February 26, 2019
Listen to the Campfire Podcast Here!:
I like hard places and whitetail hunting was becoming less than hard. Good deer numbers and ample opportunity were making it something different than what I grew up doing. Deer hunting was hard when I was a kid. I needed to go back to a more difficult place, not just for me, but for my kids. Noticing the current trends of introducing young ones to hunting, I knew I had to do something different with my own to give them a similar experience that forged in me a true love for hunting. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not complaining about robust deer populations and liberal seasons. However, we don’t have to go with the trend of “easier” all the time. What made me appreciate hunting in the beginning was difficulty at the start. Are we making hunting too easy for our kids? Here is a bigger question: are we raising kids that can carry the “conservation torch” when our time is over? Are they equipped with the right internal values to withstand the future battles coming towards modern hunting?
I’m torn about the current philosophy of introducing kids to hunting. In essence, it’s usually a make-it-as-easy-possible mentality. This falls in line with the trend of giving all teams trophies at the end of the season and not keeping score. Really? You don’t have to look far to realize this is building dysfunction in some kids. Value is forged from the sweet cocktail of defeat mixed with the hard-to-come-by, and rare, victory. Our goal as parents should be that our kids value wildlife, wild places and conservation-based hunting. We’re creating a structure for them to value something, not just acquisition of cheap victory. Are we as parents making a mistake?
I was raised in a family of three brothers with a dad who was a serious bowhunter. My father didn’t caudle us in hunting – at all. I was the only brother who navigated the gauntlet. The “tough love” philosophy worked for me, but it didn’t for my siblings. I’m now the father with four children of my own. I’ve adopted a mixed approach. I’m using many of the great things I learned from my father, but also constantly adopting some updated strategies.
You want to make it enjoyable, and to make success a real possibility without it overshadowing the possibility of failure. The common denominator between the most dedicated hunters I know is difficulty in the beginning. Initial struggles caused them to fine tune their hunting, and ultimately, value wildlife and success A LOT. Many would-be hunters; however, were casualties to the past introduction strategies that didn’t have any “caudle” at all. We can’t afford to loose any more hunters, or create hunters that can’t carry the future burden of wildlife conservation.
I’ve adopted a two-fold strategy ripe with open dialogue between the kids and myself. The hunting near our house is great. Actually, we hunt deer 150 yards from our back door. My kids have experienced some great protein-gathering adventures just minutes out their bedroom door. Access is key, and they’ve had some world-class access. And it’s pretty easy. However, they know the internal satisfaction of killing a deer in the backyard isn’t as high as killing a deer in a “hard place” – even though the meat tastes the same. They know this because I’ve indoctrinated them to believe so.
We have a “hard place” we hunt. We hunt there on purpose. My kids are learning hard is good, and self-imposed limitation is honorable. Our family culture values include being honorable over harvesting game. For many years we’ve traveled to hunt Arkansas public land in a region with low deer densities and difficult access. Rugged terrain and a monoculture of mature pine and oak timber make deer numbers low. We use our mule, Izzie, which they helped train, to pack into backcountry. Engagement in the process is critical, and them having skin in the game with the mule is high-octane motivation.
We recently got back from a three-day rifle hunt near season’s end. I took my oldest son, Bear, who is 13, and my good friend’s son, David, who is 16. Burning a ½ day on both sides traveling in, we hunted two full days of the three-day hunt. The boys both hunted a total of 20 hours each, and they never saw a deer. Bear actually hunted 10 hours straight in the same location on the second day. He left camp before I did and returned at dark. Upon arriving back at camp I said, “Bear, did you come back to camp during the day?”
“No Dad, I hunted all day.” He said.
“You didn’t come back to camp for lunch?” I asked.
“Nope, I had some Cliff bars and fruit snacks.” He replied.
“Did you see anything?” I questioned.
“Yup, a flock of turkeys.” He said.
“Bear, you just hunted 10 hours in the same spot and never saw a deer. I don’t know many grown men that would do that,” I said with a heaping dose of pride. “Good job, son. Your dedication will pay off. I promise.”
As the campfire crackled under a blanket of stars Bear told the riveting story of watching the flock of turkeys feed past him. He glowed as he recounted the event as if he’d witnessed something truly spectacular – and he had. He ended the ancient oral campfire ritual by saying, “The best part of the day was when I saw a giant…(dramatic pause)…grey squirrel! I almost shot it, Dad, but I didn’t.” David and I laughed out loud as we validated the philosophy building deep in his internal man - the hard places are fun, they make us strong, and give us identity. And harvesting critters isn’t the end-all of successful hunting, and good parenting includes making it hard on purpose sometimes.