Youth Gone Wild
Video games and baseball are too boring for Mason Griffin. His favorite hours of the year are when he’s stalking, calling, listening and aiming. EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of a 12-part series introducing readers to young Louisianians who have accomplished great things in the outdoors.
Do you remember what you were doing when you were 2 years old?
Mason Griffin does. He was scattering his box of colors across the bottom of his dad’s box stand. When he became disinterested in coloring, he simply took a nap.
Mason’s dad waked him one unforgettable morning five years later and told him there was a deer near the stand.
“That wasn’t anything new,” said Mason, who lives in the small West Carroll town of Forest. “I don’t know how many times he had waked me up and told me there was a deer near. I shot at a bunch of deer up to that day, but I missed every one. That morning was different.”
Mason peeked out of the stand and saw only a part of the deer sticking out of the bushes. He brought his .243 to his shoulder and carefully surveyed the scene through the scope. He made out the deer’s shoulders and saw the base of its rack, then moved the crosshairs in position to make a back shot, and squeezed the trigger.
“That buck ran about 50 steps and dropped,” Mason recalled. “I ran out there as soon as we could get down from the stand because I couldn’t wait to see how many points it had. It wound up being a 5-point that was basically a glorified spike with knots all over its horns.”
Mason’s dad, Ronnie Griffin, has always been impressed with his son’s love of hunting. From a young age, Masson enjoyed talking about hunting almost as much as the hunt itself.
“We used to argue with each about which one of us would get to go pick up Mason from the stand,” Griffin said. “He was always so excited about the hunt whether he killed a deer or not, and we all wanted to hear him tell his stories about what happened on the stand.
“He has always appreciated hunting for the sake of the hunt. I know a lot of adults who think if they don’t get a shot they didn’t have a good hunt. That’s not Mason. To him, any morning in the woods is a good morning.”
In fact, Mason takes his hunting attitude one step further than “just being there.” His passion is definitely deer hunting, but Mason loves to “mix it up a little.”
“I love hunting turkey, and I’ll shoot some hogs,” Mason grinned. “That way it’s not the same thing every time I go hunting. I like the challenge of having to scout for different kinds of animals and looking for different kinds of sign. Basically, I try to get out there and hunt whatever season is in.”
Mason said that he particularly likes the extra challenge presented by hunting turkeys in that he has to get so close to a bird that can see much better than a deer. One of his favorite sounds in the woods is that of a turkey gobbling on the roost — it sends chills down his spine.
“That’s a haunting sound,” he said. “Every kid ought to have the opportunity to be in the woods early in the morning and hear those gobbles. Getting that gobbling bird to come to you is the fun part, though. I’ve been fortunate enough to get five or six of them in close enough to kill the past few years.”
In fact, it is Mason’s love of a challenge that has him totally hooked on bow hunting for deer. Veteran hunters know it takes a near perfect effort to get a deer close enough to execute a good bow shot, and Mason loves to study for that kind of test. He killed his first bow deer when he was 9, and he’s been learning ever since.
“The first challenge of bow hunting is getting properly fitted with a bow,” Mason said. “I’m shooting a Hoyt X-Text with a 50- to 60-pound draw weight right now. Then you’ve got to practice a bunch to get good with it.
“I practice a lot. Sometimes I even wake up at 6 (a.m.) and shoot before I have to go to school or before Dad puts me to work in the summer. I used to shoot at a deer target from the top deck of our house, but now I practice mainly on the ground with a Black Hole target.”
Mason believes the real bow hunting challenge begins after getting set up with a properly fitted bow and learning how to use it. Everything happens in close range when bow hunting, and Mason said that means you have to scout a little different.
“You’ve got to get close.” he said. “You can’t just go out and look for deer sign and put up a stand. You’ve got to really concentrate on finding deer activity next to some good cover. Whereas you can be 200 yards away when gun hunting, you really need to look for something within 30 yards of cover when bow hunting.
“I love setting up next to a big crossing on a creek or near a food plot where the deer have been feeding.”
Mason’s attention-to-detail style of hunting extends to his rifle hunting as well. He used to shoot a .260, but when he realized the bullet was dropping a foot at 400 yards, he changed to a .257 Weatherby because he feels the ballistics are better.
“You’re only as good as your equipment,” Mason quipped, “and when I discovered that the .257 shoots only three inches low at 400 yards, I had to make the switch. I’m a much better shot with the .257, and that means I’m going cleanly kill more deer.”
Even though Mason’s love of hunting is more instinctive than learned — he has always found something outside to occupy his time and he shuns video games — he did make a few suggestions about how parents can help foster their kids’ interest in hunting.
