“I Want To Learn How To Hunt”
October 3, 2017
Editorial Staff (287 articles)

“I Want To Learn How To Hunt”

Volunteer mentors and landowners can make a huge impact

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

For the longest time, Dallas paramedic Ralston Dorn wanted to hunt, but he had no clue what to do or where to go. One year, he’d even taken a hunter’s education course in hopes of applying what he learned in the field. But another fall went by without a hunt. In 2016, Ralston took the deer by the antlers—so to speak—and signed up for a mentored hunt with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“I come from a family of hunters, but my dad stopped hunting when I was 10,” explains Ralston, now 32. “My uncles and cousins hunt but not me. My middle name’s even Hunter.” He laughs. “So I figured I’d better live up to my name!”

Last season, Ralston was one of 134 people who purchased a $25 Mentored Hunting Permit, which bought him a white-tailed deer hunt for adult novices at a Texas state park. The TPWD program is part of a nationwide effort that seeks to reconnect adults and kids with the outdoors, especially hunting. Surveys, such as the 2015 Outdoor Recreation Participation Topline Report, indicate that Americans are continuing to spend less time outside. Today’s obsession with electronic devices and social media are partly to blame. In Texas, many people don’t have their own deer lease nor can they afford to get one.

“Lots of folks didn’t grow up hunting, and many that did have gotten away from it for one reason or another,” says Justin Dreibelbis, TPWD’s Private Lands and Public Hunting Program director. “These days, the local food movement has more people wanting to know where their food comes from so they’re becoming more interested in hunting. Our department is trying to create more opportunities for the public through these kinds of hunts.”

“We’ve got to build our next generation of hunters because our wildlife depends on it,” he adds. “That’s because the money that funds most of the wildlife conservation and hunter education work across the country comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment.”


Ralston Dorn with his mentor Justin Dreibelbis.

On his mentored hunt last December, Ralston took two mature does at Inks Lake State Park near Burnet. The three-day workshop included classroom instruction, three hunts from a ground blind, and field-to-table dressing. “Justin did a great job at mentoring me,” Ralston says. “He taught me what to expect from an animal. Like when you hear a snort, that’s a warning. I learned when to make a good shot and where to aim on the animal. Now I’m ready to join my family this fall when everyone goes hunting.”

Likewise, mentored hunts are available for children. In 1996, TPWD and the Texas Wildlife Association partnered to form the Texas Youth Hunting Program, which marks its 20th season this year. The program recruits and links private landowners with trained volunteers, who together host wildlife hunts for kids ages 9 to 17 years and their parents or adult chaperones.

“Last season, we hosted 200 hunts for 1,066 kids,” says Chris Mitchell, TYHP director. “To date, we’ve trained 1,500 Huntmasters, who each went through 25 hours of training and background checks. Last season, 900 volunteers, including Huntmasters, helped in hosting our hunts. For our landowners, we provide liability insurance so they don’t have to worry.”

Typically, five to seven kids participate in a TYHP hunt on a private ranch. Costs run approximately $150 for the child and accompanying adult. Scholarships are available if needed. “We don’t let money get in the way if a youth wants to hunt,” Chris says. “We provide everything on a hunt, including meals and lodging. When the kids aren’t sleeping, eating or hunting, then they’re learning, like how to skin, field dress, and quarter a deer. We invite local biologists and game wardens to talk to the kids in between hunts.”

In Poth, Rodney Koenig–a lab technician with the Texas Department of Transportation–registered his two sons, now 27 and 24 years old, with TYHP because back then he couldn’t afford a deer lease and he wanted to pass on his love of hunting. After they aged out, Rodney trained as a Huntmaster, a volunteer pastime that he enjoys deeply. His wife, Lisa, also volunteers with the program as a camp cook.

“Kids are our next landowners,” he says. “So it’s important that we carry on our hunting heritage and also educate people who maybe don’t care for the sport.”

Read more of this story in the September/October issue of The Journal.

Don’t have a copy? Get one here.

TPWD photos



Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff


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