TWA Adult Mentored Hunting

Photos Courtesy of Texas Wildlife Association


Cover of Texas LAND Winter 2020
This article is featured in the Winter 2020 issue of Texas LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.

The Texas Wildlife Association’s Hunting Heritage Program is setting its sights on novice adult hunters. 

“The overall goal of Hunting Heritage is educating Texans about wildlife and the role that hunting plays in conservation through wildlife and habitat management,” said David Brimager, TWA’s Director of Public Relations and a Certified Wildlife Biologist®. “Through our new initiative H2, we’re combining our existing long-term programs with several new ones into one focused, integrated effort to educate Texans across the board and help funnel them into the field through mentored hunting opportunities.”

TWA’s Hunting Heritage national reputation for excellence is built on twin pillars: the Texas Big Game Awards (TBGA) and the Texas Youth Hunting Program (TYHP). TBGA celebrates the relationship between voluntary land stewardship and healthy, harvestable wildlife by recognizing hunters and landowners in a free, certificate-based awards program. Celebrating its 30th Anniversary this hunting season, the TBGA has acknowledged more than 34,000 hunters and landowners. 

TYHP introduces young people and their adult companions to responsible, safe and ethical hunting through weekend-long mentored hunts. These decades-old programs have been developed and run in conjunction with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) since their inception.

“For decades, we’ve gained knowledge and laid the foundation,” Brimager said. “Now, we’re building on our past success and expanding our efforts to reach and recruit novice adults.” 

TWA Adult Mentored Hunting

New Points of Entry

The time appears to be right. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Responsive Management, 80 percent of Americans, a historic high number, approve of legal hunting. While hunting’s rising approval numbers likely can be attributed to a number of things, it coincides with the rise of the locavore movement, an interest in local, natural, sustainable food including meat.

“Food doesn’t get any more natural or sustainable than wild game,” Brimager said.

Capitalizing on the growing locavore movement, TWA began hosting Hunt to Table Dinners in 2017. Hosted by restaurateurs in major cities including Austin and San Antonio, the evening events bring both hunters and non-hunters together to enjoy a wild game dinner and a “soft” introduction to the heritage of hunting and voluntary land stewardship.

“People share a meal, enjoy camaraderie and discover they stand on common ground when it comes to an interest in wildlife, habitat and conservation,” Brimager said. “Experienced hunters have just stood on that ground a little longer—and are eager to pass along what they’ve learned.”

Interest in the outdoors is also burgeoning as participation in non-consumptive activities such as hiking, photography and birding continues to climb. The pandemic, at least in the short term, has reshaped the way Americans recreate and travel. Since March, parks—national, state and local—have reported attendance surges as people have flocked to the outdoors as a safe, enjoyable leisure destination. 

TWA Adult Mentored Hunting

According to a survey published in August 2020 by the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor activity segment saw the lowest impact due to COVID-19 shutdowns among the five activity segments (team, fitness, outdoor, individual and racquet) it measured. Just 34 percent of respondents said they couldn’t participate in outdoor activities due to pandemic restrictions, while 69 percent said they couldn’t participate in team sports and 55 percent couldn’t participate in racquet sports. 

The survey also noted that urban participants flocked to outdoor activities. Running, bicycling, day hiking, bird watching and camping participation all rose noticeably among urban respondents since March shutdowns.

Even before COVID-19, TWA tapped into the growing interest in outdoor recreation as the official Texas host for the Hunting Film Tour. The Hunting Film Tour, which is a submission-based film festival, features 10–12 conservation-oriented, short adventure films. The film festival rotates through different Texas cities and anchors an evening of newfound friends, food and cocktails.

“Again, it’s a chance for newcomers to meet people with whom they share common ground,” Brimager said. “In this case, the common ground is the outdoors. From our own personal experiences, we know hunting can become an outdoor passion of its own.”

TWA Adult Mentored Hunting

Adult Mentored Hunting

Adult Mentored Hunting grew naturally out of the Hunt to Table Dinners.

“An interest in game and sustainable food literally brought newcomers to the table,” said Bryan Jones, Field Operations Coordinator for TYHP and Lead Coordinator of TWA’s Adult Mentored Hunting Program. “Offering them an opportunity to experience the age-old tradition of hunting in a safe, mentored environment was a logical next step.”

In fact, the first Adult Mentored Hunt took place in 2017 on the heels of the first Hunt to Table Dinner. The hunt, with six participants, was patterned after the successful model pioneered through TYHP, which has hosted 3,300 youth hunts involving 50,000 youth hunters and their significant adults since its inception in 1996. 

“We’ve hosted thousands of hunts and helped other organizations develop similar programs in their states,” Jones said. “It’s not bragging to say, we’re experts in this type of mentored outdoor experience—and despite the amount of thought we put into modifying the program for adults, our expertise made it a ‘no brainer.’”

