“One of our primary duties is maintaining fields and planting crops – mainly corn – for waterfowl hunting,” Bobel says, “and we’re at the mercy of the weather. We have to plant at exactly the right time so that the crops are ready by waterfowl season, and it’s a tight window. It was close to his year due to wet weather, but I think we’ll be OK.”
The 6,000-acre Old Hickory WMA encompasses parts of Wilson, Trousdale and Sumner counties. It includes stretches of the Cumberland River, and with its maze of sloughs and marshes, the WMA is best-known for its waterfowl hunting and wildlife refuge.
Bobel, named manager of the WMA by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency earlier this year, brings a great deal of experience to the job – he had served as a wildlife technician there since 2004.
As a wildlife technician, Bobel’s duties consisted mainly of agricultural tasks. Now, as the WMA’s manager, he will oversee the entire area and its array of services, aided by a staff of three full-time employees and one part-timer.
He will also have law-enforcement certification, and is currently attending the Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy. TWRA game wardens are required to undergo the same training.
While Bobel will have enforcement authority, he doesn’t expect to have to use it.
“The TWRA has game wardens assigned to all the surrounding counties, and they generally handle any law-enforcement issues on the WMA,” he says. “If I have a concern about something, I can alert them, and vice-versa.”
Bobel says based on his past experience, game-law violations are rare on the WMA, despite its remote areas.
The WMA oversees 132 waterfowl blinds, and there is also deer and turkey hunting on the area. There is not much small-game hunting, Bobel says, because much of the WMA is accessible only by boat, and such hunting is not practical, especially when dogs are used.
Bobel, a native of Joelton who earned his degree in Wildlife Biology from UT-Martin, lives on the Old Hickory WMA with wife Carla and their five children.
After earning his degree, Bobel joined the TWRA and was assigned to the state’s fish hatchery in Flintville. He spent three years there before being transferred to the Old Hickory WMA as a wildlife technician.
Bobel is in the National Guard, and his wildlife career was interrupted when his unit was activated and sent to the Middle East. As a member of a support wing that serviced C-130 aircraft, Bobel served an 18-month tour in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other Middle East locations.
After serving in such far-away and often-troubled parts of the world, Bobel finds a special peace and tranquility at his home on the secluded wildlife area, where frogs croak in the backyard marsh, owls hoot, and fireflies flicker in the night.
“I liked the area the first time I saw it, and I enjoy it more every year,” he says. “I can’t think of any place I’d rather be, living here with my family and getting the opportunity to do a job I love.”