There are no elk in his home state, but Paul Connell, 49, is just as avid a volunteer for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation as you could hope to find anywhere. Paul is the Mississippi volunteer state chair, and he’s been co-chair of the North Mississippi Chapter ever since he helped start it in 2010. I caught up with Paul to talk to him about what inspires him, and so many other dedicated folks, to fight the good fight for RMEF in states without elk populations.
How long have you lived in Mississippi?
I’ve lived in Mississippi for 43 years, and I lived in Tennessee for the first six.
Why did you decide to become a member of RMEF?
The biggest thing that has inspired me is the work that RMEF does to preserve habitat and land, for not just me, but for future generations.
There are no elk in your state—what motivates you to volunteer for elk and elk country even though you may see less money or on-the-ground work close to home?
We have a lot of elk hunters in the state of Mississippi, we just don’t have any elk. It’s still very rewarding when you see things that RMEF does throughout the country. Even though we’re raising money in a non-elk state, we know that our efforts are impacting things in states that have elk. For example, the other day I was reading the news release for the Falls Creek acquisition that happened a while back. That’s why we do what we do—to open access to people for hunting.
What keeps you showing up year after year?
It’s the people. I have the opportunity to meet like-minded people with the same goals and ambitions that I have. I’ve been able to meet a lot of cool volunteers that have the same passion and drive for the mission of RMEF. That’s the biggest thing for me.
How did you start your chapter?
I’ve got a good friend here, Jason White, he and I really got to talking about it, but we didn’t know who to call. There wasn’t anything in Mississippi at the time with RMEF. We contacted headquarters, and they put us in touch with the regional director. There had been some chapters in the past, but nothing active at the time. There’s several now.
How do you keep your chapter going?
There’s nothing wrong with a bunch of old men sitting around talking about the RMEF, but we’ve tried to include ladies and children and make it a family event. We have our committee meetings and we get business done, but we have a good time too. We usually cook out and have dinner together. We started out with 5 or 6 people on the committee, and now we’re up to 24 or 25.
How does contributing to conservation for elk and other wildlife make you feel?
It’s very rewarding. You see the different things going on across the states. It feels good that there’s no one person that it’s about. There’s a lot of people out there that helped to get the RMEF where it is today.
Have you ever hunted elk? If so, how many times and in what states?
I’ve made 24 or 25 trips elk hunting. My uncle first took me when I was 18 years old, and I’ve hunted elk in Colorado and Wyoming. Elk hunting is my absolute favorite thing, although I also hunt turkeys. I’ve killed a few elk, but it’s more about being outdoors and enjoying yourself in God’s country.
By Heather Fraley