Son of a Blitch

Ep. 44 - Justin Driebelbis: CEO of Texas Wildlife Association

November 28, 2023 George Blitch Season 1 Episode 44
Son of a Blitch
Ep. 44 - Justin Driebelbis: CEO of Texas Wildlife Association
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Feel the thrill of the hunt as we navigate the wild terrain of the Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) in an invigorating conversation with its charismatic CEO, Justin Dreibelbis. From navigating the legislative challenges facing landowners to sharing the adrenaline-pumping experiences of preparing for the hunting season, Justin leaves no stone unturned in this comprehensive discussion. Tune in if you're as passionate as we are about connecting with the land, conserving our natural resources, and carrying forward our wildlife heritage.

From the grasslands of the Rio Grande Valley to the TWA headquarters, Justin's journey is as rich as the Texan landscape itself. He's a man driven by reverence for the land, the call of the wild, and the pursuit of game - be it whitetail, hog, or the elusive Nilgai.

With Justin at the helm, TWA has grown into a formidable organization that champions the rights of landowners, tackles issues like wildlife disease and energy infrastructure, and educates Texans about the art and science of conservation.

But our conversation goes beyond policy and conservation. In the heart of it all, is the thrill of the hunt - that primal connection between man and nature. Justin shares his exciting turkey hunting experiences, the joy of preparing his favorite game for his family, and the delight in being part of the TWA’s Hunting Heritage Programs and Big Game Awards.

You’ll also hear about TWA’s education initiatives, the importance of firearm proficiency, and get a taste of Justin's infectious enthusiasm for the organization's future. It’s an episode that promises a gripping journey into the wild. Tune in and become a part of TWA’s mission to celebrate and protect our wildlife heritage.

Join TWA today and learn more about their organization at:
www.Texas-Wildlife.org
IG: "TexasWildlifeAssociation"

To learn more about George Blitch, visit:
SonofaBlitch.com
 youtube.com/@sonofablitch 
IG: "TheSonofaBlitch"
FB: "GeorgeBlitch

Speaker 1:

Hello everybody and welcome back to the Son of a Blitz podcast. I'm your host, george Blitz. Today I got to sit down and chat with Justin Dribblis. For those who are unaware, he is the Chief Executive Officer with the Texas Wildlife Association, twa. It represents the interests of the private landowners and hunters, provides conservation education, works with youth and adult hunting all around the state. They're involved in so many different things. We kind of talked about it kind of being a three-legged stool where there's you know, you have the legislative, you know connection there to where they are working alongside Texas legislators to make sure we're ensuring our way of life as far as hunters and wildlife advocates and as far as the other leg would be maybe that Texas Heritage Program where you've got Texas youth hunts, you've got adult hunts first time, a lot of connection there with the Texas Parks and Wildlife and then the Third Avenue being that educational conservation approach too. So we kind of covered that as well. As you know his involvement in working with TWA, jumping over to Texas Parks and Wildlife, coming back to TWA and being a you know his role as the CEO now and talk about the organization, how you can get involved, you know. For those who have not yet done so. I definitely encourage you guys to go over to texas-wildlifeorg and make sure that you are joining in whatever capacity. You can have a digital membership at $35. You can go up to a lifetime membership ranch. There's different levels that you can do, some that give you the voting abilities within the board of TWA as well. You know there's so many important things that TWA is doing for our way of life. I know it's been a model for other states as well and I'm just really excited that you guys get a chance to learn more about that and Justin's role. We also do talk about wild game and cooking as well, because I mean, it's hunting season. You kind of got to do a little bit of that, right, but we had a blast. He's just a wonderful gentleman, a family man, and you know he is someone who really cares deeply for our state, our wildlife, our habitats, and you know we're blessed to have him be a part of this organization and looking out for all of us fellow Texans here. So, without further ado, here is the podcast Justin Dribblebis with the Texas Wildlife Association. Y'all enjoy. Hey, justin, how are you doing today, man?

Speaker 2:

Hey, I'm good.

Speaker 1:

George, good to see you. Thanks for having me you as well, man, it's a pleasure. Hey, I know we've got a lot to talk about today. I'm going to talk about your role at Texas Wildlife Association and kind of how you got to that work in Texas Parks and Wildlife as well, and you know your whole history in the outdoor space and really being a leader here in Texas. But I figured we got to start with the Genesis. Let's talk about where you were born and raised, how you kind of got introduced to. You know your love of the outdoors, wildlife, hunting and fishing. You know who are some of your mentors that kind of brought you into that space. And let's just kind of start there and we'll kind of thread our way through your history there.

Speaker 2:

You bet. Well, I was born in the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen. That's where the my parents are from and most of my family lives ended up growing up in Conroe and it my father was a big hunter always made it a big priority to take me and my brothers out in the field and just really appreciate him doing that. He came, his father was a big hunter, my mom's dad was a big hunter, got four uncles that are big hunters and they always made it a priority to include us and they always had a good place to go hunting in South Texas, which I kind of grew up a little spoiled, had a lot of good opportunities and, I'm sure, appreciative of it. But yeah, I just think that probably, you know it definitely shaped my professional path and I still got a great relationship with dad, uncles, one grandfather that's still with us and I think I have a lot of that to have some really special opportunities in the field to spend time with multiple generations of family members.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely, and I mean South Texas is such a rich environment, like you said, it's easy to get spoiled there. I grew up hunting around Dimmitt County and I know the McAllen area. My grandfather was a. He was a mayor over Mercedes and so that whole area we knew that area well, but yeah, there's a lot of riches. What kind of stuff were you guys manly hunting back in those days?

