Chris Graves had just parked a school van in a field, and his wildlife students were filing out for some hands-on, out-of-the-classroom learning when they spotted a flock of about 80 crows clustered together.
No sooner were they out of the vehicle when one of Graves’ pupils began imitating the birds’ call. Chill ran up the students’ spines as the crows, like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, swarmed toward them.
“Students will remember that,” said Graves, a fish and wildlife management instructor at Haywood Community College.
With the sixth annual Wild Game Dinner rapidly approaching, students will have the chance to raise money while showing off their animal-calling skills to a crowd of hundreds of friends, family and curious community members.
The event also features a calling competition, in which students and others perform their best imitation of various animals’ purrs, clucks, yelps and cackles.
The main purpose of honing your wildlife calls is to draw an animal in when hunting. But outdoor sportsmen — a generally competitive bunch — have taken it to a new level, Graves said.
“It’s fun, but at some competitions, they get pretty serious about it,” he said.
Many of HCC’s students started hunting and learning how to call certain critters since they were young.
“I think they were born in camo,” said Shannon Rabby, a Fish and Wildlife Management Technology instructor. “They love the outdoors.”
Not only does the event provide amusement but it also serves as a good warm-up for the students who soon after battle other schools at the Southeastern Wildlife Conclave in mid-March.
“We are kind of proud of what we do at that,” Rabby said.
The group has snagged third place during the past couple of years despite going head to head with mostly upperclassmen and graduate students from four-year universities, including LSU and Auburn University.
“My students are freshmen and sophomores,” Rabby said with pride.
Haywood Community College is renowned for its various natural resources degrees, a sought after program by students across the South who want to be foresters, game wardens, park rangers and the like.
The annual Wildgame Dinner hosted by the students has outgrown its venue twice in its just six-year history, a reflection of its upstanding reputation in the community.
The school’s Wildlife Club began hosting the wild game dinner in the lower level of HCC’s student center. As the event grew, it moved to the Haywood County Armory.
“Next thing we knew, we had filled up the armory,” Rabby said. “It’s tremendously successful.”
Last year, about 700 people attended the dinner. It is now held at the Haywood County Fairgrounds.
The potluck dinner includes a silent auction with everything from art to live animals, a gun and live music by No Show Jones and the Wildermen. The six-member band first performed at the dinner last year and is made up of HCC students in the Natural Resources Department.
“What shocked me is I had them in class … these guys are very quiet,” Rabby said. But, not when they get an instrument in their hands.
The grand prize for the night is a lifetime hunting and fishing license. Funds raised at the dinner help pay for a scholarship as well as travel to various conferences and competitions.
“We want this to be a celebration,” said Rabby.
Haywood Community College’s Wildlife Club is hosting its annual benefit dinner, complete with drawings, live music, a silent auction and, of course, food. Attendees are encouraged to bring a dish as the dinner is a potluck and money to bid on items ranging from art to live animals.
What: The 6th annual Wild Game Dinner
When: 6 p.m., March 2
Where: Haywood County Fairgrounds
How Much: Suggested donation of $10 per person or $5 if you bring a dish.