Courtesy David Baxter
Mentors: Ensuring Hunting’s Future
Across this big state, there are many kids who would love to hunt, if only they had the opportunity. Those opportunities require
mentors to guide them through the process.
Many youth mentors, such as David Baxter from Houston and Leon McNeil from San Antonio and their colleagues in the Texas Youth Hunting Program, have spent decades providing outdoor experiences for kids. These mentors instill a hunting ethic in young men and women and help them become informed hunting advocates. Most profoundly, these youngsters help ensure the future vitality of hunting in Texas.
“When I wake up here, I see acres of land,” says Erika, a teenager on a youth hunt in Devine. “When I wake up at home, I see concrete.”
That’s a common realization for many urban kids, Baxter says.
“When inner-city kids get off the bus or out of the van, the first thing they do is take off,” he says. “They are amazed at the space. They come from an environment where walking too far is dangerous.”
McNeil is an educator at the San Antonio Academy and founder of City Kids Adventures, which annually sponsors hunting opportunities for more than 100 youth. Erika is one of McNeil’s participants; she’ll be required to serve as a program counselor and leader one day when she starts college.
Recent data show a trend of rising interest in hunting through the pandemic; numbers increased nationally in 2020 over 2019 across every demographic. More people now see the value in hunting from their own experience in the field. When young hunters understand that hunting strengthens their moral character and increases their competence and confidence, many will choose to become lifelong hunters and hunting advocates.
Mentors like Baxter, a school principal who is a longtime Texas Youth Hunting Program huntmaster and hunter education instructor, hear firsthand from the young hunters how the pastime is changing their lives in positive ways.
“Hunting caused me to see a bigger picture, to know the animals and understand the cycle of life,” says Andrew, another youth participating in the Devine hunt. “These changes helped me. I am more appreciative now. I saw how easy it was to take things for granted.”
Erika learned that a firearm can be a tool for feeding her family. Initially criticized by her urban peers, she explained to them about deer population management and how hunters provide funds for wildlife habitat and conservation.
“I harvested that meat,” Erika says with pride. “I didn’t go to a grocery store. Now my friends think hunting is cool!”
Bringing home meat for the family is a tangible benefit, not an abstraction. Pride is instilled when the young hunter becomes a contributor.
“The only colors I care about are camouflage and hunter orange,” Baxter says. “The color of your skin means nothing. These are human values. All (of our kids) are equally capable of integrating these values into the hunter’s culture.”
Diversity and inclusivity imbue a new, vibrant population with a sense
“Well-managed places to hunt don't happen by accident,” Baxter tells the young hunters. “Someone put in the time, resources and creativity to prepare the land for hunting.”
Hunting is more than harvesting an animal. For youth, hunting is a metaphor for the larger currents that lead to a successful life. The internal sense of respect and responsibility derived from hunting becomes a source of strength for dealing with the external environment over which these youngsters have no control.
Baxter, McNeil and their colleagues also work to sustain healthy wildlife populations and finance Texas game warden efforts and wildlife management. Creating a more diverse foundation for a new hunting heritage, they are the modern incarnations of Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold. This is how a new hunting heritage is created.
Find out more about the Texas Youth Hunting Program at tyhp.org.
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