Speaker 2:

Mostly whitetail. You know, looking back on it, we hunted on some places that were pretty awesome turkey habitat and we just never really spent a whole lot of time paying attention to turkeys. And now, later in life, I'm like man, we missed a great opportunity. They're flail too. It was always, you know, it was always deer for us, deer and hog usually. But yeah, that's, that was, that was primarily what we looked for. And you know, these days I spend more time hunting with one uncle hunting for Neil Guy. I'm lucky to be able to kind of invite myself down there for a Neil Guy cow, hopefully once a year, to keep the freezer full, and that's always one of my favorite kinds of hunting. I just I find that animal fascinating and they're delicious and really fun to hunt, and so it's kind of a perfect combo in my mind.

Speaker 1:

What are you using to hunt those?

Speaker 2:

300 windbag is what usually shoot. It seems to perform really well when, when you make a decent shot. But yeah, I just, I love Neil Guy. I think it's a blast.

Speaker 1:

Oh man, I haven't gone yet, but I've had the meat and I've gone over to our friend Jesse's restaurant, had some there and it's just amazing. So it's, it's definitely on the list. You know we'll jump in real quick because this is something too that I just saw you have a post. You know we're talking about kind of. You know past generations teaching you to hunt and guide you in, and now here you are. You know, leading hunts with your, your kiddo and your, your one of your daughters just got her first big game animal recently, right, let's talk about that for a second.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it was pretty awesome. So so I've got an eight year old daughter and six year old daughter and the eight year old has been showing some interest and doing a little hunting on the family property and and so I took her up on it and worked with some some friends of mine at Archery country there in Austin and loaned her a crossbow to try out and she really enjoyed shooting it, shot it really well, and so this last weekend we were able to put her on hog and she made a great shot and just went through the whole process with, you know, helping process the animal. We ate pulled pork on Saturday and Sunday evenings and then, you know, we got back to Austin on Sunday we passed out meat to neighbors and a couple of family members and she just ended the whole process. So I'm really excited that that she had such a good first experience and that I was able to share that with her, because it's a big part of my life and so it was neat to be able to share that with her.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, man, I mean I'm sure that that was such a profound thing as a father, and I mean I know, with with TWA you're helping with youth hunts. But you know, here you are your own child and being able to do with a crossbow, no less, for your first, like that's pretty remarkable too, man, congrats yeah.

Speaker 2:

I mean, she made a better shot than I probably could have now. Now I do have to say in all fairness, she missed her first shot and the way that she recovered from that was pretty awesome. You know, she thought about it for a second. She's like hey Dad, let's load another arrow and see if they come back.

Speaker 1:

You know, that's huge.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it was cool. She didn't make a big deal about it and then the second time she really settled in just made a great shot and, you know, brailed the pig and found it and she's very excited. The whole deal is great.

Speaker 1:

That's great. Well, congratulations to her and congratulations to you. I'm sure that was it Quite a moment, you know. Thanks, yeah, as well. So let's kind of get back here on track on your career trajectory. So you kind of have this love for the wildlife, the outdoors, and then, you know, let's kind of guide you through, because I know eventually you were doing some work with TWA right out of college. You know you went to A&M and you studied some. You know, I guess you got your undergraduate and your master's there as well. Correct, that's correct.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

What was your trajectory there? What were you studying? What was it that you were hoping to do at the time? And kind of, did that change. Did you have that laser focus the whole way through?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So my, it's kind of interesting. My dad's a banker, he's an ag teacher turn banker, and he told me, you know, when I was kind of in that in that phase, trying to side around to do it in my life, and he's like man, make sure that you do something that you're going to like going to work every day. And yet at the time I think he maybe wouldn't feel like banking was that for him. But later in life it's been really happy that he went down the road he did. And so you know, I really paid a lot of attention to that advice and thought about, you know, what makes me happiest, and it's being outdoors, it's hunting, angling, you know, sharing that with people. And so that's ultimately kind of the path that I went. So I went to A&M after a very short stint as a junior college baseball player and realized nobody was ever going to pay me to pitch and so I was like I better get the A&M as quick as I can. And so I got there, went into the wildlife, the wildlife and fisheries program and you know, got kind of mixed messages on what it looked like to be a wildlife professional and ended up transferring out and got a degree in ag development and with a wildlife emphasis and was able to do an internship there for an outfitter and where I was able to do some real wildlife biology work but also prepare ranches and kind of see the hospitality side of things and then actually guide hunts to, and just after putting all that together I thought, man, this is what, this is what I want to do, something in this field. And so then I realized you got to go back and kind of beef up on the wildlife stuff too. So I went back and got my master's at A&M and really just met some great people worked on the Rio Grande Turkey project there at A&M and so I spent the summers tracking turkeys around the hill country in a handful of places studying nesting ecology. A lot of the work we did is we would mark birds, find their nests, put cameras on their nests, identify nest predators, but the ultimate goal really trying to figure out why there was a population dip in that part of the hill country Found out there's just really, really hard to be a turkey hen. That's a tough road. I learned a ton that's some really interesting people and fell in with some of the Texas Wildlife Association crowd through the grad school work through some volunteering at the Texas Brigades and attending some TWA events, what I think. I defended my thesis on a Thursday and started working for TWA on Monday. It's been a great organization I've been a member of for a long time and just invested in emotionally for a long time, believing the mission. We really need to be able to go to work for them. I started working in the education program but on landowner field days curating lists of wildlife experts to talk to landowners about new research and techniques to have all the resources they need to make the best decisions on their property. It was neat and moved my way around in TWA and learned several different parts of the organization. I think my first been here at TWA was about seven years before I went over to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department private lands public hunting program. I was there for about seven years and then been back at TWA here for two years. It's been a nice progression and really enjoyed my time at TWA, enjoyed my time at Parks and Wildlife. I'm glad to be back at TWA. It's a good place to be and I think we're headed in a good direction.

Speaker 1:

Now you don't have a departure in five more years, You're not doing this 777 thing, right?

Speaker 2:

It's not intentional. I have no plans to go anywhere anytime soon, until they kick me out. We'll see how that goes.

