E-mail

Why Take Your Children to Deer Camp?

By

Stephanie Mallory

Click for Larger ViewI’m often asked, “How did a young woman like you get involved in writing about hunting and fishing?” My response is always the same. “I have my dad to thank.” From the time I was a very young child, my father James Davis had me in the woods. An avid hunter and fisherman, Dad wanted me to grow to love the outdoors as much as he did, and he made sure I got a good taste of all that nature had to offer at an early age.

The Bankhead Forest of north/east Alabama was our stomping ground, and I quickly grew to love the time I spent out of doors as much as my father. As soon as I began walking, Dad started carrying me on his excursions, often much to my mother’s dismay. We’d spend hours sitting on the banks of the lake fishing for bass, we’d walk for miles among the hardwoods in pursuit of squirrels, and we’d wait patiently in blinds for cunning gobblers to approach. But my fondest of memories is of those spent in deer camp with my father and his hunting buddies.

The Old Cabin

Click for Larger ViewGoing to deer camp was like stepping back in time for me. Our camp was a 19th Century log cabin, which once belonged to my grandfather, Cecil McClellan. Sitting on the banks of Smith Lake in Winston County, Alabama, the cabin consisted of one large room with a big rock fireplace on the side. There was an old green swing on the front porch that beckoned to the tired hunter who needed a break, but would then flip backward throwing the unlucky guy (or young girl) to the ground. The air inside the cabin was stagnant and musty, and the wooden bunk beds were splintered and uncomfortable, but it was paradise to me.

I loved nothing better than driving down the old dirt roads that led to the cabin the night before our hunt. I always wanted to be the first one to open the cabin’s door in hopes that I’d catch a raccoon off guard. If previous hunters left any food in the cabin, the varmints would squeeze through one of the many holes in the floor and practically ransack the place. Their shenanigans irritated the other hunters but tickled me to death.

Campfire Talk

At night, my dad and the other men would build a campfire and sit around it reminiscing about the good old days. Most of my father’s hunting companions were also his childhood friends. They’d tell stories about my dad and the mischief he got into when he was my age, which I stored in my mind incase I needed to one day remind him of his own misbehavior as a child. My father and his friends had me convinced that bears, panthers and other flesh-eating predators were lurking just outside of the glow cast by the fire, and that if I wondered too far away from camp, I might become a midnight snack – a very convincing method for keeping a child within the safe perimeters of camp.

Hunting Buddies

Click for Larger ViewI never felt so grown up and so special than during the times I spent sitting around the campfire with my dad and his friends listening to tall tales and true accounts never knowing which was which. During these times, I wasn’t just Daddy‘s little girl, I was his friend, his partner, his hunting buddy.

During that time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, few deer camps welcomed children, much less little girls. But no one ever questioned my father when he’d pull up to camp in his old truck with me in the passenger seat. His friends knew that wherever he went, I went and that was just the way it was.

One reason I was accepted in camp was because I caused no problems and my father made sure of that. He explained to me early on that being in deer camp was a privilege, and if I misbehaved, then that privilege would be taken away from me. So I made sure that I did nothing that would cause my dad or the other hunters to complain about my attendance in camp. In fact, I’d go out of my way to make sure that my presence in camp was an asset rather than a drawback. I’d pick up the cabin, making sure it remained clean and uncluttered, and I’d fetch the other hunters drinks and snacks when the time called for it.

The Hunts

The time my father and I spent in the deer woods was more about just being together than it was about hunting. As a young child, I would get impatient and bored very quickly. So we’d spend and hour or two in the shooting house, then when my dad could tell I’d had enough, we’d take the long walk back to camp stopping to skip rocks across the lake or to check out the different animal tracks imprinted in the soft dirt at the road’s edge. I loved these walks. We’d talk about whatever entered our minds, or we’d sing the songs that were popular on the radio at that time. These are the memories that stick out in my mind about deer camp, and these are the times that created a bond between my father and me that still exists today.

Nature’s Classroom

Click for Larger ViewAs a young child, I had no idea that my experience in deer camp with my father would actually contribute to the person I am today. But, the lessons I learned in my outdoor classroom directly impacted the path my life would take. More than 25 years later, I still spend much of my time in hunting camps but now I go as an outdoor writer and photographer. I know if it hadn’t been for my dad letting his rambunctious little girl tag along with him, I’d not have the opportunities I do today.

My father used our time together in the woods as an opportunity to instill values within me that all parents want to see in their children, such as patience, respect for life, responsibility, self esteem, honesty and reliability.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned during my time at camp was patience. Hunting is a waiting game and no other sport teaches patience to the degree that hunting does. Even though we didn’t spend extended amounts of time in our shooting house, when I was in it, I was still and quiet. I learned I had to be patient if I at least wanted to get a glimpse at a deer. And when we did finally see one, I didn’t care if it was a small doe or a huge buck, I just felt privileged to see an animal in the wild.

I also learned that life has value. He would tell me that hunters should always use what we harvest from the land, air and water, and that we shouldn’t take an animal that we don’t intend to eat. So, I not only bonded with my father, but I bonded with nature as well. I learned to love the land and animals around me and to never abuse these precious gifts.

I learned to be responsible. My dad would spend hours teaching me how to properly handle and shoot a gun. I learned first-hand about the danger of an improperly handled firearm. My father only let me carry a gun when I proved to him that I was old enough and responsible enough to handle it. I learned at a very early age the importance of being safe in the woods and what a gun is capable of.

Click for Larger ViewI also thank my time in camp for a healthy self esteem. One way we get self-esteem is from knowing how to do something well. My father taught me how to shoot a gun, scout for deer and navigate through the woods – skills that few other girls my age had. And the more I practiced these skills the better I got. I also learned to feel comfortable in all-male environments, which comes in very handy with my line of work today. I often find myself the only female in camp. Thanks to my hunting experiences as a youngster, I feel completely comfortable in such situations.

