It was all I could manage to say seven years ago when I got my first taste of what being a guide was all about. Bull. Bull. Bull. I had to repeat it several times to get the attention of the hunter and for fear I’d only said it the first time in my mind.
It was November 2009 when I spotted and tracked my first bull elk in the coastal mountains outside of Florence, Oregon. When I was asked to join a hunter as a second set of eyes and ears I had every intention of walking around in the damp woods and not seeing a thing, I was wrong. Muddy elk tracks in my path made my breath turn shallow. When I saw the ghost of the forest staring at me a midst the tall Douglas firs my heart rate accelerated.
I couldn’t have been more proud to share that moment with the hunter, a friend of my dad’s, even if it meant taking the life of such a huge creature. It was an invigorating and emotional experience that I couldn’t quite comprehend at the time. Adam, having grown up hunting with the Texas Youth Hunting Program, had prepared me for that moment. He had educated me on the benefits of hunting safely and ethically. The elk’s life would not be wasted, in fact, it would be celebrated at every meal. Something about being the reason someone gets to feed their family still ignites the passion for guiding in me.
This would mark the third year for Adam and I to guide with the Texas Youth Hunting program. The program is the product of the Texas Wildlife Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife joining forces to bring an array of opportunities to hunt safely, ethically and educationally for kids ages 9 to 17. Again, we joined Huntmaster Jack Thompson and landowners Gail and Bruce Hoffman at the La Trinidad/Hoffman Ranch in Ben Bolt, Texas for a whitetail doe and hog hunt.
When I first saw Esperanza, age 17, she was hands deep into the process of skinning a whitetail doe that another youth hunter had harvested. She had clearly done this before and I was impressed by her tenacity to dig right in and help. I was excited to be paired with her and her mother from East Texas. It would be Esperanza’s last year before she aged out of the program and I hoped to make it a memorable one.
Getting to know Esperanza was energizing. She is the type of girl I might have hoped to be had I been introduced to hunting at a young age; Independent, fierce, hardworking and good with a knife. Not to mention she had a quick wit and sense of humor. We talked about ethical hunting, and how it is our responsibility as hunters to practice firearm safety and proper shot placement on the game we seek. Together, we set a goal to harvest a mature doe. This meant that Esperanza passed on many yearling does during our time in the field, opting to stick to the goal. As all the other youth hunters harvested their deer, I had hope that we could make it happen for Esperanza too. The evening before the last hunt the landowner said to Esperanza, “Tomorrow you can harvest anything.” Esperanza’s eyes lit up. The opportunity to harvest anything meant, buck or doe.
That Sunday morning Esperanza and I sat together in the deer blind rubbing hand warmers together to activate them. A cold front had settled in and the Northerner in me forgot what 30 degree temperatures felt like. I had not missed it and despite my wool socks my toes went numb with cold. We heard coyote howl from both sides of the blind and the lack of deer movement had us worried about whether we’d even see any deer at all that morning. Usually when I hunt with Adam this is where I would chime in some witty comment about how all the deer must have been at church. That morning though I kept quiet as time ticked by on Esperanza’s last youth hunt. Coyotes dashed across our shooting lanes. Birds rustled in the trees. Silence.
Just when Adam texted me that he was heading out in the truck to pick us up a deer walked out into the shooting lane to the right of us, about 80 yards. I quickly told Adam to hold back. Esperanza and I confirmed it was a spike and she put her rifle back down. We watched the spike graze and the silence between us meant we were both in deep thought. When she turned to me and asked, “If I shoot it, will you be disappointed?”
My heart sank.
That was when it hit me. Being a guide for the Texas Youth Hunting program is so much more than being there for the hunt. It is greatly about mentoring and encouraging our youth. As mature as Esperanza was I had forgotten that I was still being looked up to. My opinion mattered in her eyes.
“I don’t think I could be disappointed in you.” I responded.
I explained to her that all weekend she had proved to me she knew the difference between right and wrong and what it meant to be a safe, ethical hunter. She knew what being a respectful hunter meant. With the landowner’s permission she was able to harvest any deer of her choice. After all, there is a big difference between harvesting a fawn buck and a spike buck. This was her chance to provide sustenance to her family back in East Texas.
Esperanza agreed. As she shouldered her rifle again I reminded her to take her time. To breathe. When the shot echoed in the blind I watched as the spike buckled down and then disappeared into the bushes. I was confident she had hit him and prayed we would be able to track and find the deer. The prayer of every guide…and when it finally came time to look it was there we found her spike, 30 yards in the brush.
For a girl with a name that means “to hope” in Spanish, I have a lot of hope in the future of hunting with young women like Esperanza in Texas. She exemplifies those women that can lead their peers to the knowledge of ethical practices, safety and hunting traditions, all with a fun, positive attitude. One day Esperanza may even lead her own hunt as a Huntmaster for the Texas Youth Hunting Program. Should that day come I hope to be asked to be on her guiding team.
It is hard to believe how far hunting has taken me since the moment I laid eyes on that bull elk. Yet still, there are so many goals I have yet to achieve. Guiding has become a natural progression into the hunting community for me. I may not be a professional guide, but accompanying a hunter is where I get to practice all the elements of the hunt: patience, tracking, safety, strategy and more. Even after I picked up a shotgun, bow and rifle I found that guiding taught me the real lessons of being in the field. Not to mention it gave me just as much fulfillment as being the hunter.
Only those with a true passion for the elements and the outdoors can understand the enjoyment of being a guide. There really are no words that can describe the satisfaction and importance. As I have said before hunting is not always about being the one behind the trigger. Hunting is about collecting memories, celebrating the land, enjoying the wildlife, and about leading by example and passing on hunting heritage. Every hunt, regardless of its result, should be cherished. The future of hunting depends on it. Never lose hope.
Volunteer with the Texas Youth Hunting Program Click here
Read my previous blogs about volunteering for the Texas Youth Hunting Program on The Hunters Feed: