The Quail Quota: Empowering Texas youth for quail conservation

“Nature is an open book for those who care to read it. Each grass-covered hillside is a page in which is written the history of the past, conditions of the present, and predictions of the future.” -J.E. Weaver

My Silver Bullet.

phone pictures 07062017 735If nature is an open book, we certainly read and re-read the pages. Working in the wildlife field I was called to serve as an adult “covey” leader at the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade camp. No prior wildlife knowledge required, at any Brigades camp an adult leader serves as a mentor, counselor, and guide for five or six teenagers as they progress through the five day, intense learning program.  A week long summer camp for high achieving youth, the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade is a wildlife and natural resource focused leadership camp dependent on volunteers, staff and one little, important bird. The quail.

How many of you wake up in the morning and hear a quail call?

This was a question asked by a Texas Parks & Wildlife biologist during a discussion as the sun set on the last night at Brigades camp. My hand was one of few that shot up into the air. As I looked around at both kids and adults a like, it sunk in just how lucky I am to hear quail often at the Czech Out Ranch.

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Evening ethics discussion

Before that week at camp I knew very little about quail, other then they were charismatic and beautiful little birds that are difficult to shoot with a shotgun when hunting.  At our home in Oregon we had the pleasure to watch a covey of California quail in our backyard. The male, who I called Geronimo, would often perch on our fence and make his territorial call. One day, Adam even saved this boisterous quail from the hungry dinner plate of a resident cat. When we heard our first Bobwhite quail at the ranch we were happy, and when we flushed our first covey we were even more excited. Still, I knew little about the intricate needs of a quail.

There are four types of quail that call Texas home- Bobwhite, Scaled, Gambel’s & Montezuma. It turns out to know quail is to know Texas. I would venture to say it should have been the state bird (Sorry Northern Mockingbird fans). Virtually everything in Texas effects quail populations across the state. From overgrazing, to under-grazing livestock, predators, cover, open ground, rainfall, insects and human interaction. Point out a bush, a tree, an animal, a seed- it can almost always be related back to quail.

As a covey leader I didn’t know what to expect. My best friend Katie always raved about going to camp every summer as a kid. Me on the other hand, I went to Texas. She told me I would be responsible to break up things like hand holding, and excessive giggling after hours. While there was giggling it mainly came from activities like animal charades & habitat sit circles. All designed and developed to educate in a fun and very effective way. Yes, it’s true, Brigades camp is not the kumbaya camp that you or I are probably familiar with.

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Habitat sit

A camp that involves lessons on gun safety and skeet shooting…does it get much better?

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Breaking Clays. Photo credit: Clint Faas

During camp we learned about complex topics such as habitat management, plant identification, animal tracking, game laws, ethics, radio telemetry, gun safety, dog training, quail biology, calls, soil composition, predation and more. Each day we spent an extended period of time in the field as well as in the classroom. We learned from an array of wildlife instructors and enthusiasts, several of which were my very own coworkers. I think what most impressed me was the high level of curriculum which could easily have been used for adult education. So while we did play games, these kids were treated as the future adults they were becoming.

Carson, Joseph, Jake, Lacy, Molly, Brenntan and I made up the Bobwhite covey. I couldn’t have been more impressed with these kids who came from as far as Seminole and Nacagdoches (A 532 mile difference) and everywhere in between. This meant that they had willing parents who saw the benefit in an educational wildlife leadership camp to drive them there. Aside from quail, the kids from my covey are the real stars of this blog post. Carson kept our spirits up with his positivity and laughter, Joseph was our entomologist/photographer, Molly was our shotgun pro (No really, she won a national competition last year), Lacy was our fierce and unafraid spokeswoman, Jake was our call leader and one heck of a trivia whiz, and Brenntan kept us (mostly me) on track. All of them are smart, funny, talented and unique kids. By golly, they knew the words to Dolly Parton songs! I am thankful to have gotten to know each one of them. To shake the hands of their parents. They are all going to go far in life, and with them carry the torch of wildlife conservation in Texas.

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Photo taken after our morning spent “Dissecting the sunrise” From left to right: Joseph, Carson, Molly, Me, Lacy, Jake & Brenntan (assistant covey leader)

I think often as a adults we forget to listen and learn from the youth around us. We’re so busy putting them down for being on their phones or latest fidget whatevers. We forget that we were once kids waiting for that one adult to take a little extra time to get to know us and inspire us. Brigades camp empowers Texas youth to think, learn and lead their peers. No matter how outgoing or reserved a kid is, they all find a moment to shine at Brigades camp. No matter where these kids go in life, whether they become doctors, chefs, travel bloggers, circus tumblers, famous singers or wildlife biologists- they will continue to be involved and inspired by the outdoors and the issues surrounding its conservation.

In addition, we forget to actually invest in our youth beyond our families as adults- and especially as millennial age adults. I talk to a lot of wildlife enthusiasts from across the nation that are my age. While some want to argue over products to promote themselves, superior hunting methods or antler size, I stop a midst the banter. I cannot fathom arguing over these trivial things when there are opportunities out there to continue our wildlife conservation and hunting heritage. I reflect on the opportunities I have been given in a short time to introduce adults and youth to hunting and the outdoors. And to support and encourage those youth who have already taken an interest, like my Brigades kids. To actually take the time away from the norms of life, and learn from them. A part of my life I never dreamed I would be so passionate about a decade ago.

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Using radio telemetry we tracked our Bobwhite quail affectionately named George who we collared several days prior.

The experience as a covey leader for the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade can’t really be explained in words. It was an experience that I will never be able to relive knowing what I know now. Yet I will always cherish and remember it whether I am given the opportunity to inspire more youth or am just walking around the Czech Out Ranch identifying plants crucial to quail livelihood. After all, because of Brigades camp I now can be found standing around outside eating Brasil berries or rattling off some facts about loafing cover to anyone within earshot.

I can’t get Chuck Norris out of my head or look at anyone from the Pearson family without genuinely smiling. All quail, until further notice shall be named George…because George lives on. I can’t talk to anyone named Jake without continuing the sentence in my head (from State Farm…). I am convinced everyone should have to “Hiney Write” as punishment for forgetting things. And if the game wardens from Live Oak county are reading this, mama told me to shoot the chicken. A few of my coworkers have seen me function on very little sleep  yet still choose to talk to me. Thank God.

Yes, I am now one of those annoying people who has “you just had to be at camp to get it” stories. Poor Adam.

As the sun rose on my last day in McCoy, Texas there was an eerie stillness. I am not sure if it is the physical stillness of the outdoors or the stillness in my soul. I paused and quietly shut my lodge room door so as not to wake the other adults. I snapped a photo of the Texas sunrise, exhausted yet somehow revitalized by the thought of the day ahead…and the nearby coffee pot. I had thought I was coming to camp to help change and inspire kids however, that day I marched and graduated from the 20th Battalion of the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade camp alongside my youth cadets and I too, was changed.

 

 

 

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For more information about Texas Brigades camps please visit www.texasbrigades.org 

https://www.texasbrigades.org/donate/

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