Speaker 1:

Hopefully you're there for quite a long time. I know you're doing great work. I know everyone has had positive things to say about you being back on board. Before we go get too far into this, let's lay the background. I think it was in 85 that TWA was formed, Larry and there's a bunch of different folks who came in. But let's talk about the goal and when it was first formed and what it is today. If you find that there's any difference from where it first formed, so that people can get an idea before we dive into the next level of it- yeah, twa started in 1985.

Speaker 2:

Larry Wyson, who's a pretty recognizable character in the outdoor hunting wildlife management world, was one of the three co-founders. Murphy Ray and Gary Machen were the other two Murphy, former Parks and Wildlife biologist Gary Landowner there in the Medina County area. And at the time they got together because they felt like there was some potential government overreach that was happening and they felt like there were some rules that were going to be put in place that wouldn't be beneficial for landowners. And so they got together, went through the right processes, were able to go state their case to the policymakers at the time and were able to talk them into changing direction. And so, once they figured that out, they're like damn landowners, specifically wildlife managers, really need to have a seat at the table and they need to have really good representation from folks that understand their needs, and we ought to formalize this process, and that's what they did. And here we are, 38 years later with the same mission of representing private land stewards, keeping families on the land, making sure that they have a seat at the table on these big ticket wildlife management and natural resource issues that affect it. And so that's what we're trying to do, and it started out making sure that those land managers had good representation in state government processes at the state legislature, at Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, at Animal Health Commission, started out from a representation standpoint and it's grown into kind of a more proactive process where we have we're trying to educate landowners, non-landowners, and really try to connect Texans to the land and make sure that, as part of that connection to the land, they understand the very important role that private landowners play in the health and abundance of our natural resources. And so we feel like that's a really important connection for Texans to make and, with our just booming population and just a growing disconnect from the land, there's never been a more important time to make that connection. So that's what we're trying to do every day.

Speaker 1:

Great points there, man, and I think that is something that it seems like then it was important. Now it seems like more important than ever. I know we talked about before like the idea how many 30 million Texans plus and probably going to be doubling, I think, in 10 years. I think there was a stat that you were talking about before last year and one of your interviews where you saying, like we're losing 640 acres a section a day and I don't even know if it's gone up or down since then, but just like the idea of that number and the overall view of hunting in wildlife. And obviously, for those who didn't know, but Texas is, it's not like a lot of other states. We are primarily private landowners right here, and so it's important that we have these kinds of initiatives, education and ongoing support and I know we can kind of get into that as well too. It's like you guys have legislative connections, you have a Texas PAC at the state level that you guys are helping to make sure that, as private landowners, that we are all protected and that this way of life is something that we'll be able to be passed down through future generations without having kind of a bottleneck and having this be something that we have to worry about, and I mean, it is something we have to take into account and maybe, if you can kind of talk about that, and maybe how you guys are working with other legislators and making sure that you're presenting this information to where we can be able to keep this way of life that we've known for so long.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's an important part of what we do. You know, just describing the organization, it's a three-legged stool. We have our advocacy program that you're describing right now. We have our conservation legacy program, which is our natural resource education, and then we have our hunting heritage programs, which we'll definitely talk about in a few minutes, but the advocacy portion is kind of where it started, and it's something that's still extremely important to our membership and one that we take very seriously. We have an active presence in Austin at state legislature, in the state regulatory processes with Parks and Wildlife and Animal Health Commission that are referenced a minute ago, and so, yeah, we have a very active presence there. It's one that we're constantly trying to make sure that we have strong representation for our membership and keeping an eye out to make sure that good legislation is coming in, that legislation is getting stopped and, ultimately, we're trying to make sure that we keep families on the land and we do things that are good for landowners, because I mean this booming population, they're not making any more land and it's just crucially important to the health of our natural resources, and the more that our state legislators can understand that and make good decisions with that in mind, the better we're all off. So that's really what we try to do.

Speaker 1:

Before we get on to the next leg of the stool there. I just wanted to kind of ask some questions as far as what are some of the things that you're seeing current, if you can talk about them, that are things that you guys are addressing. I mean, I know there's water rights there's so many different things that may be applicable here, but what is there? Some things here that, as listeners and fellow Texans may know, that you guys are working with and for, and what are some topics that are on the discussion plate right now?

Speaker 2:

You bet. So you know a handful of things that I think rise to the top. One is just with this growing population there is obviously a lot of development, urban sprawl going on. A landowner should be able to do what they want to on their land. We're a big private property rights organization but at the end of the day we've got to value that open space and helping helping find incentives for landowners doing the right thing and finding new revenue streams stay on their property is a good thing. We're constantly paying attention to our favorable tax laws here in Texas for private landowners, making sure that they keep that. You know Texas Wildlife Association was one of the driving forces behind Prop 11. Back in I believe it was 1995, they put in place the wildlife tax valuation. It's something we're extremely proud of and very protective of, and so basically that allows a private landowner to manage for wildlife as another form of ag and so they can get the valuation on their property where they're still paying taxes, but they're paying at a lower rate. They're paying at the production value of that property rather than the market value, creating an incentive to participate in ag operations, to participate in wildlife management operations, and that's doing good things for the public in general as well, and with a much lower cost to the public than what it would to provide city services and those kind of things. So you know fighting for favorable tax situation for private landowners. Along with that growing population comes growing energy infrastructure development. None of us should have our head in the sand and think that there's not going to be further energy infrastructure development and that we're not going to need that. With more and more people coming to Texas, eminent domain is a necessary evil and we'll readily admit that, and so the tool is in place for a reason. However, when it's used, a private landowner should be treated fairly in the process and they should be treated as a partner in the process, and not taking advantage of, and so that's something that Texas Wildlife has worked very closely on with some of our friends like the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Razors Association, to make sure that we have, in a domain, reform to where landowners are treated fairly in the process, made some progress two sessions ago Probably not where it needs to be ultimately, but made some progress and something that's constantly on our it's on our radar constantly. You know, one of the things that is not necessarily fun to talk about, but TWA has taken the chronic wasting disease issue seriously From a wildlife disease standpoint. You know there's a recent study that from Texas A&M that says that our whitetail deer hunting industry here in Texas, just direct expenditures from landowners and hunters and hunters, is somewhere around $4.3 billion a year. That's substantial. It thrives our rural economies I think about towns like Lano, gulfway or you name it. There's hundreds of those small Texas towns that depend on deer hunters and so, with CWD being our reportable disease, it's something that we take seriously and something that we are supportive of, parks and Wildlife having pretty strict rules on the movement of deer. There's a November rule package that should be available for public comment here at the end of this week. It includes some carcass disposal rules, a number of different things that basically just kind of beef up our CWD management efforts and make sure that we're doing everything we can to be careful about it. I don't think it's something that we certainly don't want to scare hunters, but at the same time, we want people to pay attention to it and do their part to make sure we're not spreading it, and so that's one that we spent a lot of time talking about whether we're more or not? but I think it's important to pay attention to.

