The following is the next installment in my series on Hunting With Kids. I had originally planned on publishing this series in three or four installments, but it's taking a little longer. Bear with me and be sure and go back to read the previous installments.
We want our kids to carry on the hunting traditions that we grew up with; that were practiced by the people who built this country and the people who were here first.
The ritual of the hunt is as old as life itself. We gather together or go alone into the woods and return with food that will carry our families through the winter. We look at a map and determine who will hunt where. We play cards the night before the hunt. We sit around the campfire afterward and in turn tell stories of what we saw, the animal we harvested and the one we let walk.
Since I didn't grow up as a hunter, I'm kind of developing these traditions as I go along. One thing we did this year that I hope will become a tradition in my family was the New Year's Eve deer drive. This involved my kids, their seven-year-old cousin, his father (aka the Captain) and my cousin Drew (who needs a nickname for the blog.) We all had a lot of fun, and the kids were thrilled when a young buck ran right by the pop-up blind where we'd stationed the three of them.
I'd also like to point out that drives are a good way to get kids excited about deer hunting. You don't have to get up as early or sit as still or as long as you do when hunting deer from a tree stand. The action of a drive is what kids like.
One time-honored Virginia tradition that Jim has given me the opportunity to participate in is hunting deer with hounds. I know a lot of people here in Northern Virginia don't think much of this method of deer hunting. But it goes back to the founders of this great nation, and it's the way my Uncle Jim hunts during general firearms season. While I would never advocate legalizing it in this part of Virginia, I hope it remains legal in some places and that I will someday get a chance to do it with my kids.
And that's the great thing about hunting traditions. They're different everywhere; I don't have to like yours, and you don't have to like mine.
My friend Rex, who writes the Deer Camp Blog and hunts at the famous Christmas Place Plantation in Mississippi, recently sent me pictures of his then-13-year-old daughter, who had just taken her first deer. In the second picture, she had so much blood on her face she looked like they had dipped her head in the animal's body cavity. This is not something I think my kids would ever go for, but to Rex and his family blooding, the practice of marking the face of the new hunter with the blood of his or her first deer, is an important rite of passage.
"The ritual of smearing the face with blood is probably as old as time," Rex told me. "To us it is a symbol of ascension into manhood or womanhood as a hunter. I have told my children that they will be treated differently at camp after their first deer and will be treated as adults, and they should remember that.
"It is a ritual of ascension as an adult and a hunter that the kids understand and crave. It is also looked at as membership into the exclusive club of hunting or membership to the tribe or clan."
Another important American tradition with close ties to hunting is the one of self-reliance. Part of teaching kids about how hunting helped shape our nation is giving them that sense that they could fend for themselves in the woods if they had to. Teaching them to hunt is about teaching them to feed their families. It's also about teaching them to find their way home when they get lost; to get warm when they're cold; to be quiet and still and patient...
That ultimately, they hold the power of life and death in their hands.
Up Next: How Hunting Helps Kids Gain an Understanding of Nature