“The overall aim of Hunting Heritage is educating Texans about wildlife as well as also 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 are combining our present long-term plans with several new ones into a focused, integrated effort to educate Texans across the board and help funnel them into the field through mentored hunting chances.”
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 at a free, certificate-based awards program. Celebrating its 30th Anniversary this hunting season, the TBGA has acknowledged over 34,000 hunters and landowners.
TYHP presents young people and their adult partners to responsible, safe and ethical hunting through weekend-long mentored searches. These decades-old programs have been developed and operate in conjunction with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) since their beginning.
“For years, we’ve gained knowledge and laid the base,” Brimager explained. “Now, we’re building on our past success and expanding our efforts to reach and entertain novice adults”
New Points of Entry
The time seems to be correct. Based on a 2019 survey conducted by Responsive Management, 80 percent of Americans, a historic large amount, approve of legal hunting. While hunting’s climbing approval amounts probably can be attributed to a number of things, it coincides with the growth of the locavore motion, a fascination with local, organic, sustainable food such as beef.
“Food does not get any more renewable or natural than crazy match,” Brimager explained.
Determined by the growing locavore motion, TWA began hosting Hunt into Table Dinners at 2017. Hosted by restaurateurs in major cities such as Austin and San Antonio, the day occasions attract both hunters and non-hunters with each other to enjoy a wild game supper and a”soft” introduction to the heritage of hunting and voluntary land stewardship.
“People share a meal, enjoy camaraderie and discover they stay on common ground when it comes to an interest in wildlife, habitat and conservation,” Brimager said. “Experienced seekers have only stood on that ground a little longer–and are ready to pass along everything they’ve heard.”
Interest in the outside is also burgeoning as involvement in non-consumptive pursuits such as hiking, photography and birding continues to climb. The pandemic, at least in the short term, has reshaped how Americans recreate and travel. Since March, parks–national, state and local–have reported attendance surges as people have flocked into the outside as a safe, enjoyable leisure destination.
According to a survey published in August 2020 from the Outdoor Industry Association, the outside activity section saw the lowest impact because of COVID-19 shutdowns one of the five activity segments (group, fitness, outdoor, person and racquet) it measured. Only 34 percent of respondents stated they could not participate in outdoor activities due to pandemic restrictions, while 69 percent said they could not participate in group sports and 55 percent could not participate in racquet sports.
The survey also noted that urban participants flocked to outdoor pursuits. Running, bicycling, day hiking, bird watching and camping participation all climbed noticeably among urban economists 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 various Texas cities and anchors an evening of newfound friends, cocktails and food.
“Again, it’s an opportunity for newcomers to meet individuals with whom they share common ground,” Brimager explained. “In this circumstance, the common ground is the outside. From our personal experiences, we all know searching can become an outside passion of its own.”
Mature Mentored Hunting
Adult Mentored Hunting grew naturally out of the Hunt to Table Dinners.
“An interest in game and sustainable food literally brought novices to the table,” said Bryan Jones, Field Operations Coordinator for TYHP and Lead author of TWA’s Adult Mentored Hunting Program. “Offering them a chance to go through the age-old tradition of hunting in a safe, mentored environment was a logical next step”
In Reality, the first Adult Mentored Hunt took place in 2017 on the heels of the initial Hunt into Table Dinner. The hunt, with six participants, has been patterned after the successful model initiated through TYHP, which has hosted 3,300 youth hunts involving 50,000 youth seekers and their significant adults since its beginning in 1996.
“We’ve hosted thousands of searches and assisted other organizations to develop similar programs in their countries,” Jones stated. “It is not hard to say, we’re experts in this kind of mentored exterior experience–and regardless of the amount of idea we put into modifying the app for adults, our own experience made it a’no brainer.’”
The hunts, which continue 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 they might not have access to otherwise,” Jones said. “We can not thank our associates for opening their gates to a new set of prospective hunters.”
While every hunt is unique, they follow a basic frame. Friday afternoon is spent on the shooting range where hunters not just hone their skills under the watchful eyes of seasoned volunteers, but learn and practice marksmanship, shot placement and security as well as the principles of ethical hunting and shooting. As the day winds down, the group gathers for an orientation, a welcome plus a game supper.
“On our Adult Mentored Hunts, every meal features crazy game,” Jones stated. “Some of those preparations like breakfast tacos with wild hog chorizo are basic while some like Chile verde posole with axis venison are somewhat more elaborate. The goal is demonstrating the versatility of wild game as a protein”
Saturday morning that the beginner hunters and their guides, who are their mentors for the entire weekend, then leave for the dividers.
“When folks are one-of-a-kind, dialogue comes more easily,” Jones stated. “People ask questions and share stories that they might not at a group. Connections are created.”
When they return to camp, most effective hunters, with assistance, process and clean their match.
“The appropriate processing, storage and preparation of game are a huge focal point of this weekend as it is a primary interest of this group of novice seekers,” Jones stated. “Many of the novice adults don’t have a problem with the idea of picking an animal and are excited to hunt, however, the what happens after I pull the trigger’ is a barrier to entry for a lot of people. We remove the barrier by giving them the essential skills through hands-on expertise.”
During the afternoon, hunters go back to the rifle range, spend some time enjoying the outdoors and getting to know their fellow hunters.
“The schedule for our Adult Mentored Hunts is a great deal less regimented compared to youth hunts,” Jones stated. “We want everyone to enjoy a terrific outdoor experience in a fantastic place that makes them want more”
Hunters and guides embark for the blinds on Saturday day and again Sunday morning. Saturday night, after dinner, is a campfire where guides and participants gather to share stories, adventures and the camaraderie which make hunting such a cherished tradition for so many.
“The authentic legacy of hunting–the connections, the stewardship, the respect for the land and the wildlife–becomes more apparent around the campfire,” Jones said.
The response from the novice hunters as well as the participating landowners has been overwhelmingly positive, so positive in fact this year Hunting Heritage staff is supplying 10 Mentored Adult Hunts.
“We’re increasing 10-fold this year –and we are planning to keep growing,” explained Jones. “To expand 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 sponsor hunts using this model.”
“We are increasing 10-fold this season–and we are planning to keep growing,” said Jones. “To expand 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 educated volunteers in their associations to sponsor searches using this model.”
While the app is growing, its aims remain clear and private for the volunteers and staff.
“Our objective is utilizing our experience to provide beginner hunters with safe, lawful, ethical searches that involve them and give them fun and exciting first adventures on beautiful ranches,” Jones stated. “Through this original experience, we would like to draw them into our proud hunting heritage and making it a lifelong enthusiasm for them just as it is for us.”