by Cuz Strickland
You hear it a lot lately, on hunting shows and in magazine articles, “take a kid hunting.” It’s a theme that we as hunters should be proud is getting some much needed attention. It’s by no means a new concept, but in my opinion was put on the shelf for a while during the “big” period. For years we have read about where, when and how to bag the big one. OK, I’ll admit that big sells when you’re dealing with hunters, and we all like to dream about that really big one. There’s nothing wrong with trying to bag the biggest rack or the longest beard, but people who focus on just that miss some of the truly special events that take place outdoors. You’ll notice that I didn’t use the term trophy when talking about big. To me they are totally different. Antler size, spurs, beard, width, length, circumference or weight have nothing to do with trophies. Size does figure into the trophy equation but it’s in terms of how big the memory or the smiles.
That’s where kids come in. At no time in the outdoors is the chance for a lasting memory or trophy better than when a wide-eyed kid is along, and it doesn’t have to be a hunt for a monster buck.
My introduction to hunting was with small game. My dad’s old, blue dodge pick-up, faded army fatigues and a single shot 410. What an adventure. Once I was big enough to tag along, my whole world revolved around hunting season and the outdoors. I could sleep like a baby the night before Christmas but never slept a wink the night before opening day of deer season. After over 50 years in the woods, no memories are more vivid than those first trips afield.
Looking back my mom and dad did some things, whether on purpose or by accident, that solidified my love of hunting and the outdoors. They made it fun. For instance, there was no pressure to kill or shoot anything. They always made sure the weather was tolerable, no frozen feet or hands (at first). They always made getting ready at least as big a deal as the hunt. Packing gear, making plans, drawing maps, packing food was all a big part of the adventure. How many of you today don’t get as much enjoyment out of simply getting ready for the hunt as you do the hunt itself? Back then there was nowhere near the game we have today, so we concentrated on little things. How to build a fire, how to use a compass, tie on spinner bait or where to scout for sign. It was all about learning, but more than that it was all fun.
When I became a dad I wanted my girls to if not love the outdoors and hunting, to at least understand nature and the role ethical hunters play in the cycle. I was able to do that by simply planning a few trips around them. Along with a shotgun and hunting knife, I packed sleeping bags, blind material, Barbie dolls, coloring books and snacks. Instead of sitting motionless for hours, we whispered and laughed. We dug in the dirt with sticks and looked for lions and bears. Along the way, they learned about bucks and does and honeysuckle and acorns. My intention was the make them hunters, but what it did was make them conservationist and more importantly realist. Today my girls are grown and very successful in their adult world and although they don’t necessarily live to hunt like old dad, they understand nature, our environment and why I hunt.
Kids have a way of making you stop and smell the roses.