It’s a moment every father dreams of. My son drew back on the buck, took a deep breath, paused for a moment to settle in, and then released his arrow. It was a perfect shot.
“Dadda, I ga ga the deer buck!”
My son is two years old and the buck he shot is made of foam. But I kid you not, he anchored like a pro and twelve-ringed that ten-point Rinehart. I was thrilled.
Like a lot of avid hunters, I harbor aspirations that my son and his younger brother will grow up to love the outdoors and deer hunting just like I do. But how can a mom or dad go about encouraging that kind of excitement without being overbearing, or on the flip side, losing the kids’ interest to video games and TV? I don’t have the answer—we’re only two and a half years into this experiment—but I’m working hard to figure it out.
While my experience is admittedly limited, a few recent happenings have given me hope that I’m at least heading in the right direction. As a dad, and a hunter for that matter, sometimes that’s all you can ask for. Here’s what I’ve learned in these few short years.
It was a cool March afternoon when I buckled my son into the backpack carrier and took off for a scouting mission in southern Michigan. Everett sang the chorus of “Hey Jude” as we set off into the snow. Fifteen minutes later, after letting him down to walk and pointing out a few buck rubs, I turned around to see him bent over, with his fingers pointing off his forehead like antlers, rubbing his head up and down on a sapling. A few minutes later we found the second of two shed antlers for the day, which he then insisted on holding and rattling together for the duration of our hike. He hardly let go of them for the rest of the day.
That afternoon was a great reminder of the power of immersion—by that I mean including your child in the outdoor activities and lifestyle that you pursue. I try to do this as often as possible, bringing my son along for every feasible outdoor outing. We’ve roosted turkeys, glassed for bucks, collected soil samples, netted fish, and everything in between.
Consistently involving my two-year-old in my outdoor pursuits is not always easy and it certainly make it harder to get things done, but I’m betting it will pay off in the long run. And if nothing else, he’s sure having fun in the meantime.
Here was the scene this past Monday night in the Kenyon household. A deer hunting show was on TV, my son and I were on the couch, and we each held rattling antlers and a grunt tube. As a buck chased a doe across the screen, my son smashed his antlers together and then let out a deep “burrrrrp” on the tube. As the buck came into range of the TV hunter, Everett stopped the deer with a spot-on imitation of the traditional whitetail hunter “meh, meh, MEH!” My wife shook her head and laughed in the background at this absurd whitetail role play.
We’re not big on TV, but in this case we make an exception. “Pretend time” extends to other things too, like stalking 3D targets with a Nerf bow, casting fishing rods into a kiddie pool and pulling out “big raybow tout!” and plenty more. By helping my son participate in outdoor activities, just like Dad but in a fun, pretend kind of way, I’m wagering his interest will continue to grow until he’s old enough to shift to the real deal.
Feeding the Habit
I took my son to Cabela’s this past weekend, mostly to see the life-size mounts and stocked fish tanks. He sprinted back and forth, pointing and hollering at me to come see each new animal. When we walked up to the 3D targets, he saw the “gobble gobble” and it was love at first sight. By the end of the night a new turkey target was in the bed of my truck.
It was my dad that passed the idea of “feeding the habit” on down to me. My old man was relatively stingy in most cases, but not when it came to hunting or fishing. I was going to have to buy my own CDs, my own car, and my own jeans, but if I needed a fishing rod or some camo, my dad was a lot more generous. The same thing went for time. When at all possible, if I showed the desire to go hunting or fishing, my dad would drop what he was doing and take me out. He always fed the habit.
Looking back now, I see that this was a real sacrifice in a lot of ways, but it made an impact. As a father now I’m trying to follow a similar principle as much as I possibly can—although I know I sometimes get caught up in my own activities more than I care to admit. Fishing rods, toy deer, books about elk, a new turkey target; if I’m going to spoil my son in some way, this will be it. And if he wants to shoot his Nerf bow at the dogs, cast his line in the kiddie pool, or stalk up on a squirrel, count me in.
The Real Trick
I realize I might be wrong on all this. Check back with me in 15 years to see how things turned out.
But from where I stand now it seems that the trick to getting your child to become a hunter is realizing that there’s no trick at all. Simple things done consistently and with love make the real difference.
Include your kids in your outdoor life. Be patient. Make it fun.
Feature image via Captured Creative.