FFA camp builds outdoor skills, character

Special Photo. Camper Samantha Strauss shows off a catfish during the 2010 FFA Wildlife Camp.

Special Photo. Camper Samantha Strauss shows off a catfish during the 2010 FFA Wildlife Camp.

COVINGTON -- If you're still searching for a way to fill a week of your child's summer, and you'd like him or her to learn about firearm and hunter safety, as well as other aspects of the outdoors, you may want to consider the 2011 FFA Wildlife Camp.

Offered in two sessions -- June 26 to July 1, and July 10 to 15 -- the camp provides kids ages 10 to 15 with the opportunity to earn their Georgia Hunter Safety Certification. For those kids who've completed Basic Wildlife Camp or already have their Georgia Hunter Safety Certification, there's also an Advanced Wildlife Camp that runs July 17 to 22.

"It's one of the only camps that has a live firing range, and we do get to do live firing," said Leroy Bagley, educational program specialist for the Georgia FFA-FCCLA, a nonprofit educational organization sponsoring the camp.

Classes also include topics such as fishing, deer stand safety, primitive camping, wildlife education and conservation, and outdoor cooking.

Advanced campers learn bow hunting, firearms maintenance, outdoor cooking, bass fishing and wilderness survival.

Cost for the overnight camps, which includes all meals, lodging and activities, is $350. The kids stay in cabins at the Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center in Newton County.

"A lot of people can't afford vacations; this gives you a slight vacation away from home," said Bagley. "It's a great place to send your kid and have a good time, even if they haven't been immersed in wildlife."

Bagley said children and their parents don't necessarily need to be hunters to find the camp beneficial.

"Even if the kid's not going hunting, it's still something they can use to be a more well-rounded individual," said Bagley.

The 70 to 100 campers are split into groups of about 15 by age. The children travel with the same group all week long, eating meals together and attending two classes each day. They also join in activities including swimming, wildlife shows, dodge ball games, a pizza party and a cardboard boat race.

"They rotate as a family, they do everything together," said Bagley of the smaller groups.

Each group of campers is also given a character trait, such as compassion, for which they must create a skit and perform it for the other campers.

"We always say that wildlife is the bait. We're actually trying to build character in the kids," Bagley said.

While the shooting sports can be a thrill for many campers, the "surprise" activity on the last full day of camp is usually the highlight of the week, Bagley said.

"They really like our big slip and slide," said Bagley, who added that some campers whiz down the slide in a big, round inflatable raft.

Bagley said that teaching the children how to use firearms safely is satisfying, but for him, getting positive feedback from parents is best of all.

"It's even more exciting when you have a parent who says you've changed a kid's life, and that's what we're trying to go for here," he said.