Hunters, the greatest gifts you can give kids this Christmas are not new rifles, bows, four-wheelers or lab puppies.
The gifts of love and respect for the outdoors, wrapped in knowledge and accountability, lasts a lifetime.
If you don’t take time to teach these intangible skills, young hunters are handicapped in their ability to ever truly grow and enjoy their outdoor pursuits. A pretty smart dude, Albert Einstein, once said, “Look deep into nature, then you will understand everything better.”
Gut check: As an adult, if you don’t already have this approach, it is never too late. Making outdoor pursuits meaningful is more than a trophy buck or “oohs and aahs” on a Facebook post. Seriously.
There is a rush about today’s world that is very hard to overcome. A me-too, need-it-now, let’s-take-the-easy-way-out approach. Frankly, I worry about today’s younger hunters. We’ve got these big fancy ATVs, heated deer stands, automatic deer feeders…and on and on. Bigger and better and faster can rob you of why people hunt and go outdoors to start with. Think about it, if you aren’t in too big of a hurry.
Most always, this column is meant to be entertaining or informative, but today’s a good day to preach. My chronograph hit 70 o’clock this past summer, so I feel qualified after being granted that time in God’s great outdoors.
Old fashioned learning
Too few young hunters start out the way most of us did — squirrel hunting or just tagging along on hunts. My first several years hunting in the woods were going after squirrels. We learned where they liked to go, why they were there, how to be quiet in stalking them and how to find them in the mass of branches and leaves in the trees. If they wouldn’t move, we learned to shake a vine on the side of the tree and make them go mobile. And we learned that every shot counted.
The first few times I ever got to go hunting and carry a gun, it was Barney Fife style. I carried my bullet in my pocket.
My dad watched me to make sure I was making the right decisions and handled the weapon carefully. When he was sure — and I had proven I could shoot straight in numerous practice sessions — then I got a live load.
There’s no need to be completely old fashioned, but listen up.
Think about the long-term with young hunters you are influencing. If they’ve done everything by the time they are 10 and haven’t developed patience and knowledge, what do they have to look forward to in later years?
If youngsters aren’t learning love and respect for the outdoors along the way, they’re probably doomed to default to some city sport like golf or tennis.
Yes, this happened
My son spent two years in the woods with me before he even touched a loaded gun, even to target practice.
I’ll never forget one of our first deer hunting trips. He was probably about seven years old. I had an old wooden lean-to stand with the seat perched against an oak tree about 10 feet off the ground. There wasn’t enough room for us to both safely get in it. I built him a little ground blind under the stand, where he could sit on a camp stool, hide and still see what was going on. He brought his toy gun so he could feel the part. We could still whisper and talk. It was a perfect setup for fun. I could hunt. He could learn.
He didn’t grow restless. He watched everything that happened. About an hour after daylight, a nice young buck walked out about 70 yards away on the side of the clearing. In those days, any buck that wasn’t a nubber was one good shot away from the freezer. In fact, it was rare for the average hunter to even see one 30+ years ago.
I watched intently and when the deer looked away, I raised my gun. I was about to take the safety off and fire, when…
My son had stood up and unloaded that toy gun on the deer. I’m not sure where that young buck finally stopped, probably somewhere in Arkansas. Fortunately, it caught me so much by surprise that I lost my breath for a second and didn’t even holler at him. By the time I got my breath back, I just used it to break into a roaring laugh.
We could always eat chicken.
We still laugh over that story. Not taking the deer didn’t make us miss any meals. No trophy was lost. It did give us a story for life. And, of course, a good learning experience. I get to still laugh over it with him and my grandchildren. That’s what the outdoors is about.
I’m blessed that all five of the grandkids get to spend time in the outdoors, too. Doing it right pays off. As it says in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Lord knows, we need a generation of respectful, knowledgeable and accountable outdoors lovers in the woods. Too many have departed from that.
Take the kids to the woods and water as young as you’d like, but keep it simple. Poking at a campfire with a stick is still one of life’s great satisfactions. Trust me. They want a place to get away from this crazy world they live in every day just as much as we do. Don’t underestimate that. And “winning” that becomes overbearing in every aspect of today’s life needs NOT be a word in the vocabulary of an outdoorsman.
There is much more that must be taught. Always put safety first. No deer, turkey or duck, no ride on a four wheeler or in a boat, is worth hurting yourself or someone else. Be glad for every outdoor experience. Learn every time you go. Leave small footprints. Listen to your elders. They have been here before. Nobody is born an outdoor expert. Learn to shoot. Practice. Practice some more. Aim small, miss small. If you aren’t going to eat it, don’t shoot it. Ask questions.
Follow the rules. They are well-intentioned, and yes, they mean you, too. Merry Christmas.