The following is the sixth installment in my series on Hunting With Kids. This one deviates a little from the seminar I gave on the subject earlier this month.
Click on the Hunting With Kids links in the right sidebar of my homepage to read the previous installments.
One point I stressed in my January presentation on Hunting With Kids is that, no matter what you do, not every person that you introduce to the sport is going to like it.
I'm not sure, but I may already be seeing this with my five-year-old son Nick. He just doesn't seem quite as interested in hunting as his older brother does. But he's only five, and who knows? He could grow up to be as avid and skilled a hunter as my cousin Tom. Or he could be like Tom's brother Nat, who started hunting as a youngster but chose to give it up shortly after killing his first buck.
As I did my research for the presentation, I asked Nat why he no longer joins his father and brother on deer hunts. He told me:
"My earliest memories of hunting are not of me being out in the woods hunting. They are of the times when Uncle Jim would come up to visit us and hunt with Dad. I remember one time in particular when they came back with a deer and let Tom and I help butcher it. It is a great memory of hunting because of the happiness that it caused for all of us.
"Like my father and brother, I took up hunting. There were a few things I immediately disliked about it; the early hours and the cold are two features that readily jump to mind. But despite the fact that I sat shivering and half asleep in a tree stand, I loved being outside. I loved feeling and watching the sunrise, and most of all I loved the bonding experience that I was sharing with my Dad. He loved hunting, and doing it with him helped me to see why he loved it.
"I did not love hunting. The amount of pleasure I felt to the amount of work that was required when a deer was actually killed did not balance evenly for me, so I ceased hunting after only two kills. Another reason that I did not continue was the fact that I do not like to kill things; never have, never will. But still, I shared the the love of the outdoors that Dad had."
Nat is an avid rock climber, hiker and snow boarder who also enjoys fishing. He even told me that he's interested in working as a wilderness survival instructor after college. He is not a hunter, but his early exposure to the sport helped him gain an appreciation of the outdoors and an understanding of people who do enjoy hunting.
I recently got a message from a Southwest Virginia native, who told me an amusing story about the first deer he killed and a little bit about why he chose not to make hunting a lifelong pursuit. This story was not part of my presentation, but it's too good to leave out of this post. The storyteller wishes to remain anonymous:
We were raised in a hunting family. Uncles and cousins, etc. lived for it, still do. Both grandfathers had farms we hunted, although neither of them, nor my father, hunted. They had guns, but they were mostly for varmints or intruders, should they risk such. We've always had wild turkey at Thanksgiving. Birdshot in your teeth is a tradition, and we'd marinate venison tenderloin long enough that even the pickiest eater would devour a plateful...
This gentleman and his younger brother started deer hunting at about the same time, and a friendly competition arose over who would get a deer first. In the meantime, the older brother began to take a serious interest in music, which distracted him from hunting. But still, he went one day at the age of "14 or 15" with his brother, his uncles and a family friend who worked as a Virginia state trooper. It was early in what was then only a two-week season, and does were not fair game. For my friend to get his first deer, it would have to be an antlered buck.
While it was a thrill to have my uncle's .243 at my side and real wildlife targets milling among us, I was disengaged. At that age, I was tuning into the opposite sex, AC/DC and team sports. This day I remember being super tired from a musical excursion, feeling poorly, not to into the hunt. I actually took a book into the woods, hidden in the back of my jacket lining.
I settled into the leaves next to a big old oak and started to read. The gun lay across my lap, and my head was down. After about 20 minutes I reached into my pocket for a piece of Bubble Yum grape; this was popular then. I lazily looked up at the immediate environs in front of me.
Staring me right in the face was a deer, broadside facing me. A real deer alive and breathing steam; holy!!! This was it. I slid the book off my lap, stood up very slowly and raised the .243 to my shoulder.
Surprisingly, the deer still stood there looking at me. I kind of felt like I should shoo it off. It seemed unfair, since I knew what this big 'ol gun would do if I was able to get off this shot. It was only 15 yards or so, real close. But there it stood.
Shocked, surprised, thrilled and nervous, I contemplated pulling the trigger. What was probably about 10 seconds felt like 10 minutes, so vivid the memory.
I'd been taught to shoot at the shoulder, as powerful a lesson as the 10 Commandments. So that's where I aimed the scope. Cross hairs on the spot, I slid the safety off and firmly pulled the trigger.
The recoil of the gun and the massive blast of the shot had the impact of a crash landing. When I regained my bearings, I saw the deer stumbling away, 50 yards or so down a hill, before crumpling in the fall leaves. Then, as if in a dream, I realized I hadn't checked the deer for antlers before unloading on it.
What if it was a doe? Peering from that distance, I saw no antlers. Noooooooo!
The state trooper would have me in jail. That was not an appealing option, so I did what experience had taught me to do in such pressing situations, before tests or ball games or sleep. I asked Jesus for a bit of help. Amen.
I popped the safety on and hustled over to the fallen animal. There it was, eyes open, staring up at me, a bit of blood at the entry wound, steam emitting from the spot. Simultaneously my uncle was beside me.
"Did you get a good shot?" he asked.
He quickly saw the result of my shot and asked me to stand back as he put the deer out of its misery.
The animal was lifeless. He rolled it over, and I saw its tongue hanging out, a striking image of the immediacy of death. Oh yeah, the antlers. I could hardly bear to look.
I heard my brother, other uncle and the TROOPER coming over the ridge, leaves rustling underfoot as they ran towards us. They arrived as I chomped my gum nervously. The smallish deer lay before the assembled group.
"What did he get?" someone asked.
"A button buck!" my proud uncle exclaimed. "He got himself a button buck. Nice work picking up on those ONE-INCH knobs!"
I glanced toward the heavens, nodded my thanks and wondered how long it would take us to clean this thing up and get me back to my poster-filled bedroom and stereo, away from these woods where I'd just proved I had no real interest in the details of the hunt.
It's nice to have permanent claim to the first deer killed between us, but from that day forward I left the heavy lifting to my brother. I hunted several times from then until 10 years later, when, after college, I permanently swapped guns for guitars.
So there you have it. Not everyone is cut out to be a hunter. But if you introduce a child to hunting, there's a good chance it will help him or her develop a lifelong appreciation of the outdoors. He may even end up with at least one good hunting story.