Speaker 1:

Oh it is. I mean I talked to Doug Durin and he's kind of a residential expert on CWD in his area and we kind of talked about how some people didn't take it seriously and then all of a sudden it was like it was just dramatic, devastating change in his community in the Driflus area, and we've talked about different people that we've known along the way who didn't have it. Then all of a sudden had it, and it's something I think we need to be proactive as Texans and making sure that we're doing all the things in, like you know, tech sparks in wildlife, having check-in stations, different stuff in the areas that may be kind of not necessarily hot areas then, but at least maybe they're lukewarm in that area, that like, hey, we need to check to make sure we can get on top of this if this disease is moving about this area, and so it's preventative measures, it's preventative education, it's proactive and it's hopefully something that we're not dealing with on the other side of that spectrum later on. So I think it is important and, like you said, it's not fun to talk about. It's something that most people kind of don't wanna address. They don't wanna have that fear or some people think maybe, oh, it's just all talk, it's another overreach or some regulation thing. It's like no, it's something that's happening across the country and we need to be aware of it and be proactive. I think so.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I'm right there with you, so that's one of the examples of something that we spent time talking about.

Speaker 1:

Well, let's move the bench around or the stool here, if we will, and let's talk about the hunting heritage program. You got Texas Youth and Adult Hunts, texas Big Game Awards, kind of. Let's throw the spotlight on those if you can maybe give us a little introduction into the hunting heritage programs there.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So again, keeping families on the land, keeping families in the field, keeping the hunter, keeping the hunting economy strong, all those things have gone into creating some of these hunting heritage programs. And so we talked about wanting to make that connection, help Texans connect with the land. I mean, what better way to help a Texan connect with the land and actually having an opportunity to go out on well-managed private land and hunt with their family? And so that's ultimately where this whole idea for the Texas Youth Hunting Program came. Started in 1996 as a partnership between Texas Wildlife Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, it's been going strong ever since then, started out small and then it's grown to this. Last year we had 225 hunts on private land around the state, so I think 1,300 kids plus their parents. So it's just grown into this monster and it's awesome. It doesn't happen without this army of trained, passionate volunteers that give up their time every weekend during hunting season to take kids hunting that they don't know they're not their kids, but they still do it. It takes an army of generous landowners that are willing to open their gates because they think it's important and the department supports it. We work hard on it. It's just a really cool program, that it's been going strong for a long time and something we fully intend to keep pressing the gas on.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, well, I was kind of curious with that with Texas Parks and Wildlife real quick, when obviously we have hunter education. You know, I'm friends with Steve Hall who's the coordinator over there at Texas Parks and Wildlife and I was curious do you guys have a hunter education component before the hunt? Or is it something that, like, you guys go ahead and get taken care of beforehand and then you come up and do this? Or is it something that you guys have an inclusion, you know, with the two programs there?

Speaker 2:

So there's a pretty strong connection between the two programs and we talk to Steve a lot so we work very closely. He sits on our TYHP advisory committee and we just regular communication. Just a fantastic partnership, basically. I believe it's nine to 17 is the age window there for a TYHP hunter. They're able to go on our website, apply for hunts free of charge, but to participate in a hunt they have to have hunter education and they have to have firearm proficiency. So they essentially show up to a hunt with a target with multiple shots close to where they need to be, and we can work from there. Then there's every one of these hunts has a very strong hunter ed component to it. So there's a big educational process. They're gonna be doing skills trails, those kind of things, along with field dressing, game care, you know, safe firearm handling, all those things Right. So it's really it's a great opportunity to reinforce some of those hunter ed lessons during the weekend.

Speaker 1:

Well, and you guys are doing this from youth and then you also have the adult hunts. So are these happening concurrently on the same properties? Or are these kind of different weekends, different places and different mentors, or maybe the same mentors that are doubling up? But how does that look like?

