Ask any veteran deer hunter if they can remember their first hunt and I’m sure it brings back many fond memories. They will remember who they were with, the weather, the anticipation, the excitement of spotting a deer, the joy and relief of a successful shot, or the dismay of an opportunity missed. The memories can keep coming, often merging with other hunts through the years. It’s something that those of us who live in the Texas hill country often take for granted. Operation Orphans, Inc. has found a way to offer an outdoor experience to those who may otherwise never have the opportunity.
Operation Orphans, Inc., based at Camp Gene Ashby, in Mason County along the Llano River, has taken kids who are wards of the State hunting since 1960. Over 18,000 boys and girls who live in child residential and foster homes have participated. The Operation Orphans, Inc. program is offered free of charge to the participating children. The groups come to Camp Gene Ashby on designated dates and hunt on area ranches. The ranches use this program as a way to harvest excess animals, usually whitetail does. They also do a great service of assisting in educating these underprivileged youngsters on the joys and responsibilities of hunting. The children homes use the meat in their facilities or in their outreach programs. Each child will have at least one guide who will spend the day with them.
During the Girl’s Hunt, each girl will have a woman or a man and woman team to serve as guides. Individuals who volunteer as guides will have successfully completed the Hunter Safety Course and will have been subject to a background check.
Dates selected for the 2018-2019 season are October 27, Girl’s Hunt; November 17, Boy’s Hunt; December 1, Boy’s Hunt; and January 12, Boy’s Hunt.
This all began when a local Texas game warden, Gene Ashby, saw the need to do something to address the overpopulation of deer in the area. Left unchecked, many of the animals would starve and suffer. It was also known at the time that many orphan homes and child residential facilities were struggling financially. By offering those youngsters an opportunity to hunt and harvest deer, the facilities would benefit from the meat obtained, thus lowering their food costs. It would also offer these kids who often felt unwanted or who had suffered so much a chance to enjoy the outdoors. Local individuals joined the cause and ranches opened their places for the kids to come and harvest antlerless deer. Operation Orphans, Inc. became a reality.
In the beginning groups met on the town square in Mason, hunted in the area and then went home after the hunt. Seeing a need for a place to house and feed the groups, land was obtained and dormitories and other buildings were constructed. Camp Gene Ashby became the headquarters for Operation Orphans.
Today Camp Gene Ashby can house and feed over 250 people. In 1994 an orientation/recreation building, The Milton & Janie Jordan Building, was constructed. It includes a clothing room which allows the kids to obtain new and gently used items they may need for the hunt or for school. None of this would have happened without the many caring individuals and groups who have donated time, money and talents toward this endeavor throughout the years.
This year will be the 59th year of the “Take a Child Hunting” program. At the present time, Operation Orphans, Inc. is looking for ranches who would like to host children. Without the participation of area landowners and lease hunters, this program could not continue. Operation Orphans, Inc. can provide the children, guides, and food for the activity. Some landowners only offer their ranch to hunt, while others guide or prepare lunch for the attending groups. Most ranches allow doe hunting only, while others may allow the harvest of spikes or management bucks. Feral hogs may be also harvested.
Each landowner specifies what animals are allowed to be harvested. While hunting may be the planned activity, it is not the main objective. The goal is to get these kids in the outdoors with folks who care about them. Harvesting a deer is merely a bonus.
When Operation Orphans, started in 1960, only boys participated. In 1980 a girl’s hunt was added. In 2004, boys and girls fishing days were begun. Just as with the hunting, the youngsters fish on area ranches in ponds, tanks and rivers. The fishing is catch and release unless the landowner states otherwise. To date, over 1,000 boys and girls have enjoyed the “Take a Child Fishing” activities.
To further assist children who have participated with Operation Orphans, Inc., the Eddie Argo Scholarship was established. Eddie had attended the “Take a Child Hunting” program as a youngster in a home and later became a volunteer and director of Operation Orphans, Inc. He passed away in 2008 but his memory lives on. Kids who have participated in the hunting or fishing program are able to apply to receive financial assistance with their education.
Operation Orphans, Inc. is a non-profit organization made up of a board of directors whose sole purpose is to serve less fortunate youngsters by offering them a positive outdoor experience. Additional information, videos and sign up forms may be found on the Operation Orphans, Inc. website: www.operationorphans.org. Feel free to contact camp supervisors, Lyla or Jerry Crouch, phone: 325.347.6745 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact Lyla if you wish to donate used coats, boots or hunting clothing.