Mentoring a Youth Hunter Can Lead to a Lifelong Love

Posted by admin On April - 12 - 2010

It’s not uncommon to be out at a restaurant grabbing a bite to eat, especially in a rural area, and hear an elderly person discussing how they first got into hunting.

It wasn’t that long ago, in fact, that I was sitting in a booth at a little diner off the beaten path when I overheard a grandfather telling his son and his grandson about his first hunting dogs. They were two black and tans, and they were shipped to his dad in a crate. Imagine trying to get a hound through the Post Office now.

The man went on to talk about raising the dogs and training them and how his dad went out with him every weekend to work and hunt with the animals. You could hear the pride in his voice when he talked about his dad teaching him to lead with his gun and how to tell the direction the dogs had turned their quarry just by the sound of their howls.

It got me thinking back to when my dad first started taking me out hunting. I remember a few things from when I was real young, like playing with his squirrel call or getting to hold the shells as he loaded up the gun.

I can’t remember when I first fired a .22, or even the first animal I took down with him. But, clear as the day it happened, I do remember him taking me out for my first rifle deer hunt. I was so nervous the night before I almost got sick. He had forgotten the 30-30 I had practiced with all summer long and apologized. I was going to have to use his 30.06 instead. It was a frightening moment for me, unsure of my ability to handle the gun that was my dad’s. I knew, back then, that I couldn’t step into his shoes.

But he assured me and sat down with me to discuss, once again, the vitals on a whitetail deer.

“What happens if I miss?” I asked. “Do I just reload and shoot again?”

My dad laughed. I was embarrassed at the time and even felt my cheeks burn with a flush. I know now that he wasn’t laughing at me, but at the idea of it all.

“If you miss, you miss,” my dad said. “It’s a one-in-a-million chance that a deer would stand still for you to get another shot.”

The next morning, just before daylight, my dad took me out. It was chilly in November. I remember shivering despite my layers of clothing.

Within a few hours, we had witnessed at least a dozen deer. My heart would jump at the sight of them. My breathing would come in near gasps. I thought for sure the deer could hear me as the rasping was almost deafening to me.

Then my moment came. It was a small buck carrying a long tine on the right side and a long tine leading to a fork on the other. He came into view slowly, cautiously. My dad slowly slid me the rifle and I hoisted it. The stock and the barrel felt so heavy as I lifted it to my shoulder and rested it for a shot.

A deep breath. Half let out as best I could. I gasped another in. My chest heaved. My heart pounded. A slow squeeze of the trigger. The deer’s shoulder just to the right of my crosshairs.
The roar of the rifle was the most intense thing I remember from that moment. It sounded so loud. Blue jays took flight. Squirrels darted into the thick cover of conifers. I took the kick of the gun without incident, watched as the flare of the barrel lit up the end of my scope. And, to my amazement, the deer hadn’t fallen like planned.

In fact, it just stood there. I turned to my dad, my mouth agape.

“Reload!” he hissed quietly.

I snapped the bolt open and back, catching the empty casing with my fingers as my dad had taught me and sliding it into my pocket. I jacked the next bullet into place and lifted the rifle once more.

The buck had his head down, moving slowly to my right. He stopped just as I aligned the sights on his shoulder once more.

This time there was no pounding heart. No rasps of breath. There was just me in the moment.
The blast from the rifle was hardly as loud this time. The flare not nearly as bright. The deer didn’t turn to run. It didn’t bolt away. It flipped almost completely over, dead the instant the bullet tore through its heart and lungs and exited the other side.

I dressed my first deer that day. I still have the antlers in a box of my belongings. I still have the casing. The one that took the deer down, not the one I missed.

My dad laughed that night at a friend’s camp as he told the story. One in a million, he told them. That’s what the chances were.

I’ve gone on to be an avid outdoorsman. I love to hunt and fish and even go out after geo caches and letterboxes. I take my daughter every chance I get. She hasn’t the desire to hunt yet, but it will come. She already loves fishing, so I know it’s in there.

And I’ll teach her when the time comes to properly hunt a deer, to track it if it runs and to dress it when it’s found. I’ll show her how to butcher it and cook it and store it.

I hope that she finds a love for it as I did, and she passes it on. I hope that our time together creates amazing memories and a vivid experience.

Mentoring a young hunter, be it your own child or that of someone you know, can lead to a lifelong love of the outdoors. You, being the veteran in the woods, can lead by example and teach the youth the ins and outs of the forests, the lakes, the streams and the fields. You can show them how to hunt correctly and educate them in the importance of sportsmanship, of proper techniques and of conservation.

Because even if that deer doesn’t stand still when they miss, or if they take it down on the first shot, it’s not just a one-in-a-million chance: it’s a one-in-a-million memory that will last for the rest of that young hunter’s life.

2 Responses to “Mentoring a Youth Hunter Can Lead to a Lifelong Love”

  1. T.W.Warr says:

    I agree, it is a memory for both the child and the adult. Regardless of whether or not the game is harvested, it will always be a successful hunt just by having the kids involved. It is important for adults to pass on the hunting traditions so our kids can enjoy it as well.

  2. themightiestpen says:

    I couldn't agree more. Kids are the future of hunting, and without someone to show them the way they'll never have the opportunity to go out and do it right, which could easily turn them off from it completely. Thank you for the positive feedback.