City Sees Future for Riverside Park Youth Hunting Program | Premium

When the first deer appeared in the temporary deer blind where 16-year-old Alyse Gonzales was sitting with her father and a volunteer hunting guide in Riverside Park, she knew she had to take it.

Alyse had hunted before, but she was still nervous in the cold morning air as she fired her first shot. Before the hunters’ first break at 9 a.m., Alyse had killed two does.

Alyse was one of six Victoria-area children to participate in the city’s first-ever Texas Youth Hunting Program, a program run by the Texas Wildlife Association and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“It’s really exciting and there’s a lot of pressure,” said Alyse. “There’s pressure because you’re tackling something that’s the first time they’re doing it in history, so it’s like we have to do it right and do everything right.”

The idea of ​​the historic hunt began almost five years ago, said Mayor Jeff Bauknight. At the time, he was a board member listening to a presentation about the deer population in Riverside Park. That’s when he asked, why can’t we hunt there?

It took nearly half a decade, but on December 10, most of the city’s largest parks closed for almost two days to allow the six chosen children to hunt deer and pigs.

Although no pigs were slaughtered, 18 goats and a billy goat were harvested over the weekend. Children learned from expert volunteers how to hunt, dress dead deer in the field, cook game, and other hunting, camping and wildlife skills and techniques.

“It’s not just about hunting and killing animals, it’s just about the whole experience of being in the wild,” said Kimberly Zygmant, deputy director of the Victoria Parks and Recreation Department.

The process of selecting those chosen to date priority children who had never hunted before, Zygmant said. Two of the kids from last weekend had never hunted before, while another had hunted but never killed a deer.

“The main objective was to give young people, who usually don’t have the opportunity, the chance to learn more about hunting and camping, the great outdoors and the conservationism that comes with it,” said Bauknight. . “And that coincides with the control of the deer population.”

Although beautiful, deer pose health risks, he said, mentioning chronic wasting and Lyme disease. Plus, due to the increasing deer population in Riverside Park, deer don’t always get the nutrition and food they need, said Trey Barron, wildlife diversity biologist at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“The first thing I noticed was that they are incredibly skinny compared to a lot of other deer slaughtered in this area,” Barron said of the four deer slaughtered on Saturday morning.

The ideal deer-to-acre ratio for a healthy herd is one deer for every 10 acres. According to estimates calculated from three surveys conducted in August, Riverside Park’s ratio is closer to one deer per 7.5 acres, said wildlife biologist Shannon Grubbs.

But the highlight for many program coordinators and participants was the camaraderie and moments spent together over the weekend.

“I strongly suggest that parents do this with their children. The one-on-one time you spend with your kids is amazing, ”said Charlie Gonzales, Alyse’s father.

Sharing the hunting experience with your child is really special, said Bauknight.

“More important to me than harvesting any animal is all the time you spend with your child or the companions you hunt with,” he said. “It’s one of the best times I’ve had. Not the real part of the hunt, but the camaraderie and camaraderie with the people you do it with.

Despite some concerns from residents about the safety of having a hunt in the park, Zygmant said she felt confident in the safety measures. The park gates were locked. Barricades were placed on the sidewalks and nearly 11,000 feet of warning tape was threaded through trees and other areas of the park where barricades could not be erected.

As an added safety measure, children were only allowed to load one shell at a time into their shotguns, she said, which was given to them by their guardian once they were determined that they had a safe, legal and ethical shot.

Zygmant said she hopes the program has a future at Riverside Park.

“I know there are people who don’t see this activity as worthwhile, and that’s great,” said Bauknight. “But I believe it. I believe it is important that we share this with the next generation, and as a city, I hope we can continue the program in the future.

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