The hunts, which last from Friday afternoon through Sunday at noon, are hosted on TWA member ranches.

“Our hunters have the opportunity to see the results of voluntary stewardship first-hand on private ranches that they might not have access to otherwise,” Jones said. “We can’t thank our members enough for opening their gates to a new set of future hunters.”

While each hunt is unique, they follow a basic framework. Friday afternoon is spent on the shooting range where hunters not only hone their skills under the watchful eyes of experienced volunteers, but learn and practice marksmanship, shot placement and safety as well as the principles of ethical hunting and shooting. As the day winds down, the group gathers for an orientation, a welcome and a game dinner.

“On our Adult Mentored Hunts, every meal features wild game,” Jones said. “Some of the preparations such as breakfast tacos with wild hog chorizo are basic while others such as chile verde posole with axis venison are more elaborate. The goal is demonstrating the versatility of wild game as a protein.”

TWA Adult Mentored Hunting

Saturday morning the novice hunters and their guides, who are their mentors for the entire weekend, leave for the blinds.

“When people are one-on-one, conversation comes more easily,” Jones said. “People ask questions and share stories they might not in a group. Connections are made.”

When they return to camp, successful hunters, with assistance, clean and process their game.

“The proper processing, storage and preparation of game is a big focus of the weekend because it’s a primary interest of this group of novice hunters,” Jones said. “Most of the novice adults don’t have a problem with the idea of harvesting an animal and are excited to hunt, but the ‘what happens after I pull the trigger’ is a barrier to entry for many people. We remove the barrier by giving them the necessary skills through hands-on experience.”

During the afternoon, hunters return to the gun range, spend time enjoying the outdoors and getting to know their fellow hunters.

“The schedule for our Adult Mentored Hunts is a lot less regimented than on the youth hunts,” Jones said. “We want everyone to enjoy a great outdoor experience in a fabulous place that makes them want more.”

TWA Adult Mentored Hunting

Hunters and guides embark for the blinds on Saturday afternoon and again Sunday morning. Saturday night, after dinner, is a campfire where participants and guides gather to share stories, experiences and the camaraderie that make hunting such a treasured tradition for so many.

“The true heritage of hunting—the relationships, the stewardship, the respect for the land and the wildlife—becomes apparent around the campfire,” Jones said.

The response from the novice hunters and the participating landowners has been overwhelmingly positive, so positive in fact that this year Hunting Heritage staff is offering 10 Mentored Adult Hunts.

“We’re increasing 10-fold this season—and we’re planning to keep growing,” said Jones. “To extend our reach, we’ve partnered with Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Stewards of the Wild, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers–Texas Chapter and the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society—and trained volunteers in their organizations to host hunts using this model.”

“We’re increasing 10-fold this season—and we’re planning to keep growing,” said Jones. “To extend our reach, we’ve partnered with Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Stewards of the Wild, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers–Texas Chapter and the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society—and trained volunteers in their organizations to host hunts using this model.”

TWA Adult Mentored Hunting

While the program is growing, its goals remain clear and personal for the staff and volunteers.

“Our goal is using our expertise to provide novice hunters with safe, legal, ethical hunts that involve them and give them fun and exciting first experiences on beautiful ranches,” Jones said. “Through this initial experience, we want to draw them into our proud hunting heritage and hopefully making it a lifelong passion for them just as it is for us.”


 

Apply Yourself

During the 2020–21 hunting, TWA’s Hunting Heritage Program will host 10 Adult Mentored Hunts. Space is limited and assigned on a first come, first served basis.

To be one of the 50 participants, apply through the TWA’s website, Texas-Wildlife.org/program-areas/category/adult-mentored-hunting-program.

Requirements

Join TWA as an Associate Member ($75).

Complete the online application.

Complete Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Hunter Education Course, available online.

Pay the hunt fee ($150).

Additional Information

All lodging and food is provided. TWA, through the Texas Youth Hunting Program, can loan participants firearms and most necessary equipment, if necessary.

For more information, contact Brian Jones at (720) 240-6724 (cell) or by email at BJones@Texas-Wildlife.org. 

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  • Lorie A. Woodward has worked as a writer and public relations practitioner exploring the intersection of agriculture, natural resources and public policy for almost 30 years. Her career, which has included stints in the public and private sector, has taken her across the country and around the world, where she has been enthralled by the people of the land and their stories. She is the president of Woodward Communications and co-owner of The Round Top Register, a regional magazine focused on life in the rolling bluebonnet hills of central Texas where country meets city. Woodward was reared on a ranch near Lexington, Texas, but now makes her 以太坊区块链_以太坊价home in San Angelo with her two children, Kate and Will.

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