by Ronnie "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 much needed attention. It’s by no means a new concept but in my opinion, it 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. 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 five decades in the woods, no memories are more vivid than those first trips to the woods.
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, and a really big one for me, packing food was all a 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, 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 shotgun and hunting knife, I packed sleeping bag, 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 not to make them hunters but conservationist and more importantly, realists.
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. Now their kids are experiencing hunting and fishing and nothing makes me or their Mom more proud.
Kids have a way of making you stop and smell the roses. They will point out things that we either take for granted or maybe overlook with big blinders on. One of the most unforgettable examples of this I ever witnessed happened while hunting with my youngest daughter in Alabama. We were hunting on Enon Plantation near Union Springs with Fred Law. Fred is a lifelong turkey hunter and knows exactly how to play the game. It was opening weekend and once again, the weather was trying to dampen an otherwise exciting weekend. Lauran had taken a turkey the previous season and it was one of those five minute straight-off-the-roost gobblers. She had a memorable hunt but still hadn’t sampled what turkey hunting is all about.
On her second venture it was shaping up to be a real learning experience. At dawn, the clouds were thick and gray. The wind howled, so naturally we heard no gobbling at sunrise. So we started the task of walking, calling in the wind lulls and hoping. The day ended as it started with no encounters at all. The next morning was an exact repeat of the day before. Clouds, occasional rain drops and wind. Once again we were on the move.
Lauran’s and Fred’s spirits never wavered. For three hours we moved and called and listened and hoped. At one of our last locations, I was fiddling with my camera while Fred called and glassed from a hilltop. Lauran tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the west. I turned to see what she had spotted and was amazed to see a dim but definite rainbow peaking through the clouds. Lauran smiled and said maybe the weather would break before we had to head home. At that instant, Fred came running up with a smile from ear to ear.
“I spotted four gobblers across the creek coming into a Greenfield,” he said. “Let’s go.”
We jumped in the truck and drove a mile or so to get around the creek. After some crawling and calling, Lauran smacked a nice long beard with my ever-present video camera saving the memory. It was without question one of the most special hunts I have ever witnessed. Would you or I have spotted the rainbow in the clouds? Probably not.
Kids have lots of distractions today that were not an option when I was growing up. I could name hundreds but the one that to me is most apparent is the speed of life. It’s hard to set aside time to do everything. Work, house chores, appointments, etc. It’s easy to let the village raise your child and in these times, it can be hard to be a parent. I see some adults who tend to try and be a friend to their kids more than a parent. I believe the outdoors is one of the only places where both mesh in harmony. The lessons learned while outdoors such as respect for land and nature, accountability for one’s actions, and responsibility to the resource are life lessons that will stay with them forever. While teaching these lessons and showing them you are yourself responsible, trustworthy and caring, a natural friendship will develop that doesn’t require new video games, trendy clothes or the bending of rules. All it requires is time together.