“What is the number one rule?”
November 14th, 2014
Jack Thompson addressed all four youth and their fathers. “Be safe?” a boy piped up, proud of his answer. “Being safe is extremely important but it’s actually not rule number one.” Jack responded, throwing the boys for a loop. The boys who came from the town of Mission, TX were all friends prior to this meeting. They looked at each other and their parents, unsure and sleepy eyed. “Have fun?” Horacio, one of the oldest chimed in. Mr. Thompson grinned from ear to ear as he responded, “YES. And rule number two? Everybody…” In unison the group, volunteers and all responded, “Remember rule number one!”
This wasn’t a trip to Disneyland or a Boy Scout fundraiser assembly. Soap box derbies, rollercoasters and action figures couldn’t have been further away. All four boys, ranging from ages nine to thirteen had accomplished several assessments and activities at the state and local level to be there that evening. Through the Texas Youth Hunting Program (TYHP) volunteer Hunt Master Jack Thompson had arranged for all four boys to take part in a two day rifle hunt on the Hoffman Ranch. Owned by the Hoffman family, the ranch is a 2,000+ acre low fence property in Alice, TX. The ranch has been honored as a Texas Family Lane Heritage ranch for its continuous operation by the Hoffman’s since the late 1800’s. Each youth hunter was provided the opportunity to fill a doe tag in addition to hog and coyote, accompanied with their guardian and a volunteer hunting guide.
Saturday morning the air was cold and crisp. The misty rain ceased to stop collecting on the top of the deer blind. Drip, drip, drip- it splashed on to my knee. The icy wind tickled my nose as I snuggled back into my hood and blaze orange head warmer. The weather took me back to my hometown of Eugene, Oregon where the smell of damp clothes and the sound of squeaky rubber boots permeates everyone’s senses almost year round. I didn’t move an inch or make a sound. Normally I would have had my bow or shotgun in hand and I felt the anxious feeling of having forgotten one or the other. My Nikon camera and smile were my only accessories. I sat in that deer blind on an unimaginably cold day in south Texas as a volunteer hunting guide on behalf of the Texas Youth Hunting Program. My responsibly? Accompany a youth hunter and their guardian during the hunt and assist in following safety measures throughout. Number one rule of course, have fun.
A state law in Texas, to be a hunter one must pass the Texas Hunter Safety Education course. For hunters seventeen and older the test is offered online however, all youth ages nine through sixteen must pass the course in addition to a field day. The field day includes a hunter skills trail, a live-fire exercise, and a written exam. When I write that each youth hunter had been through several forms of testing before getting the opportunity to hunt at the Hoffman Ranch I was not kidding. In addition to testing at the State level to legally become a hunter each boy learned firearm safety and sighted in their rifle the evening before the first hunt. Most impressive to me was the skills test that was given to each youth hunter during the trip. Volunteer Alice Hammond took each kid into the field and asked them questions regarding safety, animal identification, and shot placement. A long time educator and avid outdoorswoman, Alice presented each obstacle or question in a thoughtful but laid back manner. I shadowed her on a skills test with youngest youth hunter Diego. Alice asked him what the word ethical meant. Perplexed, she provided him an example that he could relate to in his ordinary life. Alice then pointed to a cardboard cutout of a Whitetail fawn. “Would it be legal to shoot that fawn?” Alice asked. “Yes” Diego responded. Alice followed his response by asking, “Would it be ethical?” Diego pondered her question for a moment. Ethics can be a hard concept to wrap your head around for a nine year old boy. “No.” Diego responded. Alice reaffirmed his answer was correct and why.
In addition to hunter safety Alice spoke to each boy specifically about firearm safety. Holding up a rifle she asked, “If I were to give you this gun what would I need to do first beforehand?” Each youth hunter would name safety measures such as unloading the firearm and making sure there was not a round in the chamber and leaving the bolt open. In a world where we deal with numerous firearm accidents a year I found it so essentially perfect that Alice made it a point to tell each boy about their responsibility to practice safety precautions around firearms.
