By Katrina Rossos
“I remember the scorching hot days, where our thermometer read 105 degrees all afternoon and the tractor steering wheel was so hot it burned my hands. I remember telling myself, ‘I love my job, I love my job, I love my job,’ but then it occurred to me—I really do love my job,” Hanna Hodges, a University of Florida junior studying wildlife ecology and conservation, said.
Hodges worked as a wildlife intern for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) in Edgefield, South Carolina this past summer. Originally from Tallahassee, Florida, Hodges grew up hunting and spending a lot of time outdoors, so making a career in wildlife ecology was something that she said made sense.
She explained that she took the NWTF internship anticipating to learn about wildlife management, but she said her experience was much more fruitful than that. Hodges became familiarized with many different management techniques including working hand-in-hand with land managers doing tractor work, spraying herbicides, dispersing minerals, planting food plots, conducting population surveys, and bee keeping.
“Our instruction was very hands on, and I learned how to prepare food plots by applying herbicide with both a wand sprayer attached to an ATV and a boom sprayer on a tractor, as well as spreading fertilizer and using a no-till drill to plant,” Hodges explained. “Six months ago the only knowledge I had of fertilizer was the 10-10-10 I bought for my dad at Lowe’s to fertilize our grass, but this summer I was able to learn about the different types and proportions of fertilizer, and what each is used for. I also had no prior knowledge of herbicide use other than the Round-Up I saw in my parent’s garage, but I learned a great deal about different herbicides, when to apply them, and the safety precautions that must be taken.”
Additionally, Hodges spent most of her time as an intern working at the National Wildlife Turkey Federation Hunting Heritage Center and learned about a variety of habitat types and how each habitat is managed. She managed 707 acres that were owned by NWTF as well as worked on privately owned off-site properties.
Some of the population surveys she conducted included checking bluebird nests and monitoring wood duck boxes. “Conducting population surveys was one of my favorite parts of the job, although the flying squirrel that jumped out of a bluebird box and onto my hand certainly scared me,” Hodges said. “However, not much can beat getting paid to listen to male bobwhite quail whistle as the sun rises. My counterpart was almost knocked off of our boat by a hen wood duck when we were checking for nesting activity, and I don’t think either one of us will forget that.”
Hodges is also pursuing a minor in extension education and was able to collaborate with the workers at the National Wild Turkey Federation to plan and run six summer camps at the NWTF Headquarters. While running the camps, Hodges introduced young children to her passions, including hunting, fishing, and shooting sports. In the future, she said she wants to use her degree to work in hunter education and outreach programs that introduce people to hunting and the outdoors.
“This summer I gained much more than just knowledge to take back to school or experience to list on a resume, I gained a mentor in Travis Sumner, a great friend in the other intern and my summer roommate Jacob Breeden, a family in my other NWTF coworkers, and memories that will last me a lifetime,” commented Hodges. “I will be forever thankful for this opportunity. I learned more than I even knew I could, I learned almost every aspect of how to manage lands from fallow plots to planted pines.”
Hodges is hoping to return to NWTF next summer to continue working on the same property.