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School profits from annual deer hunt

Annual 3-day 
hunting event 
raises extra dollars 
for Morgan Academy

by Alvin Benn

Deer hunts can be profitable ventures and several private schools in Alabama have begun to use them to help augment tuition and other costs that can strain their budgets.

John Tyler Morgan Academy in Selma has one of the biggest and best in the state with hunters from as far away as Maine and Michigan driving in for three days of outdoor fun and lots of great food indoors.

This year’s event will be held between Jan. 14-16 with the woods of Dallas County being combed by 120 hunters who have heard about the quantity of deer, as well as delicious home cooking by parents of Morgan students.

Allen Crawford, 10, loves to hunt deer and he wears one of his favorite T-shirts to Morgan Academy as often as possible.

By the time they leave for northern states, where the season is limited, the hunters will be toting coolers filled with quartered deer and an appreciation of southern hospitality.

They also leave thousands of dollars behind. It’s estimated that $550,000 has been raised in the past six years—money that Morgan has used to build a $325,000 gymnasium and a $65,000 science laboratory.

Benefiting from Morgan Academy’s annual deer hunt fund raising effort will help teacher Terri Austin and five of her young students, from left: Christian Ezell, Sara Kate Tepper, Emily Sherrer, Anna Catherine King and Jillian Stewart.

“Some hunters don’t get any kills, but still come back every year,” said Tim Wood, who is the general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative as well as directing the annual Morgan Academy project. “They just love coming down.”

Wood is huntmaster of an event resurrected six years ago as a way to provide additional funding for a school that has had a glittering reputation for athletic and academic excellence since its founding four decades ago.

Deer hunts were held by Morgan many years ago, but eventually were stopped because there weren’t enough volunteers to lend a hand.

The catalyst for bringing deer hunts back to life was lack of space in the existing gymnasium to handle all the athletic events held there. Practice sessions for basketball teams often lasted well into the evening, cutting into study time at home as well as parental patience.

“We just had too many kids and not enough places to play,” said Wood, a former Auburn University  

Morgan’s headmaster for the past 20 years, deBuzna gave immediate approval for a fund-raising deer hunt, but he did insert an anticipated caveat—payment of expenses.

“He said he didn’t mind us doing it, but made it clear that finding a way to pay was a concern,” Wood said. “He said constructing a building is the easy part. He was worried about how to maintain it, how to pay the electric bills and other expenses.”

That’s where volunteers entered the picture. Landowners came up with thousands of acres of deer-filled woods to hunt. Dads pitched in to serve as guides for hunters. Moms volunteered to make everything from casseroles to pies and cakes to feed them.

Once deBuzna and the Morgan board of directors gave the green light, Wood and his friends went to work to make the event a success.

“Before we held our first hunt, some members of the board of directors said we’d be lucky to attract 25 hunters,” Wood said. “I got a little upset because if they had such little faith and low expectations, how could we expect much out of our kids and ourselves?”

Morgan Academy basketball players practice in the school’s $500,000 gymnasium, built with proceeds from the annual deer hunt. The funds were raised to built the gym in only three years.

Thanks to Wood and the other volunteers, that first event attracted 81 hunters and netted more than $60,000 for the school.

Wood credits two friends—Alan Jones and Mel Gilmer—with helping him get the inaugural hunt off and running. Others soon joined in. Before long, more than 100 volunteers had signed up.

Gilmer’s computer expertise helped spread the word about the deer hunt nationwide. Buckmasters, located in Montgomery, also gave the event a big plug on its website.

“Many hunters go a lifetime without seeing the number of deer harvested on this land,” Morgan’s website says. “Trophy bucks are killed each year. January is the prime rutting time and the bucks will be on the move.”

There are thousands of deer hunts each year in the U.S. The trick for those who sponsor them is to get the hunters back the next year.

That’s where the parents come in at Morgan. Wood and deBuzna call their assistance invaluable.

“I think our food is what attracts so many hunters,” Wood said. “We have volunteers who are at the school cooking breakfast by the time the first hunters show up at 4 a.m.”

Wood said the dessert table is “10 yards” long and filled with every imaginable kind of sweet enticement.

“When the hunters arrive each year, all they seem to talk about—in addition to the deer—is the food, especially the dessert table,” Wood said. “It’s all homemade.”

“If you want the best at any school, you have to expect the best from the parents and their children,” said Gail Bedgood, who is the Jackie of all trades at Morgan. She’s an administrator, a tour guide and anything else needed to promote her favorite school.

It costs $900 for the three-day hunt, but the trip can cost well over $1,000 because of gasoline and other expenses along the way. Most hunters drive to Dallas County for the hunt.
The school buys liability insurance to protect landowners who donate their property for the hunt. Wood also lines up a game warden to speak with the hunters before they go out, especially those who are hunting in Alabama for the first time.

In some states, deer season only lasts a few days. In Alabama, it’s three months. That’s one reason so many out-of-state hunters flock to Dallas and other counties where deer are plentiful and the season is more than long enough.

“We have more liberal hunting laws because we have such a large deer population,” Wood said. “Realistically, our hunters can bag two deer a day, but it usually doesn’t turn out that way.”

He said the Morgan Academy event is not a “deer slaughter.” He said no drinking is allowed and some hunters bring their children.

Thanks to Gilmer’s computer talents, hunters are not only able to claim a deer, they can also brag about it to the folks back home the same day.

“Pictures are taken and then transmitted to home computers around the country, showing our hunters with their kills that day,” Wood said.

Tuition at Morgan Academy is about $3,000 annually—an amount that deBuzna says is “remarkably low” when compared to other private schools in Alabama.

“Some schools charge three times what we do, but we don’t lack for any program or course they might offer,” the headmaster said. “We have all the science courses you’d expect at a high school along with foreign languages including French and Spanish.”

A New York native, deBuzna has lived in the South most of his 62 years. He’s an avid hunter and takes more than a passing interest in the fund-raiser at his school.

“We’ve gotten so big that we’ve split our hunting area into two regions,” he said. “One is north of the Alabama River and the other is south of the river.”

He said Alabama’s deer population is so large that it naturally attracts hunters from states “where they might only see two or three at a time.”

“I once counted 59 deer at one site,” he said. “We’re hunting over 44,000 acres and that’s plenty of land for everybody to enjoy. Without the land, we really couldn’t do much of anything.”

Leasing land for deer hunts can net owners thousands of dollars a year and that’s why their volunteer spirit is so important to Morgan. Most of the landowners who allow their property to be used for the hunts send their children to the school. They view their donation as a pay-back opportunity.

Other private schools such as Wilcox Academy and Lee-Scott have successful deer hunts each year and deBuzna says it’s become a growing trend.

Private school parents also pay property taxes to support public schools, but they opt for a different educational environment, especially in Alabama’s Black Belt region.

They have no choice in the matter of public taxation. Their decision to send their children to private school can be a costly one. A high school diploma at a private school can easily cost more than a college education.

That’s why volunteers are so important when it comes to projects such as annual deer hunts. Just ask Chris deBuzna, Mel Gilmer, Alan Jones and all the others who pitch in to help support Morgan Academy.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.



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Date Last Updated January, 2006