Speaker 2:

Well, it's a pretty. It's a pretty separate process. So you know, we've been doing these. We've been doing these TYHP hunts for years and we just have been seeing a growing demand for an adult version of it. And so and I saw the same thing when I was at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department I worked closely with my friends here at TWA on really trying to kind of build that. So we had some hunts on state parks. They were starting to kind of build a model here at TWA and it was growing in popularity. They were kind of passing it out you know other duties as assigned to staff members here, and they were doing a great job. But we knew it wasn't ever gonna really take off until we had somebody that was just waking up every day thinking about how to do it. And so we hired Matt Hughes last year. He could be our full-time coordinator and Matt had already been working on adult learn to hunt activities with the Parks and Wildlife Foundation before he came over here and he and I had worked together and so he hit the ground running fast and so we had been doing we've been doing somewhere between five and 10 hunts in the past. When Matt came in first year I think he did 18 to 20 hunts his first year started building a kind of stable of mentors and then, when he posted the hunts this year after a very successful season last year, taking a hundred first-time adult hunters on hunts all around the state, you know, at the first week he had a I think he had 150 spots, something like that for the season and he had 300 and something people apply for the first week. It's just this huge. It's just huge demand for it and it's something guys like you and me take for granted. But you think about it. Somebody who just didn't grow up hunting and there's more and more people that fall in that category it's an intimidating thing to get into, first of all planning a place to go, but then, once you go, having somebody to kind of walk you through how to get started, some people are intimidated by the actual hunting part. I would say even more people are intimidated about what happens after you pull the trigger. And so that is really a big part of this adult learned to hunt program is the food component, game care, field dressing, butchering, all those kinds of things, and so that's what we're finding is driving a lot of this interest as people, a lot of young adults that are really interested in where their food comes from, and then they want that connection with the land and this is a great way to do both, and so, anyways, we're extremely excited about it, got lots of parks and wildlife is partnering with us on it too, and then we just got lots of friends and partners and brands that are getting behind it and it's just an exciting thing for TWA to be working on, and we think it's the right thing to do because, you think about it, tyhp has been rocking along for a long time and it's great. We have no intention of doing anything different, but when the TYHP kid gets done with that youth hunt, they've got to depend on their parent to keep them engaged, keep them participating. Where this adult is coming on this hunt because they want to, they're buying their license themselves, they're buying equipment, they're participating in the process right away, and then they're gonna go home and if they're into it, they're gonna get their family going, and so it's just a. It's a different approach and we found that it's very effective at creating wildlife conservation ambassadors very quickly and getting them highly engaged in the process pretty quickly.

Speaker 1:

Certainly, certainly. And then, for those who might not know about this too, you also have the big game awards Anybody who takes their first big game animal, whether it's a youth or adult. You've had it from five to 85 year old folks who are bringing in their first animal in years past, and I know you probably will be presenting award to your own daughter for her first big game animal If she applies. But so let's say, someone goes and gets their first big game animal and they want to be a part of the big game awards. Can you walk through when that happens, how that happens and what that means for someone who's coming in Cause? I also have a buddy of mine who we're taking him to get his first doe. He's an adult, never even fired a rifle up until about five months ago. He's shooting better than me now already. I don't even know how this happened. I think it's just good leadership, right and good mentorship. Yeah, sure it is so, but it's amazing to see, like all the things you were talking about as an adult and so watching that. You know I took it for granted. You know something. You know you're raised, kind of growing up in South Texas doing that hunting and it's just second nature. But seeing all that too and I know that whenever he gets his animal too, it's like I want him to be able to apply for that and go check that out, cause there's some cool perks and recognition there. So if you can maybe talk about that and how that's kind of tied in there to that hunting heritage.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so Texas big game awards is yet another partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and this is a. It's a program that recognizes hunters, exceptional big game animals and the landowners part in that process of producing that exceptional big game animal. So it started. I believe the game awards started in 1991, so it's pretty old program and so there are scored entries, so there is a kind of a. There is a competitive part of the program with habitat at the base of the whole program. But you've already hit on my favorite part of Texas Big Game Awards. It's like a social support program for hunters essentially. So we have youth and first harvest categories. So my daughter will have to go take her first doe because we don't recognize feral hogs. It's got to be a game animal. But any person, whether they're eight or eight that takes their first big game animal in Texas. All they have to do is go to our website and look for Texas Big Game Awards. We have a form there that you can fill out and send in and it's free to apply. You get a free ticket to one of our summer banquets and it's just a fantastic hunter celebration. We usually do three around the state in the summer and basically we have all of the participants, awardees come, bring their families. We have a big hunter celebration where we have different educational events Parks and Wildlife is there with some educational programs. And then we do an awards banquet where the first time hunters come up with somebody who took some great, big old deer. It's all the same process. They get a certificate. It's just a feel good program. I mean, when you pass out a certificate to a 75 year old lady that took her first deer with her kid, I mean you just know it's the right thing to do and it's just like it's getting people engaged in the hunting process, it's reinforcing a positive first experience, it's helping them network and make connections with other hunters and it's just really. It's really a great battery recharger and a program that we've been doing for a long time and it's still I mean you still have the same feelings every time you do it in summer. So we'll have three. We'll have three banquets around the state this summer and then we have our statewide banquet at our annual convention in July in San Antonio. So yeah, thanks for bringing it up. Texas Big Game Awards is a great program. You can go to our website at TexasBigGameAwardsorg and there's actually a trophy search on there too. That's a pretty neat feature where you can go in and search by counting the different entries that have come in for years and years and for folks that have entered before can find themselves in there. For folks that are interested in the you know antler quality for a certain county in certain years, they can go in there and search all that data too. So it's pretty cool.

Speaker 1:

And then how do you guys also have this categorically set up and I've been there before, but I kind of forget Do you have it by a low fence, by a high fence, or is it? Yeah, it's okay. So I thought. So that's pretty cool.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and there's, you know, through the years with deer management in Texas, there's been a lot of changes through the years and so we've constantly had folks, you know, call for a different category. So we do have a number of different categories.