The first thing he recommended parents do is enroll their kids in the state’s hunter safety course, which teaches everything young hunters need to know about hunting safely, how to make clean kills and how to care for the meat after a kill. The program also teaches young hunters to make sure of their targets and to know what’s behind their targets.
“We watched one video reenactment where a hunter carrying a red bandanna was shot by another hunter who thought he was a turkey,” Mason said. “One of the most important things I learned from that course was to be extra careful even if you think you’re looking at an animal. And they repeat over and over that you can’t take back a bullet once you squeeze the trigger.”
After that, Mason recommended parents help their kids acquire hunting videos like the Realtree Monster Bucks series and watch them together.
“I learned a lot from videos like that,” he said. “I learned from every mistake they made as much as I do my own mistakes. Another good resource is 4H. We’ve got skeet shooting, archery, rifle and BB gun programs kicking off here in West Carroll Parish. I think these are great for getting kids interested in the shooting sports.”
Like most other young hunters, Mason also reads every hunting magazine he can get his hands on to learn from other hunters. But, perhaps most importantly, Mason realizes that the best way to learn about hunting is to listen to people who have been doing it longer than he has.
“They’ll tell you a lot about what you need to know,” he said.
While Mason was born into a hunting family, he understands that every kid in Louisiana doesn’t have easily available hunting opportunities. In fact, his dad didn’t have the opportunity to deer hunt when he was growing up, and he made a promise to himself many years ago that he would make sure he introduced kids, his and others, to hunting.
“It’s not that my dad didn’t hunt,” the elder Griffin said. “He was a quail hunter, but we never deer hunted. I always wanted to go so bad that I knew I would give my kids the chance to go if they wanted to.
“The big thing with me is that I’ve seen a lot of trouble over the years — drugs and such — and I know if I can keep my kid or somebody else’s kid up a tree, I don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff as much because I know where they are and what they’re doing.”
Griffin’s position as vice-president of a North Louisiana bank has given him the opportunity to introduce lots of kids to hunting. He has taken kids of family friends, but it is the kids of his customers who have taught him a great way for parents to match their kids up with a veteran hunter that they trust.
“Pay attention to your surroundings when you’re doing business somewhere,” he said. “You’re obviously dealing with a hunter if you see mounts on the walls or on the desk. Strike up a conversation about hunting with those people, and see if you can work something out with them. There are a lot of hunters out there who would be glad to take a kid hunting.”
And while hunting land often comes at a premium price, Griffin said there is a tremendous amount of public acreage in driving distance for anybody in Louisiana. Parents who don’t want to fight the crowds on public land need to look into the special youth hunts that take place before the start of the regular season.
“There is also a lot of timberland that is leased out by Georgia Pacific at different places that is leased pretty cheaply,” Griffin said. “There are some leases out there that you can get into in the $200 to $500 range.”
Griffin, who has been in the stand with 14 kids when they killed their first deer, always stresses safety when he takes young hunters to the stand. He makes sure they don’t load their guns until they are in their stands, and he makes sure they wear a safety belt to keep them from falling.
“Safety is a big issue,” Griffin stressed. “The most important part of the hunt for me is making sure everybody gets back safe and sound.
“I like to keep it fun for the kids, and we spend a lot of time pointing out different animals and trees. The emphasis is entirely on them. I’m just there as a guide.
“But I make darn sure they understand I don’t tolerate mistakes. There are no mistakes and there is no ‘I’m sorry’ when you’re dealing with a gun. Once that trigger is pulled, you’re past the point of saying you’re sorry. There is no room for errors.”
Mason has definitely learned how to be a safe and efficient hunter. His love of the outdoors is reminiscent of days gone by when kids spent their time catching tadpoles or skipping rocks in a creek. He’s a modern-day Huck Fin who gave up baseball because it cut too much into his hunting time.
Like any other 14-year-old, Mason likes to boast to his friends at school when he takes a good buck or a big turkey, and he loves to hear his friends’ stories when it’s their turn to boast.
“Hunting is a big thing at school,” he said. “It’s kind of a contest to see who can kill the biggest deer during hunting season. But the neat thing is that we all understand that hunting is so much more than killing an animal. It’s about spending time with friends and family. It’s about reconnecting with our past. It’s about being safe. And it’s about dredging some back-strap in some egg and flour and frying it up in a pan.”
In other words, for Mason Griffin, hunting is all about the process. He is already at the fifth level of hunter development, the Sportsman Stage, as defined by the hunter-safety course. What’s unique is that he never went through the other stages. It’s almost like he was born hooked on hunting.
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