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Amid The Coronavirus Pandemic, More Midwesterners Headed Outside To Hunt

The Girondos from Rolla looks out on turkeys from their blind. The family used hunting as a way to get out of the house and bond during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nick Girondo
The Girondos from Rolla looks out on turkeys from their blind. The family used hunting as a way to get out of the house and bond during the coronavirus pandemic.

When Nick Girondo of Rolla, Missouri, first looked at his family calendar this spring, he struggled to find a time to get everyone out turkey hunting during the 22-day season. 

“With sports and other things going on, we probably would have got out one day at the most, the way planning was going with family events,” he said.

But when the coronavirus pandemic came to the Midwest, those events were canceled, so the family went hunting instead.

“We went out 13 times, a lot more than we normally would have because of the pandemic,” Girondo said.

Quinton, at left, and Frank Girondo on a turkey hunting trip with their parents.
Credit Nick Girondo
Quinton, at left, and Frank Girondo on a turkey hunting trip with their parents.

The Girondos weren’t alone. Missouri saw a huge increase in hunting activity this turkey season. Regular hunters came out more often, almost 20,000 new hunters tried out the sport and the number of birds youth hunters took in was up by more than 10 percent.

Other states saw increases as well. Iowa had a record number of turkeys harvested this year. Illinois issued a record number of youth hunting permits and saw increases among adults. Nebraska had a 37% increase in adult permits and a 63% increase in youth permits. Kansas hunting and fishing license sales were up 25%.

Quality Time In The Blind

Six-year-old Frank Girondo went hunting for the first time this spring during the youth season in Missouri.  Even though he didn’t get a bird, he said he had a great time, especially trying to outsmart a gobbler that came back to his family’s blind several times.

“This one was so smart. He never wanted to come close enough. And one day he came about 30 yards, and I shot,” he said.

That shot missed, but Jen Girondo said it didn’t matter — that time spent in the blind was good for the family of four. She said, in a lot of ways, it was better family time than what they would have been doing if not for the pandemic.

“When they are playing sports, they are out there with the coach. They’re out and we’re on the sidelines just watching and cheering,” she said. “So for us it was neat to be there and get to be their coach.”

Keeping the new hunters coming back

Hunting proponents are welcoming the spring numbers as a sign that the Midwest could see an increase in hunting after a decade of declines.

Eric Edwards, education outreach coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said it’s great that more people tried hunting, but he is concerned the increase won’t hold up at these levels once people can go back to their regularly scheduled activities.

“Yes, people had considerable amounts of free time on their hands this year, and we probably won’t see these numbers again unless something like this happens again, but it would sure be nice if we could keep these numbers,” Edwards said.

But some first-time hunters are planning to return. 

Karli Auble of Webster Groves went hunting this spring when she won a raffle to go on a free trip. She said normally she would have passed on it but was going stir crazy at home, so the idea of being outdoors was too good to pass up. She found it exhilarating. 

“The moment that a turkey comes out, it’s a very exciting moment. Your heart starts beating, you start shaking a little bit,” Auble said. “I’d do it again if I had the opportunity.”

Some hunting operations still hurting

Even with the increased activity, the news wasn’t good for all people in the hunting business. Rob Mahalevich and his siblings run Missouri Hunting and Outdoor, a 1,300-acre hunting ground in the Missouri Ozarks. 

They had 28 hunting groups from nine states booked for turkey season. But because their property includes a lodge and dining facilities, they had to close because of the coronavirus.

”We just couldn’t guarantee our staff’s safety or our guests” Mahalevich said.

“So we had to cancel the season. And it was very painful. We are a small operation in a lot of ways.”

The brothers hope to be fully open by deer season and are exploring adding campgrounds to their property to accommodate hunters if the lodge has to stay closed. 

Mahalevich shares concerns the coronavirus increase in hunting will be a one-time thing. 

But Nick Girondo said the bonding his family had while hunting has him focusing on a new priority, even after the pandemic.

“We have to carve out that time. It showed how special it is to have that time and spend that time together,” Girondo said.

Summer is a slower time for hunting, so it’s hard to tell if the turkey hunting boom will carry over to other seasons. But the conservation department in Missouri reported a slight increase in fishing licenses and small game hunting permits so far this summer. 

Copyright 2020 Harvest Public Media

Jonathan Ahl joined Iowa Public Radio as News Director in July 2008. He leads the news and talk show teams in field reporting, feature reporting, audio documentaries, and talk show content. With more than 17 years in public media, Jonathan is a nationally award-winning reporter that has worked at public radio stations in Macomb, Springfield and Peoria, IL. He served WCBU-FM in Peoria as news director before coming to Iowa. He also served as a part-time instructor at Bradley University teaching journalism and writing courses. Jonathan is currently serving a second term as president of PRNDI ââ
Jonathan Ahl
Jonathan Ahl reports from Missouri for Harvest Public Media. He also is the Rolla Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.