Speaker 1:

No, that's, that's. It's important. I mean, there's a lot of stuff here in Texas and you know there's a lot of different ways to hunt here too, so it's, it's good to kind of see it all. Let's go ahead and turn that stool again. We got conservation, educational approach and you know that kind of do you guys have a particular name of that leg of the stool that you have? And let's go ahead and talk about that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's called conservation legacy and there's a there's a lot of, there's a lot of parts to that puzzle. So the idea is again creating that connection for Texans to the land and letting people understand private landowners role in managing those resources. And so you know the the thing that our leadership has always pictured is yellow school buses on private link and that's what they're going for. And so we've got varying different levels of intensity. We start at, you know, we start at a Trump program where we have ready made lessons in trunks that teachers can get on our website check out, we'll mail it to them free of charge. They can keep for two weeks in their schools, teach their kids that wildlife or natural resource lesson and then just mail it back to us for your charge. So it's a great program. We've got a hundred and something trunks here that we're shipping out in and out constantly. So that's an exciting part of our program that's readily accessible to teachers around the state without a whole lot of investment and they can check it out, make it a part of their classroom pretty easily, kind of going up the ladder as far as intensity we have. We actually have educators scattered around the state that go into schools and teach those lessons, and so those teachers can be reserved in different communities to come in and teach wildlife natural resource lessons to schools, and the teacher can be as involved as they want to be or they can. They can use that as a little breather too. Well, the TWA educator comes in and talks about turkeys or soil or the water cycle. You know from there. We also have a program called expeditions Land, water and Wildlife Expeditions and that essentially is you have a series of natural resource lessons during the semester and it culminates in a field trip onto a private range to where you are able to touch, feel, understand all of the concepts that you've been learning through those lessons, and so that expeditions program is one of our highest intensity programs but it's the biggest return as far as people, all the kids, having an understanding of the concepts that they're learning about in the classroom, and so that's a pretty exciting one. We have some distance learning opportunities. We have a family expeditions program that is kind of the. It's kind of a Texas youth hunting program. It's a private type program without the hunting part, and so there is opportunities for families to get out on you know private ranches, to learn and you know, experience nature without the hunting part, if somebody chooses not to hunt, which is fine, and so there's. There's that opportunity to. That's a program that we stood up fairly recently. That's. That's going pretty well. So that's that's kind of our conservation legacy component that I guess. One part that I did leave out is we also have an adult education component there. That's that's really based on like landowner field days. We have got everything from a brand new landowner field day where it's just kind of land management one on one, all the way to partnerships with AgriLife extension on Quail Masters, which is highly technical Land management for Quail and Grassland Birds. That you've got Parks and Wildlife biologists and very seasoned land managers and ranch owners that that really know their stuff and they're coming to Quail Masters to learn the greatest and the latest and greatest and land management so kind of it goes across the spectrum from intensity, but but that's really another way that we're trying to proactively create that connection to the land for Texans.

Speaker 1:

That's super important, man. I mean educational aspect to. I mean I highly encourage everyone to go in and check out your website and, if you can go ahead and give that to us now and we'll circle back to that, is texas-wildlifeorg. Right, that's correct.

Speaker 2:

That's correct, and you can find everything we've talked about here today right there on texas-wildlifeorg.

Speaker 1:

Okay, good deal. I definitely want people to go check that out. I mean it's a wonderful website. A lot of you said educational and informative things and you know some fun, entertaining stuff as well too. I wanted to circle back to what you're saying. I know you said you had the three banquets during the summer and then you have your, your, your big annual event. Let's talk about that because I remember kind of there was a lot of different things. You know our mutual friend Jesse. You guys had had bought one of the the new school traditional cookery events that you guys raffled off or they are. You know you had his prizes and auctions that you guys have. So that's a really big event. I didn't make it there last year. I was talking to my wife last night about how we're going to go and take our girls next year. Let's talk about where that will be and what kind of as people come into that. How long is it, what are they going to experience? Kind of set the stage for that so people can understand, and let's get those you know those butts in the door there this next year.

Speaker 2:

You bet. So our annual wildlife convention is at the JW Marriott San Antonio. It's that it's middle weekend in July every year. It starts on a Thursday with our private land summit and then it goes into Friday. We'll have, you know, some business meetings and some committee meetings. In the morning We'll have our kind of family reunion dinner on Friday night. Usually we've got a band and it's a fun, family friendly atmosphere. The kids can come or they can go to our, you know, kids sitting service. That's there at the hotel that my kids personally love rain range riders and it's great. So that's one of the things I would want to get across that it's a family friendly party. It's a lot of fun. Saturday we've got some great educational programs educational seminars. In the morning we have our annual members luncheon and awards ceremony. On Saturday, at noon we have our and then in the evening it culminates in our grand auction. The weekend is a really important fundraiser for our association. Our members come out of the woodwork every year. It's a great opportunity to network with other like-minded individuals, learn some things about land and wildlife management through the seminars I failed to mention. We have a TWA Foundation luncheon on Friday every year. Got some great speakers, some great opportunities to meet, network, and then it's just a fun event. We've got a trade show that usually has about 120 vendors. There's everybody there that you can think of it's a fun event and we have our Texas Big Game Awards as part of that members luncheon on Saturday, so it's a lot of fun.

Speaker 1:

That sounds very exciting. How would people go about it? I'm sure on the website as well, but for those who wanted to attend that and go ahead and purchase tickets to go to that. But also, how can people go about and what are the levels of membership that you guys have? I mean, we talked about this. Obviously you have different things. Where people can just donate, you can become a member. So let's talk about those tiered systems and how people can get involved with your organization.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I appreciate it. So we've got something for everybody. We've got everything from a digital membership that's 35 bucks a year, where you get all of our digital communication, you get a monthly magazine emailed to you, all the way up to a life membership. We've got ranch memberships, we've got active memberships to where you would have voting rights, those kind of things, and so, yeah, there's a little bit of there's something for everybody, but bottom line is having more members is helpful for us when we're representing landowners and partners and you know, the more like minded folks that we have under the tent, the more effective we can be in our representation of landowners and partners. So that's really, you know, the biggest value for the organization of having members is that ability to better represent. But there's a lot of value in that membership to both from activities around the state to our monthly magazine that we put out called Texas Wildlife and just kind of keep them up to date on all the stuff that's going on. So we would love appreciate you plug in membership. Would love for your listeners to look into being a member of TWA, and you can definitely check us out on Instagram and Facebook to get a pretty active social media presence. So if you're interested and kind of want to dip your toe in, definitely check us out on social media too.

