Wyoming — and Dawson, specifically —for guidance in shaping their own hunter education programs. Additionally, Dawson played an integral role in revamping Wyoming’s hunting and fishing expo, which saw 10-15 thousand visitors each year, but has since been cut due to loss of funding. He fondly remembers his “world-class” co-workers at the department and the efforts they put into their jobs.
“These people were not only my cohorts on a lot of activities, they were also good personal friends,” Dawson said. “The good memories that we had really is working with good folks that share a love for the wildlife and wild places.”
For many years, Dawson has been committed to working with and teaching children. Prior to his employment with the WGFD, he taught high school biology in Buffalo, Wyoming, hoping that he could have a direct impact on more kids that way. During his tenure as a teacher, he also coached boys’ basketball, boys’ junior varsity soccer and girls’ varsity soccer.
Dawson fell in love with the University of Wyoming while visiting the campus after his high school graduation. He eventually received a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences education from the school, and later attended Colorado State University, graduating with a master’s degree in natural resources extension education.
By Dawson’s definition, retirement doesn’t mean relaxing. He continues to work with 4H club members involved with shooting sports and volunteers with the WGFD and NRA youth hunt. He also is a board member at his local gun club and hunts as often as possible, though the best duty, he says, is grandpa duty.
“Share your passion for wildlife and wild places with any that are interested because that’s the future,” Dawson urges, “I see a lot of times where people are not either willing to share or just don’t understand the importance of getting the next generation truly excited about this.”
|Nick Wesdock is The Wildlife Society’s Membership and Conferences Coordinator. You can follow him on Twitter at @nick_wesdock.