Texas Brigades is a team building and leadership camp started 26 years ago by Dr. Dale Rollins, Ph.D. a wildlife biologist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. The primary support is provided by a partnership of Texas Wildlife Association and Texas Parks & Wildlife. Rollins wanted to develop young leaders that would be educated and well-equipped spokesmen for wildlife conservation. These are five-day camps. Actually, ten-day camps rolled into five days. The scheduled activities run from 6 am until late into the evenings sometimes past midnight. The days a “packed” with college level wildlife curriculum……and some fun in between.
I have attended four of these Brigade camps, beginning with the Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade twice, once as a cadet then as an assistant leader, the Waterfowl Brigade, and now the Buckskin Brigade and all of them have given me a great wealth of knowledge of wildlife, and leadership skills. This summer I attended South Texas Buckskin Brigade Camp on the Welder Wildlife Foundation Ranch in Sinton, Texas. This is one of eight camps that are all under the Texas Brigades. There are two bobwhite camps, two buckskin, bass, waterfowl, coastal and ranch brigades. The Texas Brigades uses these eight camps which are scattered around the state to educate Texas teens about wildlife species in Texas, methods of conservation, ecology, leadership skills, how to speak in public, debate controversial topics, write newspaper and magazine articles, how to work on a tight schedule, and many more valuable life skills. But, more specifically, I’m going to give a personal account from the South Texas Buckskin Brigade.
The first day I got to the camp, I was very tired from our eight-hour drive from home in Glen Rose to Sinton. I was assigned to a herd, which is a group of five to six cadets, led by an “assistant herd leader” and a “herd leader”. We were given the name “Whitetail Wonders”. The assistant herd leaders have been to that Brigade camp the previous year and had to complete doing many different projects and presentations in order to go back to the camp. I acquainted myself with my other herd members, and herd leader. We are then given a "Silver Bullet" to memorize. It is a well-known quote that we are to ponder on what it is telling us. Mine was "If you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it" -by Anonymous. This tells me I need to have some goals, be they daily, weekly or for a lifetime.
First, on the agenda, we sat down for a deer anatomy lecture given to us by two local Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists. After two-plus hours, we ate dinner in the ranch’s cafeteria/outdoor rotunda. We settled in on the first night at probably eleven o’clock, which is fairly early for any Texas Brigades camp.
The second day came with lots of learning about the plant's deer eat, where they live geographically, what the best methods of conservation are, and other different topics of ecology. My fellow herd members were still pretty tight-lipped, but we were warming up to each other. The day slowly went on, and a good night's sleep seemed like such a distant, alien thought. The night finally came, but we studied deer habitat ‘till about ten-fifteen, then we were dismissed to our separate bunkhouses. Our herd now felt like a team. We spent some time play cards and visiting with each other before retiring for the night.
The third morning came, and so did an overnight thunderstorm. It was pouring outside, and there were two inches of running water outside the bunkhouse door. That didn't ruin all of the instructor’s plans to bombard us with myriads of information on deer habitat management, plant collection, conservation practices, and much more. We didn’t do much outside that day, but we studied non-stop and competed in trivia games to try and make the Top Herd prize. Top Herd would be awarded with a free hunt on the same ranch the camp was held at, and all of your herd members would be at the hunt. The day reached its end, and we were all talking and joking together now. We had some quiet ones in our group, but we managed to break through the ice. Dinner tasted great that night. It was still pouring down rain, and there was now about four inches of standing water everywhere we walked between the bunkhouses, the classroom, and the cafeteria. After another session of studying and deer trivia, we were dismissed to the bunkhouses. I think the only thing I had on my mind for the past day was sleep. I went to bed at around two-thirty that night.
It turns out this rainfall would be a record breaker for the region this time of year, as it continued.
The fourth morning came, and my herd members and I were encouraging each other that we had made it past the halfway point of camp without falling apart! After lunch, we competed in deer trivia, Boone and Crockett antler scoring, public speaking, antler rattling, marching, and plant identification for the Top Herd hunt. We made it to dinner time, and we were all so tired we could barely sit down and not doze off. We were then instructed after dinner how to make a tri-fold presentation. The instructors told us we would be competing individually, so we had to make them unique. We also had to get our tri-fold layouts checked by two instructors before we could start constructing them. I finished mine about an hour before the last person in my herd finished. The trifolds are used in a future presentation we will make after leaving camp. Our herd leader told us to go ahead and practice marching over to the bunkhouses, and study for the final deer trivia.
FYI, the marching is part of making us a team. That is if we “give up” our own stride and move in unison as a team. Daily we participated had many “team building” games. As well as shooting events.
The fifth morning came, and it had finally stopped raining, and we were instructed to start packing our belongings up in preparation for our parents to come to pick us up. We were given a South Texas Buckskin Brigade polo shirt and a nice hat. We took a group picture, and then we took pictures with our herd. A lot of exchanging contact information took place with making new friends. The final deer trivia was the hardest out of all of them. After that, we were allowed to take nice donated door prizes when they had given us the herd placings. Our assistant herd leader and herd leader were very proud of us. Even though our herd finished in third place, we were all very happy that we had made it through this camp! I have walked away from the South Texas Buckskin Brigade with much more knowledge of White-tailed deer than I had before, a good group of new friends, and very tired.
My goal is to be chosen for next year’s Bass Brigade Camp. You have to apply to attend these camps and write a couple of short essays and submit your overall grade average in school. To find out more about these camp go to www.texasbrigades.org
I am very thankful that I have been able to attend the South Texas Buckskin Brigade. My greatest thanks to the Texas Brigades program and the wonderful people leading these camps for making this happen!