The board of directors of Operation Orphans, Inc. has selected four dates for doe hunts during the forthcoming whitetail deer season. They are the following Saturdays: Oct. 25, Nov. 15, Nov. 22 and Dec. 6. The second, third and fourth dates will be all boys’ hunts, while the first date will be an all girls’ hunt. A combination exotic game and whitetail doe hunt for boys will be held Jan 10, 2004. This is the 44th year of the “Take a Child Hunting” program. To date, Operation Orphans, Inc. has hosted 15,417 youngsters with a total game harvest of 15,100. During this program, landowners from the surrounding Hill Country allow children from child care facilities to harvest does from their property. Ranchers use the “Take a Child Hunting” program as a means to reduce the over population of does and to get buck-to-doe ratios in order. Landowners and hunters also participate in this program to help educate youngsters about the outdoors and provide a worthwhile outdoor adventure field trip. Operation Orphans, Inc. provides the children, guides and food for the activity. The guides which Operation Orphans, Inc. provide have successfully completed the Hunter Safety Course. Some landowners wish to provide their own guides. One guide is assigned to each child. During the girls’ hunt, a woman or a man/woman team serve as guides. The meat which the child care facilities receive from these hunts helps to relieve some of the burden of their rising food costs for the year. It all began when the late Gene Ashby, a State Game Warden, realized that the Hill Country, primarily Mason and Llano Counties, had an excessive deer population and the necessity for removing a large number of anterless deer. He approached some local ranchers with the idea of allowing orphans to harvest anterless deer. They liked the idea, and Operation Orphans, Inc. came into being. Housing the young hunters was a problem, so another idea was realized. With backing from sportsmen’s clubs throughout Texas, and other concerned individuals, a 320 acre tract of land on the north bank of the Llano River in Mason County was purchased from a generous landowner at a fraction of its market value. Through donations, a kitchen/dining hall, three dormitories, showering facility and a basketball court were built. In 1994, an orientation and recreational building was constructed. It includes a clothing room which allows the kids to obtain boots, coats, jeans and other clothing items that are donated by concerned individuals. The camp is managed by a supervisor who resides at the camp. Camp Gene Ashby, named in honor of the founder of Operation Orphans, is today a beautiful facility capable of housing and feeding 250 visitors. During the first 20 years of the program, only boys were allowed to hunt; however, a girls’ hunt was added to the program in 1980, and an “exotic hunt” in 1982. The exotic hunt has added a totally new dimension to an already successful program and is looked forward to by many youngsters as the “icing on the cake.” Many volunteer organizations assist with the program. Several different organizations and individuals prepare the Friday evening meal. Mason Girl Scout troops, church groups, 4-H groups, RSVP members and others prepare the sack lunches which the children and guides enjoy Saturday during the hunt. The directors hope to make participation in the forthcoming hunts the best ever; however, this is dependent upon the number of ranchers who participate. Individuals who lease property for hunting may also participate by hosting a child and thus give up one day and one deer for the benefit of allowing more children to partake in the outdoor activity. The children will be brought to Camp Gene Ashby from homes throughout Texas on Friday preceding the Saturday hunt. The youngsters will attend an orientation and safety meeting and will be given an opportunity to visit the “boot room” where they can obtain boots and other clothing which will be theirs to keep. They will be housed, fed and transported to the host ranches before daylight the following morning by guides from various Texas Sporting Clubs and other interested individuals. Beginning in 1994, in an effort to maintain the highest safety standards, all individuals who wish to serve as guides with Operation Orphans, Inc. must show verification of successfully completing the Hunter Safety Course. 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. Persons who are interested in assisting with the “Take a Child Hunting” program, please contact camp supervisors Jerry or Lyla Crouch, at 325-347-6745 or write Operation Orphans, Inc. P.O. Box 535, Mason, Tex. 76856. Persons interested in guiding, please contact director George Mann, 325-942-0253.