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Introducing Your Family To the Outdoors

By

Stephanie Mallory

Author and sonSwallowed up in camouflage that was at least three times too big for me, I sat against a broad oak tree in Alabama’s Bankhead National Forest watching my father’s every move. As he worked the time-worn wooden box call, which was passed down to him by my grandfather, I listened with intent ears trying to figure out what in the world he was saying to those turkeys I could hear in the distance. In an effort to get a better look, I shuffled through the underbrush on my hands and knees until I was sitting right beside him. In a stern voice, but with an amused smile on his face, my father turned to me and whispered, “You must be still and quiet, Stephanie. Turkeys can see and hear your every move.” Well that’s easier said than done for a 6-year-old kid with youthful energy to burn.

Grandfather and grandsdonNeedless to say, we never saw a turkey that day thanks to my fidgeting limbs and constant gabbing, but that didn’t matter. What did matter is that my dad let me take a day off from school to go turkey hunting with him and his buddies. I didn’t know any other little girls who hunted with their fathers, but I didn’t care. I loved being outdoors and I enjoyed spending that time with my dad.

I started accompanying my father on his hunts and other outdoor excursions at a very young age. As soon as I could walk, my father would tote me around with him as he hunted, fished or just goofed off outdoors. Now, many years later, I find myself doing the same thing with my little boy Ethan, who’s two years old. Even though he’s not old enough to hunt yet, we’ve been on numerous outdoor adventures including a few make-believe bear hunts at a nearby state park. When I watch Ethan enjoying the outdoors and see the enthusiasm on his face, I feel confident that he too will follow in the steps of his mother, father and grandfather as a hunter. But sadly, I also realize that Ethan will most likely be in the minority among his peers who, as the trend suggests, will probably grow up in a mostly indoor environment.

As the number of adult hunters declines, fewer youth are taking their place. According to a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while the U.S. population rose significantly in the past decade, the number of adult hunters declined by 7 percent, to 13 million nationwide. This number will continue to decline if this generation of hunters doesn’t do something about it.

Thankfully, many hunters are not willing to sit aside as our hunting heritage disappears. They realize that the key to preserving this important pastime is to get their entire families involved.

For Both Guys and Gals

Ashley and MasonAlthough the number of hunters overall has dropped, the number of female hunters has actually risen thanks to programs like the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women in the Outdoors and the state-sponsored Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW), which introduce women to outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing.

Since many children are growing up in single-family homes, it’s often left up to the mothers to teach their children about the outdoors. For this reason, it’s more important now than ever to get women involved in outdoor activities.

Outdoor photographer and BOW instructor, Tes Jolly, tells husbands and boyfriends that the key to introducing the women in their lives to the outdoors is to make their first experience fun and pleasant.

“Don’t expect women to fall madly in love with hunting after the first experience,” Jolly says. “Developing an interest in a sport often takes time. Expose your wife or girlfriend to the outdoors when the weather is pleasant. Don’t take her out in bitterly cold weather or in other foul conditions. The weather can be the determining factor of whether or not she has a good time.”

According to Jolly, introducing someone to a positive outdoor experience requires some planning ahead of time.

“Take her somewhere where she’ll see a lot of wildlife,” Jolly says. “If she doesn’t want take a shot during her first hunt, don’t push her. Just remember, this experience is for her, not for you. If a nice 150-class buck walks right in front of your stand, and she doesn’t want to shoot it, just let it pass. You can easily ruin the hunting experience for her by putting too much pressure on her to perform. Let her take it at her pace. The most important thing is that she enjoys the experience because a positive first hunt can help build a good base of interest.”

Michael Waddell and ChildrenWhen it comes to securing the future of the sport, Michael Waddell, host of Realtree Road Trips, also agrees that getting wives and mothers involved in the outdoors is essential to preserving the hunting heritage.

“When participating in an activity, children want the support of their entire family,” Waddell says. “A mother should support her child’s hunting interests just like she would support his or her participation in any other activity or sport.”

Waddell says even a woman who shows no real interest in hunting, can show her support in other ways.

“She can hang out in camp with her husband or kids, meet them for the ritualistic breakfast after the hunt or go out with them to scout or hang stands. A child is much more likely to keep an interest in a sport if the entire family supports him.”

