The following is the first installment in a series in which I'll publish the approximately hour-long presentation I gave at the Nation's Outdoor Sportsmen's Show on the first weekend of 2008. Many regular readers of the blog will recognize the story I opened with:
The first Monday of Bow Season, 2007, I took my then-six-year-old son Jake on his first deer hunt of the year. I took along my Hoyt compound bow, and he took a video camera. We dressed in camouflage t-shirts since it was still so hot then, in early October. We headed out to a blind I'd set up in a little grove of trees in a field on a property we hunt about five minutes from our home.
We got there about half an hour before daylight, and Jake did such a good job of being still and quiet. I was so proud of him. He wanted so badly to videotape me shooting a deer with that bow.
Then, just as it got light enough to see a couple does emerged from the trees on the edge of the field. Jake saw them before me, as he often does.
"Dad, look," he whispered, barely audibly, pointing toward the deer.
I turned my head, and just then one of the does made a move in our direction.
Suddenly, Jake shouted:
"SHOOT IT DAD!"
The deer faded back into the trees, and Jake, even though he had been unable to control his excitement when the deer emerged, knew enough about hunting to realize our hunt was probably pretty much over. So we sat there for about another half hour and then headed into town to Jake's favorite after-hunting spot, Dunkin Donuts.
Usually, he's all smiles when we go there. But as we rumbled into town in my old pickup, Jake kind of looked at the floorboards, and I knew something was wrong.
"I'm sorry I scared the deer away Dad," he finally said.
I told him not to be sorry and that I was just glad he got excited when he saw the deer. That yes, he had made a mistake as far as hunting goes, but that in hunting, as in life, one of the best ways to learn to do things right is by doing them wrong first. I was proud of him for being quiet as long as he had and knew he would do better the next time.
My son Nick, who was four at the time, had been out with me in the 90 degree afternoon heat of Opening Day, two days earlier. He had not been able to be still or quiet for very long at all. But there was a moment that stands out in my memory. We were sitting on five-gallon buckets in a thicket, waiting for something to happen, when he turned to me and whispered:
"Dad, I've been waiting so long for deer season... We're real outdoorsmen."
My name is Matt Coughlin, and Kevin Paulson of HuntingLife.com asked me to come speak to you about hunting with kids, I think primarily because he knows I'm passionate about kids and the outdoors. On my website the Bright Idea Outdoors Weblog, I write about hunting and fishing and a few other things, including my experiences in the outdoors with my three sons: Jake, who is seven, five-year-old Nick and the youngest hunter in the bunch, Brett, who is almost five months old.
I'm primarily a whitetail deer hunter, and I do a lot of deer hunting. My kids, who were so excited about hunting in early October, had largely moved on to other interests by the time December rolled around. Nick, the same one who said he'd been waiting so long for deer season, recently asked me [in an annoyed tone]: "Is it still hunting season?"
I've hunted a lot over the last three months, and if I wasn't here I'd probably be hunting right now. I had a respectable season, harvesting one eight-point buck and one doe, and we all had a lot of fun. The culmination of that aspect of it came on New Year's Eve, when we put together a deer drive, and the kids had a young buck run right past the pop-up blind they were in.
But of all the hunts and all the fun I've had, those first October hunts with my boys--when I saw that they shared the sheer joy and and excitement that for me mark the first days of the hunt--endure as my best memories of the 2007 season...
Up Next: How I became a hunter relatively late in life and why kids shouldn't have to wait as long as I did.