On a frigid Saturday morning in January, at a park in Navarro Mills, Texas, the unthinkable happened. Seven teenagers sat in silence as they scanned the area around them for movement. Instead of staring at a screen, they quietly watched their breaths turn into clouds of steam and rise out of the hunting blind.
Suddenly, a single shot pierced the morning calm followed quickly by phones vibrating from blind to blind. The first of four deer had been harvested during a special youth hunt hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
USACE Ranger Casey Hackler worked with the leadership of Trail Life of Denton, Texas, to make this special hunt possible. Together they brought 13 young men together for a hunt that could happen only at a location like Wolf Creek Park at Navarro Mills Lake.
“Trying to get 10-15 boys on a hunting trip weekend is going to be next to impossible and frankly it’s just not going to happen, unless you know someone with an expanse of leased hunting grounds, this could never happen,” said Clint Webb, the troop master for Lifeline Church’s chapter of Trail Life. “It's just been awesome to be able to get this many boys out there in different shifts and different spots throughout the day. Just to give everybody that experience of getting up in a blind couldn’t happen anywhere else.”
Ranger Hackler became the hunting coordinator at Navarro Mills Lake last year. With close to 4,000 acres of wildlife management area open for public hunting, focusing on conservation and maintaining the health of the deer population are primary goals for her. While permits acquired to hunt during the general season meet the focus for most of the management area open for hunting, something had to be done for certain areas. That is where the idea for a special hunt was born.
“I had always been interested in hosting something like this to just help manage the less hunted populations of deer around the lake, particularly here in Wolf Creek Park,” Hackler said. “Because park is closed during the winter months, this is kind of an ideal location to host a special hunt. It also gives us opportunities to promote the image of USACE and build relationships with other organizations.”
Hackler obtained eight antlerless deer tags from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department through the Managed Lands Deer Program for two special hunts at Wolf Creek Park. Three of which were used for a hunt in December and the remaining five were made available to the hunters Trail Life brought out in January.
“For a lot of the boys this is their first experience to go out and attempt to harvest a deer,” said Matt Honea, who will be assuming the troop master role with Trail Life from Clint Webb. “We also have a lot of leaders here that haven't had the opportunity to learn how to hunt or go hunt either and they're getting that opportunity this weekend as well.”
Rather than having the hunt supervised by several USACE employees, there was another reason this hunt was special. The hunt in December and the Trail Life hunt in January were both organizationally led, meaning all the planning and execution of the hunts was done by the organizations themselves.
Hackler worked with both organizations as each created a solid hunt plan and ensured everyone was abiding by the USACE hazard analysis to mitigate as many risks as possible.
“I worked closely with both organizations to really plan out their own hunting times and work within our Corp of Engineers’ left and right limits,’ said Hackler. “I walked them through all the safety concerns and then let them know we're just here to help facilitate the hunt and we would be here in case they have questions.”
Overall, both hunts were completed without mishaps and set the standard for special hunts going forward at Navarro Mills Lake.
While not all the young men from Trail Life were able to harvest a deer, they did have a very special kind of hunt.
Editor’s Note: Navarro Mills Lake is part of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Three Rivers Region. While this is the first special hunt in more than eight years at Navarro Mills, the region has a robust special hunt program. Last year, across the region, there were seven special hunts at four lake projects serving sixty-seven hunters and harvesting ninety-five deer and four feral hogs. This year, there were eight special hunts at five lake projects serving seventy-one hunters and harvesting seventy-nine deer and seven feral hogs.