The qualities I learned in camp I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life, and as mother to two young bows, I hope to share with them the same type of experiences my father once shared with me. My father has already bought both of them guns and has had their names engraved on them. He’s looking forward to the day when both boys will tag along beside him as I once did not so long ago.

The Next Generation

Tim Andrus, Realtree Pro Staffer and seminar speaker for Cabela’s and LL Bean, also wanted to get his daughter Brooke, into the outdoors at a young age.

“Brooke, who was one-year-old at the time, had just started walking, and I decided to take her on a two-day-long muzzleloader hunt with me,” Andrus says. “She’s my little princess, and I didn’t want to be away from her if I didn’t have to, so I just decided to take her with me.”

Andrus says Brooke, who’s now six-years-old, can sit around the table with a group of hunters and hold her own in a conversation about deer hunting.

“I wanted to pass the hunting heritage on to my child because it seems as if no one is doing it anymore,” Andrus says. “Many children no longer have an interest in hunting like they did when I was a youngster. I wanted to expose my daughter to the sport that has brought me so much pleasure. I grew up in a hunting family and the outdoors has always been part of my life.”

As a 10-year-old boy, Andrus remembers how popular opening day of deer season was among the hunters and their children in his community. He recalls that on opening day there were so many cars parked along side the road that he couldn’t count them.

“Sadly, that’s not the story any more,” Andrus says. “Now you can count on one hand the number of cars you see on the side of the road on opening day of deer season. Hunting is a big part of our heritage. I’d hate to lose that part of our history because we lack the interest to take our children hunting.”

Experiencing the Whole Picture

Since her first hunt, Brooke has traveled all over the country, including Kentucky, Wisconsin, Maryland, Montana and Minnesota, deer hunting with her father and attending outdoor trade shows. “Brooke gets to experience all aspects of hunting from the sporting goods part of it to the actual time spent in deer camp,” Andrus says. “My daughter accepts the entire aspect of deer hunting. She eats venison, she scouts for deer and she works in the food plots with me.”

Not only does Brooke enjoy hunting with her father, but she’s become an advocate for the sport as well. “When I demonstrate a deer call or rattling horns at a seminar, the children won’t approach me because they feel intimidated. But, when Brooke sees a child showing interest in the calls, she’ll ask that child if he or she wants to try it out. The children always anxiously accept her offer. I’ll often have a line of kids waiting to try one of the deer calls. Brooke’s time in deer camp and at the trade shows has really built up her self confidence. She walks into hunting situations and trade shows like she owns the place, and she’s not the least bit intimidated.”

Andrus never hesitates to bring Brooke with him hunting, and will often make special provisions to do so. Andrus acknowledges that young children often get bored when deer hunting, especially when the deer aren’t active. So to remedy this, he lets Brooke bring along a notebook and pen so she can draw if she gets bored.

“The other guys in camp usually get a big kick out me bringing my daughter to camp. They like seeing a little girl enjoying the outdoors. In fact, I always encourage other hunters to take their wives and children with them to camp. It’s a great way to spend time with your family while participating in an activity that you love.”

Gun Safety

Click for Larger ViewOne thing Andrus takes very seriously when hunting with Brooke is gun safety.

“Brooke knows to never touch a gun without my supervision. I’ve taught her how a gun works and have let her shoot a BB gun, but I haven’t allowed her to shoot a rifle or muzzleloader yet. I figured I’d let her curiosity reveal to me when the time is right. I don’t want to push it.”

David Blanton, Realtree’s vice president of television and video, also says gun safety is the No. 1 priority when it comes to hunting with his son. “More than anything, I taught Harmon right off the bat to respect all hunting weapons, whether it’s an arrow with a sharp broadhead or a gun of any type. Young children should be taught how to be safe in hunting situations, and they should be monitored closely while in camp and in the woods.”

Make Deer Camp Fun

Harmon, who’s now 14-years old, and his father started hunting together when Harmon was just six-years-old. Blanton says he tried very hard to make Harmon’s experience in camp and in the woods a lot of fun.

“I wanted Harmon to enjoy every aspect of deer hunting, so I went out of my way to make sure he had a good time,” Blanton says. “I never expected Harmon to sit for long periods of time in a stand or in a shooting house. Young children need to stay active to enjoy themselves. When we’d go hunting together, we’d walk through the woods looking for arrowheads, deer tracts or turkey tracts, and we’d end the hunt by going to the Waffle House for breakfast. As Harmon got a little older, I’d let him drive the truck if we were hunting on a large piece of property. That really made the hunting experience exciting for him.”

Click for Larger ViewBlanton says he never had a difficult time getting his son to behave in deer camp. He says that children who really want to be in deer camp usually behave well.

“Harmon was just so happy to be in camp with me that he behaved like an angel,” Blanton says. “The other hunters always enjoyed having him in camp as well. The people I hunt with want to see youngsters in camp. They know how important it is to teach the next generation about the sport of hunting. I wouldn’t hunt with someone who didn’t want Harmon around. Children are always a big priority in camps I attend.

While on hunts, Blanton taught his son to be respectful of the people and nature around him. “I taught him to keep gates closed and to leave things the way he found them. He learned not to throw down trash, and he’d pick up trash if he saw any. I think the biggest benefit Harmon gained from spending time with me in deer camp is the one-on-one attention he received from his dad. When in camp, he gets quality time with his father, which is something a lot of children don’t get these days.”

*Back to "Stories"

 

©2008 Mallory Communications, Inc. All Rghts Reserved. Site developed by RobertsonConsultants