KEVIN TATE: Refuge duck hunt leads conservationist to a career outdoors

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

John Gruchy set out to become a doctor but took a turn that led outside instead.
A pre-med major at Mississippi State University, Gruchy was toiling in the labs of organic chemistry, wondering whether he’d made the right choice and considering what else he might do when he chanced upon the opportunity to take his younger brother on a duck hunt. What he saw that day made all the difference.
The Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, 48,000 acres of government owned and curated land south of Starkville, has played host to waterfowl hunts for many years. Hunters there are allowed to draw for the opportunity to use a refuge-maintained blind on certain days each season, and the shooting can be truly spectacular.
Some of those dates are set aside for youth hunters, each of whom must be accompanied by an adult. One morning early in his college career, Gruchy served as that adult and took his teenaged brother.
“I’d thought I wanted to be a doctor because they make lots of money and do great work, but I was a freshman in college and in my second semester of organic chemistry and I’d already determined I wasn’t doctor material,” Gruchy laughs.
When Gruchy and his brother got to the refuge, they met the U.S. Fish and Wildlife professionals whose job included hosting the hunt. There’s a workshop that’s part of the annual event that entails an introduction to waterfowl, hunting and shooting safety demonstrations and a general sharing of knowledge with hunters brand new to the game, often including some brand new to the outdoors.
These pros spend most of their time in the field, maintaining the resource, sharing what they know, working with people who love the things they do.
“I couldn’t believe this was somebody’s job,” Gruchy said. “I was amazed people got paid to do something this interesting, something this much fun.”
He graduated from Mississippi State in 2003 with a degree in wildlife and fisheries science and earned a master’s from Tennessee in the same discipline four years later. Since then, he’s spent his time helping others enjoy what our state’s wild places have to offer.
His work includes studying what an area’s habitat may be lacking, prescribing what it needs to improve, supervising its ongoing care and helping its inhabitants make the most of their time as stewards and caretakers, passing it on better than they found it. Sounds like doctor material to me.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.