I am extremely lucky to have had a grandfather who purchased ranches, as well as a dad that liked to hunt and encouraged me to hunt as well. This background has given me thousands of hours spent outdoors over my lifetime. I can recount a lot of hunting stories as my hair thins and turns grey, but I can honestly say some of the most pleasing episodes are those when I’ve introduced newcomers to the sport.
A while back, I started paying attention to the youth hunts put on by the Texas Wildlife Association. It is a structured event where guides follow strict rules setting examples to new hunters, while at the same time promoting ethics. I arranged for a “guide school” at our camp house and got a few friends of mine to attend. There is a lot of red tape involved with TWA, so we eventually split off from that organization but we continue to follow their blue print nonetheless.
Here is my team: James Janda, Tony Janda, Alvin Emmel and I are the guides from Weimar. Richard Grobe, my Texas A & M classmate and resident of Columbus is the last guide. Daria Emmel (Alvin’s wife) is the cook. We’ve been together dozens of times. We started by hosting hunts at our ranches and neighboring ranches. There we were able to smooth out the rough edges to the process. Later, we hunted in Medina County on ranches I had sold to clients. Tom Arnett and Jim Thompson both of Houston graciously hosted us, and then later we hunted on another of Mr. Arnett’s properties in Kinney County south of Brackettville. Our last hunt was on Randle Jones’ Diamond J Ranch in western Mason County. Each of these ranches had spacious headquarters that allowed these youth hunts to be run in style. It takes a lot of space since not only do you have five guides and a cook, but you have five young hunters and their guardians. It takes a minimum of 16 people just to take 5 hunters.
Follow me on how this unfolds:
The first thing I do is contact the Weimar ISD and then Columbus ISD staff. My goal is to get recommendations of good families that have children from 10 to 13 years old that have never hunted and do not have a deer lease or any relatives that hunt. We target youth that have never hunted but are game to try. Children too young can’t hold a rifle well, and kids in high school already have sap rising and are often too interested in holding hands with other hunters of the opposite sex to concentrate on deer. We take both male and female hunters so you have to be careful.
Once selected, each hunter must purchase a Texas hunting license and they will be expected to pay for their share of the groceries. Our last hunt cost each person $18.00 for the entire weekend. Next, they have to pass a proficiency test with a rifle. We arrange for the new hunter and his/her guardian (parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle) to meet at our camp house and learn to shoot. Many of these children have never held a rifle. I’m talking not even a .22 rim fire. Each guide is responsible for their shooting instructions and they will provide a weapon. Most of us use 223, 22-250, 243 or 6mm Remington.
We’ve never had trouble with these newcomers skill. It’s simple, they listen. We teach them safe handling, how to support the rifle, how the rifle works, how to aim, the importance of trigger squeeze and deer’s anatomy. When the child can regularly hit a pie plate at roughly 75 yards, they are then patted on the back and pronounced ready for the real deal.
The big day finally arrives and everyone meets after school then caravans in separate vehicles to the chosen ranch. We hunt Saturday morning and evening. During the middle of the day it is all busy time with no lounging around the headquarters watching TV or playing video games. The new hunters help cleaning game, then Tony Janda gives them his gun safety talk. We do this in the field to demonstrate crossing fences etc. with a rifle. I go to school with them and walk a bit out in the brush teaching them about what a deer eats and what he does not eat. I go into some simple biology about deer habits and feeding routines. Any extra time is spent gathering fire wood.
After the evening hunt and meal is the best part of the weekend. All guides, guardians, cook and hunters gather in a circle around the campfire and one by one tell their story. How they saw the deer approach, the number of doe and bucks each saw, how big the bucks were, how they waited for a good presentation, how they shot the deer, how they followed a blood trail, how they shook afterwards, the excitement and funny episodes are all rehashed. No one is talking over each other but each having the spotlight alone.
Even if they get a deer, they still return to the blind to observe wildlife. We hunt again Sunday morning then everyone pitches in the clean the facilities, haul off trash, stack the remaining firewood and the last thing before leaving is to write thank you letters to the owner.
You never forget your first deer just like you never forget your first kiss. I’ve been lucky in having given a lot of children the chance to experience deer hunting that may never have gotten the opportunity. I was sitting at their side when they succeeded. I am honored to have provided this chance and hope they remember me along with the animal.
PS: Anyone reading this that has a child or grandchild between 10-13 years old that has never hunted and would like to try it please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will put you in my data base for future hunts.