The explosive flush, the beautifully patterned tail of a rooster in flight, the pride in a successful shot and a delicious meal after a day in the field–that’s what pheasant hunting is all about. Though New Jersey is the most densely populated U.S. state, approximately 12,000 residents hunt pheasant. This is made possible through the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife pheasant program, which raises and releases 50,000 pheasants annually across 24 Wildlife Management Areas that encompass about 100,000 acres.
This year, led by Tom Mattingley of IBEW Local 351, union volunteers from Electrical Workers Local 351 and 164, Insulators Local 14, Pipefitters Local 322, Sheet Metal Workers Local 27, Painters District Council 711 and Operating Engineers Local 542 teamed up to use their time and skills to support NJ Fish and Wildlife by raising funds and building the boxes needed to transport the pheasants.
Eager to help organize a USA Conservation Dinner and Boots on the Ground project in his area, Mattingley contacted a NJ Fish and Wildlife officer to find out how union members could assist the agency.
“In today’s world, when you walk up to a stranger and say you want to build something for them and also raise the funds to do it, they look at you like you have three eyes,” Mattingley said. “But I asked what we could do to benefit New Jersey sportsmen, and they suggested we build pheasant transport boxes.”
From there, everything began to fall into place. Using $5,000 from the money union members raised at USA’s 1st Annual Tri-State Area Conservation Dinner last fall, Mattingley purchased planked cedar to build the boxes. After volunteering at the conservation dinner and learning about the project, John Stahl III, the Apprenticeship Administrator for Insulators Local 14, coordinated volunteers to build the boxes. And after finding that one of his instructors, Don Mullins, has a complete woodworking shop behind his house, they soon had a location to build them.
“I think projects like this show what we’re all about,” Mullins said. “We’re not just individuals. We’re a brotherhood that works together to get things done.”
Armed with tablesaws, planers and Mattingley’s best drafting sketches in a shop that looks like it’s right out of the TV show, This Old House, union volunteers are cutting, shaping, drilling and constructing the lumber into specifically sized, stackable boxes that fit into a truck and hold 14 birds each. Once the boxes are all built, they’ll be painted by the 3rd year apprentices of Painters District Council 711. According to Mattingley, they’re a work of art–like bird condominiums.
“By raising money for materials and building the boxes, we’ve lessened the burden on the NJ Fish and Wildlife’s limited funds, so they can spend them on other things like more land,” Stahl said. “We can’t help them acquire more land, but we can sure help them with projects like this, and every little bit helps.”
For those interested in organizing a Boots on the Ground project, Mattingley offers this advice, “Don’t be afraid to ask what you can do. When this project got started, I didn’t know what we were going to do, but I went to the NJ Fish and Game, and they pointed us to the bird boxes. And through the bird boxes, I found the Insulators who have a woodshop and then the painters to paint the boxes. So instead of me trying to put this all together, it just sort of fell in place.”
“We need to get involved in conservation efforts because it’s our heritage, and we need to preserve our hunting privileges and lands,” Mattingley added. “The state Fish and Wildlife needs not only financial help but they need ‘hands on tools,’ and we have the skills.”