If you have ever driven to Speegleville Park, in Waco, Texas, you may have spotted several white-tail deer or an occasional bold buck. While the large number of deer frolicking through the area are beautiful to see, it can be an indication of overpopulation or exceeding the carrying capacity of deer.
“The carrying capacity can be described as the maximum deer population based on available resources such as land, natural food and water sources,” said Waco Lake Manager, Michael Champagne.
To maintain a healthy balance between stewardship of land and animal conservation, the Fort Worth District Park Rangers assigned to Waco Lake, partner with Texas Parks and Wildlife Division (TPWD) to host two to three hunts, annually. One hunt that has gained much recent popularity is a three-day workshop for women, by women called Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) hunt, recently held Dec. 2 to Dec. 4, 2022.
“It seems intimidating at first to go from getting fitted for a shotgun, firearm practice, official hunting times to fully processing a deer, but understanding it is a mentored hunt where you are paired with an experienced hunter throughout the entire weekend, makes the process enjoyable,” said, hunt participant and TPWD Communications Division Director, Mischelle Diaz.
Champagne, along with Park Rangers Taylor Christian, Matthew Dutton, Matthew Hackler, and Cara Niemietz, provided host support while working hand-in-hand with local Game Wardens and TPWD coordinators, Monica Bickerstaff and Cheryl LeJune, to ensure a safe, successful, and smooth event for all participants.
“Seeing the support between the Park Rangers, TPWD coordinators, and Game Wardens reinforces the meaning of agency partnership and building public trust,” said Champagne.
One participant said, “The BOW hunt is very organized with food, setup, welcoming, and it was a new experience for me being able to hunt on public land, and hunt with people other than my dad, and family and learn something new!”
Although the BOW hunt focuses on women, this weekend was more of a family affair with moms and wives bringing their daughters, sons, and significant others to watch and probably marvel at how well they handled themselves during the hunt.
Experience levels of participants ranged from first timers to hunting all their life. Park rangers and BOW hunt coordinators took these factors into consideration when pairing participants with a mentor and explaining the hunting process.
“This is one of my favorite hunts to work. It’s amazing to see the camaraderie and how the coordinators continue to add different elements, like the onsite chef, to the event,” said Christian.
“No two days are alike. We get all kinds of requests that you wouldn’t typically think a park ranger does, but we do it all. The BOW hunt is a favorite because they go above and beyond to take care of all the participants,” Dutton stated.
“I felt very prepared by the two BOW workshops, Firearms Safety and Intro to Firearms training. I knew I’d be in great hands with Monica and Cheryl,” said hunt participant, Meg Botteon. “I didn’t know what to expect but was hopeful I’d be able to take a deer and make a clean kill, and now after having the experience would like to do more.”
“The commitment to sustainable, ethical, and careful wildlife practice is astonishing. I have met the most diverse, compassionate, smart, engaging women during this program. I’m blessed to have found this program and now I have so many friends. I’ve learned to camp, fish, forage,” said Meg.
“Our parks are an amazing resource for recreation, getting outdoors, and wildlife management, which includes dealing with anything from drought and hazardous trees to water safety and visitor assistance. It’s a lot of work but being able to ensure the safety of our visitors while they are learning to hunt and helping them understand resource management and environmental stewardship means we are doing our job properly, said Hackler.
“This is one of the most effective and ethical ways to control the population for the deer that live here. This area is not open to public hunting, which makes these special hunts crucial for herd management,” said Niemietz.
With another safe and successful hunt in the books, the weekend’s theme was labeled ‘camaraderie and waiting games, over many cups of cowboy coffee’ by rangers and participants.
The BOW hunt concluded with participants ethically and humanely harvesting a total of nine deer. Ultimately, participants walked away with a newfound sense on the importance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District’s mission, the necessity of park rangers, and the confidence to take on the world; or at least a deer.