That morning Diego harvested his first doe Whitetail deer with his .243 rifle. I have volunteered with children for over ten years, worked in a school based health center in my home state of Oregon, but I have never seen a nine year old beam with so much excitement as Diego did after harvesting his first doe. Each boy followed shortly behind Diego the following evening and morning hunts and filled their doe tag. I had the pleasure to accompany youth hunter David, age twelve and his father Mauricio. David had hunted several times before however, he was the last to harvest a doe on Sunday morning. I quickly made myself the butt of a joke in regards to the notion of luck. David, who at twelve years old was vertically superior to me, kept a positive attitude as hunt after hunt went by without harvesting his doe. He and his father welcomed my assistance and conversation (I enjoyed practicing my Spanish) in those chilly times after shooting hours. My husband Adam Parma accompanied youth hunter Jorge, a first time hunter at age eleven. As a former TYHP youth hunter Adam recalls, “It was better than pulling the trigger myself. You don’t always have to be the one behind the trigger to get buck fever.” I was immediately impressed by all the youth hunters. No feeders. No high fences. These boys had to practice patience and work in tandem with their fathers and guides to get the job done. Soaking up the knowledge and traditions of hunting as every minute passed.
Ironically, I did not grow up hunting. I didn’t shoot a gun until I was nineteen years old when my father refused to let another man (now my husband) teach me how to shoot one before him. As a country boy in Akron, Ohio my father has memories of hunting with his father, “My old man always had a few beagles around and would go pheasant and duck hunting.” he recalled to me. How come I was never exposed to hunting as a kid? “There may not have been a program like this. You grew up running around in the woods. The deer were like your pets. I took you fishing though and you were always outdoors.” My dad stated. Having not grown up around the traditions of hunting why then was I volunteering for this program? I pondered this question throughout my time spent on the trip. On our first chilly morning together I asked David’s father Mauricio the simple question, “Did you grow up hunting?” He responded by telling me about growing up in Mexico hunting with his father and how he cherished those memories. I looked around that evening at the smiling kids, volunteers and friendship that was forming around me. It was clear then to me that I was volunteering to give back what I never had as a child. Yes, I ran around the woods as a kid in Oregon but I never experienced the excitement and rewarding feeling that hunting brings to a child. When I looked around at each boy it was easy to see that their fathers beamed with pride over them. That sort of parent/child bonding was all made possible through the TYHP. Yes, this was an important program on so many levels. Because of this program a tradition, and all that comes with it, of hunting in Texas was being continued in a long legacy of hunting families of different cultures and upbringings. Now as a hunter in my adult life I understand the richness and meaningfulness behind passing on such an important tradition to anyone, especially your child. Learning the foundation of hunting as a child teaches so many important attributes- discipline, ethical thinking and probably the hardest trait of all to teach- patience. (I am still working on that one).
The Texas Youth Hunting Program is the product of a collaborative effort by the Texas Wildlife Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Created in 1996 as a response to the declining number of youth hunters in Texas, the Texas Youth Hunting Program (TYHP) has provided over 55,000 youth hunters a safe, mentored and educational hunting experience. The TYHP runs on three components: Landowners, Volunteers & Youth Hunters. With the majority of Texas’ land privately owned, landowners provide the place where the TYHP can groom future hunters and encourage cherished hunting traditions. In addition to giving the landowner the enjoyment of allowing youth to experience a hunt on their property the landowner benefits by using the TYHP to manage their wildlife population- does, feral hogs and more. It is important to note that all participants of this hunting experience were volunteers. Though the TYHP makes reimbursements for things such as gas, food, etc. all are unpaid workers. Volunteers are the backbone of the TYHP and its ability to provide so many hunts for the youth of Texas and to make each hunt a memorable one. Volunteers provide each youth hunter the opportunity to learn, grow and accomplish so much more with their guardians beside them so that they too, will grow into safe, ethical Texas hunters who pass on the traditions to their family members. I will never forget my first time volunteering with the TYHP and the wholesomeness I felt in my heart. I learned so much from giving my time to the program and I encourage all hunters, family members of hunters or outdoor enthusiasts to give back to programs like the TYHP. If you are interested in volunteering please visit the Texas Youth Hunting Program website for more information. There are many options and ways one can service this great cause- from fundraising, guiding a hunt, cooking on a trip or becoming a certified hunt master. Land owners too can volunteer their property for hunts just as the Hoffman family so graciously did. Don’t live in Texas? I highly suggest you look into similar programs in your area. For example, the Dream Hunt Foundation in Louisiana provides guiding hunting or fishing trips for disabled, terminally ill and underprivaleged youth. If there is no youth hunting program in your area then why not start one? I promise you will feel humbled, rewarded and thankful as you pass on old traditions to new blood.
Kristin Brooke Parma, EvoMedia Coordinator
For more information visit: www.texasyouthhunting.com