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Western Students Learn the Finer Points of Game Management

March 31, 2003

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Students in game management class.

Students examine a specimen in Tom Dunstan's game management course. (Download print-quality image)

MACOMB, IL -- It's not about "referreeing" Monopoly©, Life© or Yahtzee©; it's more like overseeing elk, bison, wolves, grizzly bears, coyotes, geese, deer and even rabbits, as well as the land.

Game management is a field of scientific study -- with increasing public interest -- that addresses issues surrounding wildlife management, and Western Illinois University's department of biological sciences has one of the few game management courses offered among Illinois universities. Tom Dunstan, biological sciences professor at Western and instructor of Zoology 562, Game (Wildlife) Management, said when a person chooses this course, and walks into Waggoner Hall's third floor, many signs point to ecology and wildlife.

"That's one of our advantages. We have some marvelous learning resources for the campus and the community," Dunstan explained.

During the game management class, which currently enrolls undergraduate and graduate biology majors, are given hands-on learning opportunities to study animals native to this region, as well as big game animals such as bison and elk. They learn about habitats, energy, environmental concerns, law enforcement and much more. While live animals obviously aren't part of the classroom setting, their hides and stuffed mounts are. The "big game animal week" held in the lab recently featured a bison head, wolf hides, elk antlers, a bear paw complete with razor sharp claws and many more animals native to regional and western states.

"What this class also teaches these students is that when they are involved with wildlife and game management, any one of them can be in the middle of controversy at any given time," Dunstan said. "Remember when wolves were introduced back into Yellowstone? That was a big controversy for the ranchers and residents around the park. The people in charge at Yellowstone had to be knowledgeable about game management, but they also had to know how to work with the public and explain wildlife management systems."

The dynamics of this semester's game management class are particularly interesting, he noted. Of the seven students, five are female and about half the class are hunters, with a vegetarian thrown into the mix. The biological sciences majors include Kit Sergeant, a graduate student from Kankakee; Amanda Mellon, a graduate student from Fishhook; Joe DeBold, a graduate student from Blandinsville; Brigid Lamb, a senior from Naperville; Luke Wessel, a senior from Carthage; Brooke Spangler, a senior from Quincy; and Tara Beveroth, a graduate student from Sterling. All seven agree one of the reasons that drew them to this class in particular was the dynamic teaching style of Dunstan.

"Most of us took this class because of Dr. Dunstan. Plus it adds a broad range of knowledge to our field, and having this on our resume makes us more employable," Mellon said. "This class has taught us that game management is not just about owning land and running it, but respecting it as well."

DeBold, an avid hunter, added that zoology as a field is quite broad, and this class further hones the skills he has been using since he was 8 years old.

"Dr. Dunstan has all the experience and nothing beats that, even if I've been hunting and participating in game management practices for years," DeBold said. "Plus having people in the class who are not hunters and might feel strongly against hunting, has really given me the full spectrum, and I appreciate the wildlife and the land even more."

Spangler, who noted she is a vegetarian and doesn't like being around hunting environments, said she didn't know what she was getting into when she registered for Zoology 562. But since starting the class in January, her perspective on certain issues has changed.

"I came into this class with some preconceived notions, but some of that has changed, particularly about fur-taking and the fur industry. I didn't realize the economic impact that this industry has on this region," she said. "It has been very interesting to learn, and it's made me more tolerant. I understand now the importance of hunting as well. This class has definitely been eye-opening, and I really enjoy it."

Sergeant, an aspiring science writer, added that while she's not into hunting either, she is interested in the principles that guide game management and that led her to this course.

"What impresses me about Western is that it has a real concern for ecology and the environment, and this class is just one of many examples of that," Sergeant said.

In addition to hands-on learning experiences in the classroom, Western students -- from any major -- can gain wildlife management experience each year as Western is responsible for training and placing employees in 24 deer check stations within 20 counties during the first shotgun season and in 22 check stations during the second shotgun season.

"I had no idea what wildlife management was before I entered this class," Lamb said. "I'm learning how to communicate to others what is best for the animals, the land and the public as well. I'm learning how to teach others how to work together for the benefit of everything involved."

For Beveroth, her major as well as her love of the outdoors and hunting, drew her to the class. While she has been hunting since she was a little girl, she admitted she didn't know the specifics of wildlife management and how to communicate important environmental concepts.

"I've learned about the public relations aspect of game management, so even though I've been participating in game management of sorts for years, I have learned how to work with the public on these issues," she explained. "Plus, I love to break the stereotypes that hunting and the outdoors is only for men."

DeBold and Wessel added that 12 years ago, there would be just male students in a class such as this, and they both agree that it's great to have more females than males in the class.

"Even though I've also been hunting nearly all my life, I've learned a lot more and a lot of new things by taking this class," Wessel said. "It has further enhanced the knowledge I have surrounding hunting, and while I don't own land now, when I do someday I'll be better prepared to manage that land."

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Communications & Marketing