Hundreds attend annual Conservation Club event

(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

True to the name “Hunter’s Rendezvous,” an impressive number of locals with a passion for the outdoors gathered within the confines of the Dowagiac Conservation Club Saturday afternoon as the organization set about raising money for its most important mission: Promoting safety and instilling a passion for hunting and nature in the next generation.

Hundreds of hunters and their families helped contribute to the club’s efforts on Saturday during the 19th annual Hunter’s Rendezvous.

Typically drawing between 600 to 700 people every year, attendance was similarly strong Saturday as the warmer weather promoted people to get outside and head to the gathering out that day.

As in previous years, the highlight of the event came in the form of the numerous raffles, with the top prizes including a 32-inch TV, a 12-gauge shotgun and the top prize, a freezer chock-full of chicken, beef, venison and other types of meat.

“The woman who won it last year was unemployed, both she and her husband, so it was a godsend,” said Mike Demski, a hunter’s safety instructor with the club and longtime volunteer with the Rendezvous, referring to the top prize.

The club also hosted a silent auction during the event, with dozens of different hunting and outdoor equipment available for sale. It also had activities ranging from a virtual hunting booth for children to scoring of trophy bucks by inspectors with Commemorative Bucks of Michigan.

The proceeds from all of these functions will go toward the club’s Youth Education Fund, which enables its members to provide tons of different services and opportunities to fledgling hunters free of charge every year, said Richard Atkinson, the longtime organizer of the event. The event usually takes in between $5,000 to $6,000 every year, Atkinson said.

In addition to paying for free hunter’s safety courses for between 300 to 400 children every year as well as events like youth fishing days or wildlife education at local schools, the Youth Education Fund sponsors trips from local youths to the Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ annual summer camps, which teach children about canoeing, hunting, fishing and other outdoor skills.

Last year, the club partnered with Cass County Family Court to sponsor two local children living in foster care to go one of these camps, something the two entities would like to repeat again this year, Atkinson said.

“It worked out really well for them [the children],” Atkinson said. “These kids never had the opportunity to go to things like summer camps before in their lives.”

The Rendezvous itself gave the club another opportunity to give back to children, with members raffling off several bows and small caliber hunting rifles and shotguns for free to children.

Zana Klomes, a longtime supporter of the event, has been giving away firearms for the youth raffle for years, including a .22 caliber rifle Saturday. For the resident of Twin Lakes, supporting things like hunter’s education is important not only because it instills an appreciation for the outdoors in children, but also because it teaches them how be safe around firearms, she said.

“It’s like teaching a kid to swim even if they don’t live near water,” Klomes said. “You never know when you’ll need to know these types of things.”

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