Stewards of the Wild member Helena Hernandez spends as much of her free time hunting and fishing as she can.
In fact, when we interviewed her for this profile on a late July day, she was at the Lazy CK Ranch in Mountain Home. Helena chatted with us as she and a group of women headed to a nearby pond for a fishing break from the hunting action.
“I’m still fairly new to this, but I am all in,” said Helena. “My first hunting experience was with Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Stewards of the Wild in 2021.”
Helena works as a physician assistant in Dallas. She grew up in the Philippines, moving to Texas in 2007 to attend college at Baylor University. A career opportunity took her out of state to Boston for three years, and then to graduate school in Kansas for two more.
“That’s when I realized how much I missed Texas,” she said. “I really identified with the spirit of the state and the values of the people and couldn’t wait to get back.”
She now calls herself a “bleeding heart Texan,” and her siblings and parents have moved from the Philippines to Texas as well. She lived in Austin for several years, and enjoyed many outdoor adventures, but had never tried hunting before. When she moved from Austin to Dallas in 2020 to be closer to her family, she realized that she needed to be more intentional with her outdoor pursuits.
“I grew up reading National Geographic magazines, and I dreamt of being an animal conservationist or a field doctor,” she said. “My dad majored in zoology, so whenever we’d go out into nature, he’d point at animals and plants tell us their scientific name, and their place in the food chain. He’s also an enthusiastic gun collector, so I would hear about guns all the time, and learned to shoot at eight years old.”
When Helena moved back to Texas, she joined the sporting clays league at Defender Outdoors in Fort Worth. At a ladies’ shotgun night, she noticed another Filipino woman who had the same shotgun she did. The two became friends and Helena noticed a photo on her friend’s Facebook page that showed her with a harvested sambar, which is an exotic species.
“I asked how she got into that, and she told me about Stewards, and that was in early 2021,” said Helena. “Things started happening quickly after that.”
Her first mentored experience with Stewards of the Wild was fly fishing in April 2021. Her first Stewards hunt was a dove hunt in Albany, and thanks to her sporting clays experience she did well, almost limiting out. That trip was followed by several other Stewards of the Wild mentored hunting and fishing experiences, and now she’s hooked.
“Being outdoors is generally calming for me, but these outdoor adventures are very exhilarating,” she said. “Hunting and fishing took it to another level of excitement and fulfillment. I’ve been so blessed by Stewards of the Wild, but the best part is sharing these experiences with friends.”
She’s also learned about conservation, and her impression of hunting has totally changed.
“I grew up in a country that is incredibly rich with natural resources, but they’ve been grossly mismanaged. There’s a heaviness in your heart when you learn that animals from your childhood are endangered or your favorite outdoor spaces are now shopping malls or subdivisions,” said Helena. “When I moved to the US, I thought that hunting was just a hobby. I didn’t know that hunters significantly contribute to conservation, but it makes so much sense. When the outdoors is your playground, you have to conserve and nurture it, otherwise, there won’t be any more game to pursue or wild places to explore.”
Helena’s next move is paying it forward. After spending a week chasing fallow, sika, blackbuck, and axis deer in the Hill Country, Helena will be heading to the Texas Wildlife Association’s headquarters in New Braunfels, where she will be taking a hunt master and hunter education instruction course.
“I’ve gotten so much interest from hunters and non-hunters, especially women, and I owe it to Stewards of the Wild for igniting the fire of a deep and fulfilling passion. Mentoring the next generation of outdoorsmen and women and advocating for conservation is how I can pass it on. This is how I honor the wild spirits and wild spaces that’s made me the woman that I am.