My dad was a hunter when I was born in 1948. It was still a powerful, natural, common sense, American way of life back then. Dad really enjoyed his quiet, peaceful bowhunting time afield and made it a point to share it with his family. He had quit gun hunting by the time I was 10 because of a terrible firearm accident that almost killed him. Some dufus had touched off a round from his Winchester M94, 30-30 levergun, while unloading it in the back seat of a '52 Ford coupe, and nearly took my dad's head clean off. Another inch, and I would have been a single parent kid. Mindless, idiotic NEGLIGENCE is still the only way to be injured or die from a gun "accident". He stressed this to us, making it a point to clearly differentiate accidents from negligence. I thank him for that to this day.
But it was the adventure of our "Up North" family treks each fall that fanned the flames of my predatory and conservation spirit. The big woods of the North Country and the occasional sighting of all wildlife, small and big game, especially the majestic, always elusive whitetail deer, that brought me much adrenalin dumpage. Each sound, sight, smell and feeling beyond the pavement zinged straight into my heart and soul. I needed very little motivation from anyone or anything outside my own interests in animals and habitat. The woods, rivers, fields, and the wind called my name clearly.
Growing up along the wildground of the River Rouge outside Detroit, my fascination with wildlife and hunting was something that could not be defused. I was hooked. Something about the dynamic of each critter encounter that drove me wild. The fact that my dad was already experimenting with this brand new bowhunting concept was just an added kicker. My river stalking days with slingshot and bow and arrow imprinted deeply into my psyche from day one, and between my dad, uncles John and Dick, and Fred Bear, I had all the role modeling a kid could ask for.
It is interesting to note, that my brothers Jeff and John, and younger sister Kathy, though a part of every hunting trip and outing, showed no more than a passing interest in the sport. We all had grand times together, learning about family camplife and nature lessons. But they could, quite frankly, take it or leave it. Meanwhile, I breathed every breath for a plunge into the wild at every opportunity. Everyday after school, while the other kids were playing ballsports, tag, hide-n-seek or so many other normal kid's games, I was stalking the riverbanks trying to get close to pheasant, quail, ducks, squirrels, possum, coons, skunks, rabbits, and all sorts of birds and other wildlife. There was a marshy area at the riverbend we called Skunk Hollow. I knew every wonderful mucky inch of the place.
So what is the difference between one kid and another, when all experiences might be basically the same, that drives one to hunt but not the other? Many moms and dads across the country have asked me how to get their kids into hunting, and I can only tell them what my own experiences have shown. My best hunting buddies are my own two sons, 22 year old Toby and 9 year old Rocco. They accompany me on many outings, and we have shared many a powerful moment
together seeking game. But there was no formula that I adhered to. Rather, it was a deeply thought out process along the way in order to optimize the chances that they would pursue this outdoor lifestyle with me, that has brought me so much enjoyment, excitement, happiness and gratification. All life comes from beyond the pavement, and our call to stewardship of these precious life giving renewable resources runs strong and deep. For if a father fails to bring these lessons of reality and elements of accountability into his family's life, what good has he accomplished?
Certainly, my exhilaration upon merely seeing game is contagious. I have made it a point to raise my family on wonderful, game rich wildground, thereby maximizing the sightings that can be shared and talked about together. The first word out of my kid's mouths has always been "deer", as they pointed out the window or along a trail together with mom and dad. Watching wildlife shows on TV together as a family and exploring easy access wildground as often as possible brings the dynamic of wildlife encounters to the forefront of children's young minds. As wildlife habitat faces the growing curse of development and destruction, these beyond the pavement areas for introduction are becoming harder and harder to find and access. This is why efforts and programs to save wildground are so important today. JOIN DU, RMEF, Pheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited, Quail Unlimited and any other organization you can afford. Habitat progress is job One!
Most importantly, I did not push my children to hunt. I always made it
available to them, even gently prodding and encouraging them to join me everytime I went afield, but never to the point of force or pressure. I shared the thrills of each and every hunt in stories and photos, and made it a point to let them know every night at the dinner table, "you should have been there! It was really cool!"
Over the years, I tried to get them to join me on the easier maneuvers. Break them in gently. Comfortable temperatures and conditions were always more alluring than stormy, wet, cold and nasty mornings in the duckblind! But I did make it a point to let them experience the joys of ma nature's wrath as well. There is nothing more wonderful than coming back to a warm, cozy cabin or lodge or tent, wet, cold and beat, changing into fresh, dry clothes and sipping a steaming bowl of soup or chili around a roaring fireplace or campfire. That is heaven on earth and everybody enjoys it immensely. They always gaze into the fire and hear the call.