Speaker 1:

Whereas I mean, I'm sure people could just, you know, search for Texas Wildlife. But is there an association, is there a particular handle on each one of those you guys have? Are they the same?

Speaker 2:

You're getting out of my lane Ah as long as everyone.

Speaker 1:

I'll put it down here below. I'll check it out. But yeah, anyone to search Texas Wildlife Association wherever you follow social media, you're going to find everything there. Give them a follow, definitely. I encourage everybody to go and check out the website to become a member in whatever capacity you can. You know, when you mentioned one thing I wanted to kind of clarify for those who might not understand. You mentioned voting rights and that there's certain tiers that give voting rights. What are those voting rights for? What seat at the table is that providing by that level of membership?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's a good question. So an active member would be able to vote on directors, which are kind of our ambassador level members that are scattered out all across the state. An active member is able to become a director if nominated. An active level member would be able to serve on committees, those kind of things. So it's really kind of that's the level where you're wanting to get involved and so those are the things that would come with an active level or above.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that's great, that's great. I guess kind of want to turn a corner on this conversation, because when we first kind of got in touch, you were going pronghorn hunting and I know that you ended up getting one, and I know, as we got this hunting season upon us, I want to know what hunts you've been on, what hunts you're going on, and maybe you can talk about some of your favorite wild game and what you love cooking and sharing with your family. I mean, I know you got some hog there that you've already done there too, but what else is on your agenda for this fall? Because you know hunting season, I know everyone's thirsty for thinking about the outdoors. Even though it's 120 degrees in the shade right now, we're still waiting for that winter and fall. So I want to give some people that kind of that quest and thought about what's on the horizon, and especially for you right now.

Speaker 2:

Awesome, yeah, yeah. I was fortunate to go to Northern New Mexico last month and pronghorn hunt. It's a really beautiful country and got a nice buck and I love. I mean, I started pronghorn hunting probably six or eight years ago and I've just kind of fallen in love with it. I love it how it's just your hunting big, beautiful country. It's fairly social. You spend a lot of time in the truck with your friends and hunting partners and you get into chat, look at a lot of animals and then when you find the buck that you want to go after, it gets very serious and so you get a kind of a good combination of all that when you're you know, out there. And there's different people who hunt different ways. But that's end up spending a lot of time behind the glass with your hunting partners and then when it's go time, it's go time, so it's kind of a good combo. So we'll hunt, we'll bow hunt at the family place for Whitetails this fall. You know, most of the time I try to have some things on the books, but this year don't necessarily have a whole lot. I do intend to turn in my Neil Guy cow card to my uncle at some point, so I'm hoping he'll accept that again this year. And then, you know, quite honestly, have a couple of pretty cool turkey hunts that are coming up in the spring that actually we got at the TWA convention and so those, those are some that we're really looking forward to as well. So just yeah, spending time out with the, with the family and friends I love. Like I said, didn't really grow up turkey hunting, but later in life I've really fallen in love with it and it's been a great, great way to see multiple different states and I mean we just live in a state that has some tremendous turkey hunting opportunity and just a great way to enjoy the other.

Speaker 1:

Oh man, turkey hunting is amazing. I was telling the story the other day that I think I killed about 12 turkeys before I ever went turkey hunting for the first time. Every single time it was just opportunistic. I learned a long time ago as down in Demet County and saw a bunch of them run in front of the house, I went and grabbed a shotgun looking for turkey shells and my uncle had and put it in there and then from that day forth it's like if there's turkey season I've got a shotgun at the ready and it's all been opportunistic. And then a couple of years ago it took some buddies hunting and called them in and even last year had had my buddy, colin Williams he's the other half of Matt, my ranch. He came in and we called him close but it wasn't he didn't really know his distance, that he felt comfortable with shooting yet and it was right on that edge of that and so we just called him in. But it was the most exciting thing. He's like, oh, this is different. I'm like, yeah, this is super fun. And I had one that came within I think 25 yards, went and shouldered. It, took a shot and it hit the primer but did not explode the primer. So it was the first time I ever had a failure to fire on a shotgun. Of course, it was like the first time I called in a turkey, so I was like dang it, like you know, just it would have been too perfect. So that gave me the itch to like that next year, to kind of, you know, do that again, and even more so this. You know this last year was so it's such a fun, exhilarating hunt and whether you're successful or not here in the turkeys call and back, it's turned into one of my favorite and I growing up that was not something on my radar as well, but now I'm like it's rich and we've got some land that has a lot of them in Central Texas, so it's it's. I live like and breathe ready for that April, you know, opener to get out there. So yeah, it's fun.

Speaker 2:

It is. It's exciting. Yeah, if you've got birds that are gobbling occasionally, it can keep you interested and engaged for a long time, yep. Yep and if you if you don't get excited about calling a bird in it's gobbling its head off. It's so close that it's drumming right there in front of you. I don't know what's going to get you excited.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's true, it's true. So, out of all these wild games that we're talking about, is there a favorite that you have to cook and prepare for your family? Is there something that you're like yeah, this is my go to meal, like if you're introducing someone to an animal for the first time, you know, kind of give me a little quick swatch of that and your interest as far as wild game preparation and cooking.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, we eat a lot of wild game around our house and our neighbors, whether they like it or not, are exposed to a lot of wild game when they come to our house too. But they, but I think they like it. So yeah, we eat a lot of Neil Guy. I'm fortunate to have an Axis Deer in the freezer right now too, which is fabulous table fair. We like wild turkey. Usually we'll slow cook that and shred it, make tacos and those kind of things. I wouldn't say we do a lot of real fancy preparations. I got away from ground meat for several years and have really gotten back into it. It's so simple but I mean you can do so many different things with it. I mean, whether it's an easy taco night or pasta or whatever, it's just so versatile and it's not fancy but it sure is good to have around. You know one thing that I really like to do, again extremely simple. I love just grill a backstrap medium rare and then love to save the leftovers from that and make cheese steaks the next day. It's just so easy to do and just so good. So yeah, I don't tend to go real fancy on my preparations, but I appreciate it when people do. I just I kind of like to go simple and we do it a lot.

