Actually, this is what all types of hunting should be about. Get. Kids. Into. The. Outdoors! Seriously, youth need to learn how spending time hunting and being outdoors can be a very natural activity in their development. Unfortunately, far too often in today’s world it doesn’t happen that way for many different reasons (or should I say…in some cases, excuses).
Not in our deer camp. Nope. We embrace the notion of exposing kids to the outdoors. And yes, often it’s at the expense of adults being successful bagging a deer…but we don’t care. When you take a kid deer hunting the adult is achieving something much more important.
Indeed, the child is learning how it’s okay to step away from the computer…the iPad…or the smartphone. It’s okay to get off the couch and occasionally experience wet toes or cold fingers for several hours each fall. Moreover, for many kids it’s perfectly fine for them to understand shopping for their food from a hunting blind rather than a grocery store aisle. Kids need wholesome experiences during their maturing years and the deer woods certainly provides that incredible learning opportunity.
This past weekend (and again this coming weekend) we welcomed kids to join us during our organized deer hunt. Six adults were hunting in our woods…and so were 4 kids all under the age of 12 years. Not only that…each of the children shared something else quite special—it was “girl power” time. Yes, it just so happened there were 4 girls the first weekend and possibly there will be 5 tagging along this coming weekend. How cool is that? Seriously, it’s one thing to have the youth out hunting…but it’s even better when you teach young women just how much fun it can be hunting with their dads.
Actually, my 10-year old daughter, Elsie, has now been hunting with me since the ripe old age of 4 years old. Last weekend for the opener I think it was safe to say she was even more excited about hunting than her dear Ol’ Pops. I say this because even though we had to rise from bed early for opening morning…she informed me how she had experienced a very sleepless night waking 5 times due to the excitement of what was to soon occur the next morning.
And that’s wonderful. It’s important to harness that excitement from an early age and then find ways to turn it into fond, lasting memories. At this point, Elsie can’t remember spending early Novembers doing anything other than deer hunting. She was too young to remember the days when deer hunting meant staying home with mom waiting for dad to return with stories from the woods. Now, she’s out living the stories and developing the vivid images of what she experiences in her own mind.
Honestly, whether you duck hunt, pheasant hunt, fish, or whatever you do in the outdoors it’s so important to involve your kids. Don’t have a kid…borrow one from a sibling or even a trusting neighbor. It truly is that important to expose all youth to the outdoors at an early age if they’re to develop a life-long appreciation for living a life as a sportsman.
When I look at so many other hunters and fishermen I see their reasons for not taking youth along to be rather selfish. Oh, sure, quiet time in the blind or tree stand is probably not going to happen. You bet…you can count on kids to move or make a noise when it’s least opportune. And, of course, they will cough or sneeze without ever even trying to suppress such bodily actions…but they’re learning.
With Elsie, I’ve discovered that if we’re going to sit in a blind for 5+ hours we need to seek creative ways to fight boredom. I often encourage her to bring a book so she can read. In fact, that book reading was rather challenging last weekend in the rain. Oh, we were in a blind offering some protection…but with windows open there was constantly water spraying as it hit the screen windows. You can bet dad, as well as Elsie, kept a watchful eye on the school library book to make sure nothing was damaged.
But there are other ways to fight boredom. Play guessing games…quietly sing songs by changing the lyrics to use the word “deer” and mention things found in the woods…heck, occasionally we even watch and look for deer or other wildlife movements.
Certainly for me when (or if) the day ever comes to go hunting without my little partner it’ll be a sad day, indeed. We do some of our best bonding while together in the woods sharing various outdoors experiences. Every once in a while I get to teach her something about the outdoors to better help her develop into an outdoors savvy person. Then, every once in a while, she reminds me just how wonderful it still is to view the natural world through young eyes willing to appreciate even the simplest of things nature has to offer.
Best I can figure I’ve been deer hunting now for about 41 or 42 seasons. Been a long time. Seen lots of cool stuff in the woods. And yes, some of it has even included big deer. Yet, many non-hunters and hunters alike will not completely understand when I say this…but I no longer deer hunt with the sole purpose of killing a deer. Let me explain.
When you start out as a hunter you go through various predictable stages in the sport. Actually, I’m not even sure who coined the “5 stages of a hunter” concept anymore, but it goes something like this:
- Shooter Stage — as a beginner you want to shoot your new gun. You’re proud of that gun or bow…you want to see how it performs. So much, in fact, that you sort of measure success simply by the fact you got to discharge your firearm or twang your bow. Oh, sure…getting a deer is always the ultimate goal…but when you’re in this beginning stage all you really need to make you happy is to have a chance. You’re more accepting if you shoot and miss…besides, in this hunter’s mind the goal is to just be given an opportunity to use your new “hunting equipment.”