As my children grow up, they spend more and more time hunting with their dear old dad. Toby and I have a duck opener ritual that means the world to me. And Rocco and I sneak up the same ridge at daybreak every September 15th, opening day of squirrel season. Toby loves packing into elk camp, and the whole family looks forward to our annual African safari. I can't really enjoy a hunt for more than a week if my clan is not with me. I feel unfulfilled and I get homesick for them.
I read a story in the American Airlines AMERICAN WAY magazine here recently, about a successful executive's attempt to connect with his son by taking him on a hunting trip, much to the boy's protest. The old man ended up arguing with his son, hunting alone, then opting to take a big buck's photo instead of killing it, as if this merciful gesture would somehow bring he and his son closer. BALDERDASH! It was even clearly articulated in the story how overpopulated and destructive the deer were in northern Illinois, the scene of the episode, and the desperate and essential need to reduce the herd
responsibly. It did fail miserably in detailing the truth about habitat needs and the fundamental function of man and beast, balancing their natural roles in the inescapable cycle of life and death. His "non-consumptive" gesture was denial in action.
Contrary to this politically correct pap, bold, honest lessons in life's
cycle of reality will connect deeply with a young child. Be sure to read the wildlife reports from scientific publications and note relative observations when driving the highways. Watch the Discovery Channel nature specials together and never let fantasy or denial become acceptable. Show your love and passion for outdoor time, and it will be contagious. I see it all the time, not only with young boys, but equally with little girls too. Now that's a thrill!
If your kid spends more than 30 minutes a day in front of the TV set,
watching programs or playing zombie inducing video games, you are asking for trouble. If you can't remember the last Saturday you took the family to a wild place, early and long, you are asking for trouble. If you can't talk with your kids because they have headphones glued to their ears, you are out of their loop, and may I dare say, a failing parent. If you don't have quality time discussing the little things in your lives together at the dinner table each night, you are missing out on one of the most powerful opportunities to connect that there is in life.
Hunting the fine State of Texas each year for many years, I have come to greatly appreciate their laws encouraging parents to take young children hunting. You see, Texas has the very best laws regarding minimum ages for hunting. THERE IS NO MINIMUM AGE! It is a proven fact, that if a child does not hunt by the time he is 9 or 10, it is unlikely that he or she ever will pursue an outdoor life. That is catastrophic. Every year in Texas, I meet families that enjoy hunting together with 4, 5 and 6 year olds, who kill deer with rifles at these young ages. No accidents. No injuries. No problems. With a custom fitted .223, 6mm or .243, these little whippersnappers take deer
cleanly and regularly.
Just like the scientists and medical community now admit, responsible
parenting begins in the womb. Nightly bedsongs, gentle readings, loving talk from both parents and siblings, forms a prebirth bond that will most certainly connect with this new life. It is never too early.
THERE IS NO GREATER RESPONSIBILITY THAN PARENTING! Period.
Immediately after birth, there is an initial explosion of brain synapses.
Synaptic connections continue powerfully through adolescence, according to a recent study from the University of Chicago. The experts generally agree, that if this initial touch is lost or not fully taken advantage of, strong learning influences can be made up for later. Some areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, where higher thought, reasoning, judgment and motivation come from, will be best molded by a parent's loving touch throughout adolescence. BUT, a really good parent wouldn't miss out on any of these opportunities to provide the most positive conditions possible for their child.
And according to this old dad, it never stops. The time to share the
excitement of the wild with your kids is NOW! The earlier, the better. The most meaningful impact will be made in their first five years. My mind burns with graphic excitement, envisioning my family's woodland walks, riverbank picnics, sunrize celebrations and wildlife encounters with bow and arrow or .22 rifle in hand. Be sure to make that extra effort to conduct those ever so valuable wild lessons out there beyond the pavement for the entire family as often as you can. Earmark special weekends. Pack a lunch and a camera. Go slow. Take it all in. Nature will do the rest.
Provide nature oriented toys and learning materials. Share your enthusiasm for the wild. If you are going to rent videos, rent quality hunting and wildlife tapes and watch along, reviewing the statements and content for details and better understanding.
Other reports show how children who have had little or no meaningful touch with mom and or dad, are much more likely to lead a life of crime, substance abuse, unfulfilled sadness, and usually a horrible, tragic early earth. To know the remedy for this tragedy, yet fail to respond, is the worse sin of mankind.
The young mind you help guide to TRUE NORTH now, will be the warrior for the wild, his or her entire life. I'll bet on it. And never let up.
With simple, good parenting, fueled by good old fashioned love and affection, you will develop the greatest hunting partner you could ever ask for. The wild needs the next generation, and the next generation needs the wild. Strong and free.
SO TAKE A YOUNGSTER INTO THE WILD AS SOON AND AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN. GET 'EM SHOOTING, EXPLORING AND THROBBING. NOW!