My Experiences in the Texas Youth Hunting Program
By Trevor Lassman
How do we get kids more involved in the outdoors and conservation? The answer to that question is harder to find than one might think, but the team at the Texas Youth Hunting Program (TYHP) has a solution. The answer involves giving kids hands-on experience in the outdoors.
The mission of TYHP is to provide kids a safe, educational, and enjoyable experience in the outdoors through hunts provided by the cooperation of THYP staff, volunteers, and private landowners. Whether it is a whitetail hunt in the South Texas brush, a hog hunt in the East Texas woods, or a dove hunt in the Central Texas fields, THYP provides hunts for anyone’s interests. For many kids, it’s their first-time hunting.
TYHP provides an excellent starting point for new hunters. Huntmasters explain that safety is the number one priority, stress the importance of following the landowner’s policies, and advocate the benefits of building strong relationships with family and friends. Most events last from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning with hunting times on Saturday morning/evening and Sunday morning. Depending on the ranch, accommodations vary from tent camping to premium lodging.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, to participate on a TYHP hunt, the child must be 9 to 17 years old, have gone through hunter’s education, have a valid hunting license, and a youth hunter account on tyhp.org. An adult guardian accompanies each TYHP hunter during the event.
My experience with TYHP has indeed been life-changing and has helped me find my passions for the outdoors, conservation, and volunteering with younger kids. My journey started on my first youth hunt when I was around 12 years old. The hunt was held on a beautiful ranch outside of Brackettville. The targeted species were whitetails, exotics, and hogs. The lead huntmaster was an experienced volunteer who had led many of these programs. Throughout the hunt, we observed many animals, including various exotic species, but I did not have the opportunity to harvest an animal. In the end, these hunts are not just about harvesting an animal or about the size of the rack. They are about the memories, knowledge, and respect for the outdoors the participant takes away from that experience.
After my first hunt, I was hooked. I was able to participate in various other TYHP hunts harvesting several animals. Harvesting an animal brought me a lot of joy, but that is not the only thing I remember from those hunts. Spending time with family, meeting amazing people, sitting around the campfire, and learning about the outdoors are the real reasons TYHP exists. Some of my favorite memories from these hunts are the campfire nights held after the afternoon hunt on Saturday. The atmosphere produced by a glowing fire helps spur great conversations. My experiences at campfire nights have always been profound due to the amazing groups of people gathered there. Everyone has a chance to talk about themselves and what the hunt/program has meant to them. The beauty of the night sky and those meaningful conversations are why campfire nights are my favorite time of the hunts.
As I grew up through the program, going on different hunts, my desire to give back grew as well. Eventually, I aged out of the program, but my story does not end there. After I turned 17, I completed huntmaster training and became an official huntmaster upon turning 18 last year. During the 2019 hunting season, I volunteered on several youth hunts, including a hunt run by my very first huntmaster. Looking back on my journey from new hunter to volunteer, encouraged me to share my story in the hopes of other kids being able to start their own journeys.
In today’s society, programs like THYP are extremely important. Statistics show the number of hunters is declining, and Big Game Logic states that around 50% of hunters are over the age of 47. Additionally, the most recent 5-year survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that about 5% of Americans who are 16 years old or more, participate in hunting with a steady decline in numbers, even as the overall population rises. Programs like THYP are helping to recruit new hunters to keep the heritage alive. THYP has been in operation for 24 years and has influenced the lives of thousands of children and adults. According to Chris Mitchell, the Executive Director of Texas Youth Hunting Programs, the program reached over 1,150 kids this past hunting season and over 25,000 kids in the course of the program’s history. Each one of these kids now has a story of their own to tell and hopefully a greater appreciation for the outdoors and conservation. The importance of this program cannot be stressed enough.
Why would kids protect our way of life and be stewards of our natural resources if they don’t experience it for themselves? This is the reason I’m sharing my story and helping others get involved. Many of us have had the opportunity to experience the outdoors, and now it’s our responsibility to share those experiences with others. Even parents who have not gone hunting themselves have the chance to share this hunting heritage with their kids through TYHP. Many times, the parents are inspired to hunt themselves after witnessing their child participate on the hunt.
There are many ways to become involved in advancing the outdoor lifestyle through THYP. Taking a kid on a hunt is a great way to start. To me, seeing the joy of a young hunter after harvesting an animal is even better than harvesting my own. Another great way to get involved is to volunteer on a hunt. Volunteers do not have to be hunt masters to help on a hunt. The most common roles of volunteers are guides, cooks, and performing educational activities. Finally, TYHP trains huntmasters to lead hunts on the ranches. Becoming involved doesn’t have to be from a volunteer basis only. THYP requires the support and generosity of landowners who donate their time and resources as part of the program. A helpful hint to any landowners who are part of the Texas Managed Land Deer Program. Hosting THYP hunts are a great way to fill those tags and watch kids enjoy themselves at the same time. THYP needs your support. Reaching thousands of kids requires a lot of selfless volunteers, hunt masters, and landowners to reach these young adults.
I’m giving back because I first saw what there was to give. Programs like TYHP are how we are ultimately going to raise future leaders in wildlife conservation and hunters’ rights. Trying to get the next generation to see the importance of the outdoors without showing it to them is like planting a tree without soil. The experiences those kids have are the foundation and the nutrients that help them grow to be the next preservers of this way of life, thereby furthering the hunting heritage and protecting our rights as hunters for generations to come.
If you are interested in taking a kid on a hunt, becoming a volunteer, becoming a hunt master, or supporting the program as a landowner, please visit thyp.org.