The big woods of deep East Texas will come alive with youngsters of all ages later this month as Dale Bounds and Co. take to the sticks hoping to pass along on some important messages about wildlife conservation and ultimately gain a few new recruits to a sport as old as mankind.
Bounds is a veteran National Wild Turkey Federation volunteer from Lufkin. He has been working tirelessly for the sake of wildlife since the 1980s. Though he’s getting up in years, the word “burnout” doesn’t exist in the vocabulary of the retired U.S. Forest Service videographer.
At 76, Bounds is just as passionate about the outdoors today as he ever was. He never misses a spring turkey season. More importantly, he is always eager to give something back to help ensure that the hunting heritage continues to live on in future generations.
That is what the upcoming Texas State JAKES Conservation Day event is all about.
JAKES stands for Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship. It’s the buzz word for NWTF’s youth outreach program founded in 1981. The main emphasis of JAKES is informing, educating and involving youth in wildlife conservation and the wise stewardship of our natural resources.
Like Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Safari Club, the NWTF has dozens of local chapters all around the state. Not all of them host JAKES events. Bringing such a function together is a huge undertaking that demands significant planning and a tremendous volunteer effort.
The Texas State JAKES event has been held each fall since 1997. The year’s field day is set for 8 a.m to 1 p.m on Sept. 28 at the Winston Tree Farm at 7120 US 59S in Nacogdoches County. It is open to all youngsters ages 6-17. The cost is $10, which also includes a one-year JAKES membership and subscription to JAKES Country magazine, a commemorative T-Shirt and a hotdog lunch.
The NWTF Pineywoods and April AWOL chapter volunteers will host the 22nd annual event with additional support from the U.S. Forest Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, forestry and wildlife students from Stephen F. Austin State University and local 4-H clubs.
Bounds has been involved the Texas State JAKES day since its inception. He says program has provided a solid platform for introducing thousands of youths from all around Texas to hunting, shooting and conservation while educating them about the vital roles that hunting plays in wildlife management all across North America.
“The way I look at it is we’re planting seeds in young minds,” said Bounds. “Not all of the kids who attend our JAKES event will go on to become hunters, but some of them will. And those who don’t will at least walk away with a better understanding of how conservation and hunting are linked together.”
Bounds added that wildlife in North America would not be where it is at today without hunting.
“Hunters purchase licenses and they spend a lot of other money to help fund conservation programs that are beneficial to wildlife of all kinds,” he said. “Wildlife would suffer without that funding. There are a lot people who don’t understand that — adults and youths, as well.”
A field day worth taking in
A day in the life of a JAKES participant is just as entertaining as it is busy.
Think of it like a mini boot camp with an emphasis on developing outdoors skills rather than doing military drills. It’s a golden opportunity for parents or mentors to expose children to the outdoors in an educational environment that’s well organized, safe and geared towards fun.
It’s not an exercise in babysitting, though. Bounds says parents and guardians are encouraged stay with their kids throughout the event.
“The parents might learn something, too,” he said.
The Texas State JAKES program is built around a series of different stations where kids can learn to safely handle firearms and archery gear while acquiring some valuable knowledge about wildlife management, hunting, game laws, ethics and much more.
Youths are rotated through the stations in small groups. This affords supervising instructors the opportunity to provide some one-on-one attention when needed.
Bounds said year’s event will feature nearly a dozen different stations including the “JAKES Take Aim” Daisy air rifle station and the TPWD game warden “Wall of Shame” display of poached animals seized by state wardens over the years. There also will be a station operated by U.S Forest Service firefighters and others dedicated to archery, turkey calliing, wildlife/forestry management, wildlife telemetry and trap/target shooting with shotguns and rifles.
“We give youths the chance to participate in different outdoors activities and learn about all sorts of wildlife management techniques that are frequently used in managing deer, turkey, quail and other wildlife,” Bounds said. “These are great opportunities that some kids might not get otherwise, especially those who live in a big city and don’t have anyone to introduce them to the outdoors.”
Childhood experiences — good and bad — have a peculiar way of shaping the personality, character and interests that youngsters develop later on in life. Those experiences also can help mold career goals and work ethics.
According to Bounds, several JAKES participants have gone on to achieve professional careers in wildlife management, as wildlife biologists or in other related fields.
One success story still unfolding belongs to Weston Reynolds of Lufkin.
Reynolds attended his first Texas State JAKES event more than 10 years ago. He went on to join the local 4-H archery team that oversees the archery shooting station at the state field day each year.
Reynolds is obviously a pretty smart kid. He recently graduated as 2019 valedictorian from Huntington High School. He is attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock this fall, where he is pursuing a degree in agricultural communications.
Reynolds will be getting some financial help along the way from the $12,500 in NWTF scholarship money he earned for his academic achievements and superior leadership skills. Reynolds says he plans to use his degree as a springboard to get involved in government affairs.
“I primarily aspire to advocate for advancements in the agricultural industry, but also plan to promote a healthier environment for wildlife and the protection of our ecosystems,” he said.
Reynolds isn’t the first JAKES junkie to make big plans for his future. Chances are he won’t be last, either.
If you’re up for weekend road trip, this one is well worth the journey.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. His column runs each Sunday. Matt can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.