Speaker 1:

But it's simple works, you know, and I definitely have a lot of ground. And you know, add chili in the mix. There too, I'm waiting for it to be cold enough to be able to kind of justify that. And then I've got a smoker that I'm waiting to throw some hog on it, but it's been too hot, like it's just been. I don't want to be uncomfortable outside cooking, you know, like for eight hours at a time. But yeah, that cheese steak idea is one I'm going to take with me. Man, I hadn't thought about that before too, so I'm always trying to add stuff to the repertoire, you know.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, super easy way to enjoy it, and that's something anybody can get on board with.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Then new peppers and onions and mix the meat in. It's just, it's great you know something else that this pronghorn ended up taking it to a new. Have processed my own animals for a long time and the last couple of animals just been so busy. Have used some processors, used one here in New Bromphills. It was really good. I've won in Austin through some friends recently that does the smoked backstrips and I thought, well, I wonder how that's going to work and so lean, but grinds it, smokes it and it's fabulous and it's just one of the best wild games. So I got to give them a plug here, republic Bush, or in Austin. Good luck with that, guys. Fantastic, the spoke back straps are to die for, and so we've definitely been eating a lot of those and I don't know if the Philly cheesesteaks are going to suffer now that I have a new discovery. But man, it's just so good. Just pull them out, slice them cold, put them on a charcuterie board or whatever, and man people just go blunders for it.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's good to know. I have a lot of friends and listeners in Austin area so I know it's always good to have a good processor to know. And we had one out here in Katie where they sent out a thing and said we're having an issue with workers last year and we don't know if we're going to have enough staff. So it's like we had to go figure out where we're going to go. We went over to Belleville Meat Market. I had some friends that had brought me some stuff from there before and I was very pleased with what I got from them too. But I think it's kind of fun to try out different places and find new things. Like you said, smoke back strap I've never seen that on one of the menus, or if I maybe just didn't pay attention to it because I'm thinking I've never given some of my back strap. But if they do it the right way, you might give someone your back strap.

Speaker 2:

I've always had the same approach and that just looked too good and I was like I got to give this a try.

Speaker 1:

So we're going to donate one for that cause, yeah.

Speaker 2:

That might backfire now that giving people the secret. But I know Matt has a hard time getting workers there too, so you know. But it's a struggle in that business, I think. But man, he does a great job.

Speaker 1:

Oh, and you do it right. You get the return business and hopefully that keeps everyone afloat. So that's great that you found someone you like there too. I know I did too there with Belleville, and you know there's tons of great processors, a lot of people in this great state that do some great work. Tax term, everything you know we've got a really full circle, a lot of different wonderful organizations such as yours. You know a lot of support within. You know communities, usda, nrcs there's so many different programs that are out there for the private land owners, for the public. You know land owners that want to get out there. So I'm just excited to be able to chat with you and learn more and be able to share this information with our listeners today. I really appreciate you coming on. Before we sign off, I wanted to ask you personally and this is kind of a personally and professional question as far as your legacy what is it that you want to leave behind? You know, maybe we can talk about it as in regards to the TWA, and then you know even if you know family-like life as well there too. But something I've been asking you know everyone that I've had on is what kind of do they think about their own legacy? What is it that you want to be remembered for and you know whenever you step away, in whatever capacity that is?

Speaker 2:

That's a great question. That's one that I think we get so busy you don't really think about. But I mean, personally, this last weekend was a big part of that. You know, taking good care of your family and being able to share the gifts that you've been given with them, and so you know, the outdoors and hunting is something I definitely, you know, think is important to expose your kids to, and so that was a meaningful moment in my life this last weekend. You know, professionally just a legacy standpoint I want to be known as somebody who's really worked hard for landowners and hunters in Texas and to give them representation and make sure that they maintain their rights and keep families on the land.

Speaker 1:

That was great answers, man, and I know you're doing a wonderful job on both. You know grounds of that and I'm so happy that we have you know people like you and organizations that you're a part of, kind of looking out for all of us and keeping this way of life you know there for our future generations. It's important. You know we grew up with it. It's something we want our children, grandchildren and beyond to be able to experience and be able to keep. You know healthy animals, healthy habitats around. So I definitely encourage everyone let's you know, tell one more time your website and make sure you guys go and check out and join in whatever member capacity you can, and I want everyone to get involved because this is an organization that people need to join and help support.

Speaker 2:

Thanks, man, I really appreciate it. Yeah, that website's Texas-wildlifeorg and you'll find all the membership information there. You'll find information on events. Definitely go check us out on Facebook and Instagram as well. We try to keep that pretty active and up to date and we try to have lots of events around the state and so if you we're going to be around, please come by and say hello at one of our events. Come in all corners of the state.

Speaker 1:

That's great man. Well, once again, thank you so much for all you're doing on behalf of Texans and thank you for joining me today. I know listeners are going to have a great time checking this one out, so we really appreciate it.

Speaker 2:

Thanks, George. I sure appreciate the opportunity. Thanks for spreading the word about TWA.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely my pleasure. Have a good one, take care.

Interview With Justin Dribblebis
Advocating for Private Landowners in Texas
Landowner Rights, Energy, and Wildlife Disease
Hunting Programs and Big Game Awards
Big Game Awards and Conservation Program
Hunting Season and Wild Game Cooking
Promotion of Texas Wildlife Organization

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