- Limiting-Out Stage — this stage is sort of the glutton stage. Success comes with shooting a limit of ducks, filling all tags you have with deer…you get the picture. When a hunter is at this stage of life the main point is simply bragging rights that he/she used up all available tags. The hunter got their money’s worth. In other words, they got to leave the woods early because…well, they were ALL DONE hunting because they could not legally hunt any longer. Nothing wrong with this stage or any of them…it’s just a stepping stone toward maturity that many hunters must take.
- Trophy Stage — typically when a person has hunted for a number of years and achieved some success they aspire toward something greater. They want a bigger buck. They want a duck or a goose with that leg band. In their mind they ascribe to a conceived notion of what they believe to be a trophy and set out to accomplish that sometimes lofty goal. Truthfully, I know many hunters who never mature beyond this stage. And that’s okay. If a large deer with a record book rack is what stokes the hunting desire inside, there’s nothing wrong with that. What is important about this stage is the fact this is the stage where most non-hunters place all hunters…and it is just not so. After all, this is only the middle stage in what I call hunting maturation and appreciation.
- Method Stage — now let’s be honest, this stage is often intertwined with the previous Trophy Stage for many hunters. Depending on the day or even the hunting season, hunters will take great pride in their strategy to waylay a big buck almost as much as actually accomplishing the task. The Method Stage can be interesting because this is where the hunter really develops a greater understanding of the outdoors. When a hunter lays in bed at night trying to “out think” the big buck the next morning by employing some fool-proof strategy, well, that’s when the hunter knows he has a fever for the hunt.
- Appreciation Stage — this is the big one. Most hunters when they enter the sport don’t purposefully set out to get to this level. Nope, instead it just happens along the way. When a hunter gets to this stage he/she realizes that just being in the deer woods is all that really matters. This hunter might not see a deer all day, but by golly that was one heck of a sunrise worth getting out of bed for 2-hours earlier. The hunter at this point in their life doesn’t really care if they even shoot their gun. In fact, a hunter truly at this stage wouldn’t even mind if they left the gun back at camp still inside the case. Indeed, not every hunter makes it to this stage in their hunting maturity…but when they do it’s a thing of beauty. Imagine going into the woods knowing that it will be a successful day simply by spending the time outdoors. No pressure. No expectations.
And so I prepare today for the 2018 Minnesota Firearms Deer Hunting Opener where once again I will be hunting with my 10-year old daughter, Elsie, hunting by my side tomorrow morning. I’ll be carrying a muzzleloader giving me a one-shot opportunity for success. Elsie, well…she will be keeping me company in the blind by watching and learning. She’s developed into a great hunting partner. She has patience, she has a desire to learn about the outdoors, but most of all she simply enjoys the close-knit time spent with her Dad. Yup, it becomes a Daddy/Daughter bonding experience like no other.
We eat snacks. Drink hot-cocoa from our respective thermos containers. We each have assigned duties to keep a watchful eye and ear out for approaching deer from certain areas. We ask each other if either of us are getting cold yet. We sometimes laugh. Occasionally we text mom back home to see if she’s out of bed yet watching TV. BOOM! <sound effect> Where did that shot just come from. Elsie thinks it’s from her left. I’m kind of thinking it sounded like it came from my right. It seems like in the deer woods there is something happening to keep your mind engaged at all times. It’s great!
Oh, sure…there are times I sit there and think how nice it would be to be home back in bed all warm and comfortable. Nobody said deer hunting is easy. Nobody ever said deer hunting is exciting at all times. Yet, the time spent in the deer woods does something special to my soul. The best way I can relate it to a non-hunter is to describe how a person plugs their smart phone into a charger to bring it “back to life.” No doubt about it hunting deer is my method to recharge the batteries. Being outdoors…being close to nature…it truly does something special to the human spirit that is hard to describe. Moreover, when you share that experience with someone you love it takes on an even deeper meaning.
So, yes…tomorrow I deer hunt. I really don’t care if I end up shooting my gun. I absolutely have no interest in filling all the tags we have. If a trophy comes by it will be a “game time decision” on whether I shoot…because if it’s heading in the general direction of a younger hunter on stand…I will gladly give them the opportunity to make their day. In terms of methods, heck…Elsie and I are in the woods to have a good time and stay comfortable in the blind. We might even crank up the stinky old propane heater just to make things more pleasant by keeping our toes and fingers toasty.
Along with the fun comes the appreciation for the outdoors I’m trying to develop in my daughter. The moments we share together doing so will never be taken away from either of us. Deer hunting is the excuse we use to be outdoors in the woods together. How a person hunts goes a long way to determine what sort of memories are created and whether they are positive or negative. A proper attitude and a plan will ensure the deer woods experience always stays special in a deer hunter’s heart.