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Reflections About Growing Up In The Great Outdoors

by Thomas Forrest

           It's funny how things change and sometimes for the worst. Growing up in the South Jersey area outside of Philadelphia, you would think of shopping centers & the usual suburban sprawl. But 15 years ago this was not the case.

          I remember moving from the city to this area, over the bridge, called New Jersey. Now for those of you not from this area, all the rumors you here about Jersey are mostly in north Jersey (chemical factories and such), but for the most part southern Jersey can be very rural. I was a city kid in the city school system and didn't know squat about the outdoors. I always loved animals and had an uncle Jimmy (actually a friend of my dad) who took me to a sportsman show. I remember being fascinated with all of the firearms and with the mounts on display. I even shot a 12 gauge shotgun that day, with my uncles help, of course. This started an interest in hunting and the outdoors that would last a life time for me and eventually be my livelihood.

          Well, after getting settled into a new school and meeting new friends, I started seeing what these boys did for fun. We would go down to the creek and turtle hunt in the fall and in the winter we would trap muskrats. We had a little inflatable 4 man dingy. To this day I don't know how we would fit all of our gear in that little boat. We had about 100-150 traps on a line. We would also take our bicycles in the boat , because the strong current would pull you so far down stream , and it was a long walk back. Anyway, we always managed. Even in the snow and cold weather we didn't care it was all part of the experience.

          After a weekend of trapping, we would sell our wares to the local furrier (who we all worked for after school, skinning muskrats.) I remember being there for hours sitting around talking to the old-timers telling us how great it used to be in the “good OLE days”. I loved everything about it. The warmth of the shop after being in the cold all day, everyone sitting around in their hunting clothes drinking way to much coffee and sometimes beer. Even though we were only 14 or so. the old guys treated us like men . They didn't care if you smoked or sneaked a beer, they were just like one of us. My dad didn't hunt so I looked up to some of the guys and I learned a heck of a lot from them. About hunting ethics, good resource management practices and about stewardship of these great outdoors. Also a lot of history and local lore.

          It's hard to explain. We felt older than the other kids we went to school with because our friends were in their 50's and 60's. Our common bond was hunting and trapping -- It's all we talked about. When we weren't trapping we were small game or deer hunting or just practicing with our bows down in the woods.

          I used to hate the summers because the only thing to do was fish. Now, I like to fish as much as the next guy but, there is a difference between an angler and a hunter. In some of my upcoming articles, I'll explain this in further detail as I fill you in on some of the law enforcement encounters I have had with both fishermen and hunters. I'd rather deal with 100 hunters than one “crazy” fisherman.

          Anyway, anybody who has hunted and been involved with all that goes with this great sport knows exactly what I'm talking about. But what concerns me is the big difference 15 years has made. Granted, the fur market is not what it used to be, but it was never about money for us guys. It was part of something that was being past from these old guys to us young kids and I always pictured myself being and hunter and a trapper for the rest of my life. It was in my heart and was in my bones.

          Today many kids have no idea what this feeling and experience was like. I truly believe that this is part of the problem with kids getting in trouble. When you get up at 5:00 AM and chase rabbits or lay 150 traps, you don't feel like hanging out on a street corner. You just want to go to bed because 5:00 AM is going to roll around again soon and a new day of adventure awaits.

          In this “new and improved” society we live in, we are anti-everything that is not “politically correct” we have let a part of our heritage go and it shows in so many ways. From the filling in of tidal marshes to the mismanagement of our resources to the ignorance of today's youth about the world around them. When I was growing up I could name every furbearer and tell you about it's habits and were you could find them. Today kids ask me if there are any tigers at the wildlife refuge. This type of ignorance is thought as “cute” or “funny” by the anti's, but it is despised by me and is an example of the disgraceful dumbing down of our youth. Because our heritage is being taken away and we have to do our best to keep it and pass it on. Organizations such as BEAGLES UNLIMITED are helping in the restoration & preservation of our hunting heritage and this is why I chose to write this article. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I had recalling some of these memories. Please look for some of my future articles and drop me a line if you have any comments.

NOTE:  Tom Forrest is a Refuge Law Enforcement Officer with the United States Fish & Wildlife Service stationed in Philadelphia, PA. The opinions expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily that of the USFWS. This article should not be viewed as a representation of the USFWS.

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