Trish Engel is on a mission. As Youth Programs Coordinator for the Mule Deer Foundation, she tirelessly pursues opportunities to introduce young people to hunting, conservation and the great outdoors.
“It’s not just a job,” she admits. “There’s nothing quite like seeing the sparks ignite when a kid gets interested in wildlife and shooting sports.”
Toward that end, Engel spearheads the foundation’s multi-faceted youth outreach and recruitment campaigns, which include a variety of interactive events scattered across the West.
Founded in 1988 to ensure the conservation of mule deer and blacktail deer, the Mule Deer Foundation focuses heavily on responsible wildlife management, including habitat protection and restoration. But its core goals also include the development of programs designed to get youth into the shooting sports and conservation.
That’s where Engel comes in. Hired in late 2016, the Mississippi native is point person for MDF’s M.U.L.E.Y (Mindful, Understanding, Lawful, Ethical Youth) program. Under this framework, local MDF chapters coordinate youth events that give youngsters hands-on opportunities to learn about safe firearms handling, wildlife conservation and management, hunter ethics and more.
“There are usually 30 to 150 kids per one-day event,” she explains. “Accompanied by their parents, they get to shoot archery, 22s, muzzleloaders, and try different shooting activities. Conservation messages are tied in as well. We work with state wildlife agencies to come out and talk about things like habitat, biology and poaching.
“Each MULEY event is different, but the goal remains the same,” Engel adds. “To encourage more kids to join the next generation of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts.”
The number of kids contacted by these efforts are impressive, and Engel hopes to raise the bar even higher. “MDF has conducted 133 of these events since 2012 and reached 100,000 kids in the process,” she says. “Going forward, my goal is to reach 25,000 kids a year.”
Engel also helps organize other outreach activities, including events that join forces with other hunting and conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited. “In addition to these partner events and the MULEY program, we also host hunting camps and mentored hunts for youths in several states, including Arizona, Texas and California,” she adds. “Bottom line, we have a lot to opportunities for kids of all ages.”
Engel is both highly motivated and well-prepared to meet the demands of such duties. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for wildlife and conservation,” she says. “I grew up a country girl, following in my daddy’s footsteps as we explored the backwoods of our Mississippi home on hunting and fishing adventures.”
Her interest in the outdoors led to a biology degree from the University of Mississippi, followed by a job with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as an environmental scientist. Working on critical habitat projects such as seagrass restoration was rewarding, but Engel soon found an even more compelling calling.
“When my husband and I moved to Utah, I got a job with the state Division of Wildlife Resources,” she explains. “Initially, the position included working with volunteers on habitat projects. Then I got more involved with kids on things like youth hunter education and archery in the schools. Eventually, it evolved into me being the wildlife events and volunteer services coordinator.”
While her new career was a departure from her work in Florida, Engel had no regrets. “Being a scientist was interesting, but everything was about the data,” she says. “You don’t have that personal interaction. And you never get to see a kid’s face light up when they shoot their first 22.”
Engel is grateful for the chance to educate youngsters on the importance of conservation, and how hunters are a driving force in this arena. “Hunters are leaders in conservation funding and boots on the ground projects,” she said. “Without their efforts, our world would be a much different place.”
“It’s an honor and privilege to convey these messages,” she continues. “Not every kid’s going to love or embrace them. But those who do will become the heart and soul of the fight to preserve wildlife and our hunting heritage. They’re the ones who will help ensure mule deer, blacktails and other species are still on the landscape in 100 years, and that hunters remain a critical part of conservation and wildlife management. Being part of that process is very exciting. It’s not just a job. It’s my life.”
Engel also offers advice for those who’d like to get their kids involved in hunting, shooting and conservation. For starters, she encourages parents who are unfamiliar with hunting to learn as much as possible before taking their kids into the field.
“If you’re brand-new to the sport, contact your local wildlife agency for information on hunter education and other opportunities to learn more about safe and ethical hunting,” she says. “Once you do, you’ll be much better prepared to steer your children in the right direction.”
No matter your experience level, Engel also advises taking it slow when introducing them to hunting.
“Have patience,” she says. “Make sure it’s a fun experience. And by all means, don’t push kids into anything they’re not comfortable with or ready for. Even though my dad was big sportsman, I didn’t become interested in hunting until later in life. It took time for me to appreciate the sport and understand hunters’ intimate connection to the animals they hunt, as well as their respect for those animals and commitment to the species’ survival for generations to come.”
Engel spent nine years at the DWR. She especially enjoyed coordinating events designed to increase youth participation in shooting sports and the outdoors.
In the process, she collaborated on projects with the Mule Deer Foundation. “Trish worked closely with us to implement the youth archery shoot and other youth programs during the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo,” recalls MDF president and CEO Miles Moretti. “We knew she was a hardworking, passionate person and were thrilled to bring her on board to build on the MULEY program’s already solid foundation.”