Eventually, the wife or mother may want to give hunting a try. “My wife Ashley decided a few years ago to give hunting a shot, and now she loves it. Hunting provides us with a great way to spend time with our children, Mason, 5, and Myers, 10 months.”


The Outdoor Classroom

When it comes to getting children involved in hunting and the outdoors, Waddell says the first step is to just get them outside at an early age.

Grandfather and grandson“Let them look for bugs, throw rocks in the water and watch wildlife,” Waddell says. “Before they’re old enough to hunt, you can teach them about the trees and the local wildlife. Sit in the back yard and watch the squirrels. There are steps you can take while your child is very young to peak their curiosity about the outdoors. The more they learn, the more they’ll want to know. Do what you can to get them away from the concrete and steel. If you teach them to appreciate all that the land has to offer an early age, they’ll never stray too far.”

Sherree Black and her husband Aaron of Rochester, Pennsylvania, agree with Waddell. Both are avid hunters and enthusiastically share their passion for the outdoors with there son Hunter.

“We both loved hunting so much that when our son was born, it only made since to name him Hunter,” Sherree Black says.

Living Up to His Name

Hunter BlackHunter, who’s now 10-years-old and already a Realtree pro staffer, has far exceeded his parents’ expectations by becoming the youngest hunter to ever complete the World Slam of Turkey Hunting. He was also the youngest hunter to complete the Turkey Hunting Royal Slam at age 8. Although he is a naturally talented hunter, his mother says their active involvement in his outdoor education definitely played a roll in his early success as an outdoorsman.

“Hunter was born in April during turkey season, and although he was too young to take out turkey hunting that year, we definitely had him out in the woods that deer season,” Black says. “When he was only 8 months old, we’d wrap him up, stick him in a backpack and would hunt and scout for deer with him on one of our backs.”

Hunter’s parents say he learned to be a proficient hunter at such a young age by watching his parents and experiencing the hunts for himself.

“Hunting with a kid definitely presents a bigger challenge,” Black says. “You have to make sure that they are happy and comfortable, but it’s far more rewarding than hunting by yourself, and it’s a great way to spend quality time as a family. By taking Hunter with us into the outdoors, we knew that we were investing in his life and the future of the sport.”

 

Never Too Young

Hunter BlackAccording to the Blacks, it’s never too early to introduce a child to the outdoors and to hunting. “Hunter has absolutely loved to go turkey hunting with us from the time he was just a little boy. When he was just two years old, he wanted to learn how to call turkeys. So we gave him a turkey call to play with and by that next turkey season he knew how to purr, cluck and make just about any other call. He actually ended up calling in some jakes when he was just 3 years old.”

Many parents wonder when is the right time to introduce their children to firearms. The Blacks started Hunter off with a bb gun when he was four years old. When he was five, they introduced him to a shotgun.

“I know for a lot of parents, that age may seem too young, but I think it’s better to start them earlier than later,” Black says. “In some states, like our home state of Pennsylvania, children can’t hunt until they’re 12 years old. I’d rather be in the woods with an experienced 6 year old than with a12 year old with no firearms experience. By the time a kid is 12, they’re getting into other sports, the opposite sex and driving. If you can get them introduced to hunting at a young age, even if they get away from it during those busy teenage years, maybe when they turn 20 and life slows down, they’ll get back into it.”

Happy, Full and Comfortable

The Blacks say the key to successfully introduce children to the outdoors is to keep them happy and comfortable.

Child enjoying the outdoors“Take candy or sandwiches with you,” Black says. “Take frequent breaks, and don’t push them too hard. A child is much more likely to continue to pursue a sport if its fun, and if he doesn’t feel a lot of unnecessary pressure. When target practicing, let him shoot balloons or funny pictures of deer or turkeys that you draw. Do what you can to make it fun.”

Although the Blacks are aware that fewer children are hunting, both agree that there are aspects that make introducing a child to the sport much easier than in the past, including the technological advances in equipment.

“The youth equipment is so much better than it used to be,” Black says. “When I was young, I had an old fiberglass recurve bow that was very difficult to shoot. If I wanted to shoot something at 20 yards, I’d have to aim 3 feet above the target. The equipment has come so far since then. Now there are great youth bows and guns for children. The crossbow is an especially good way to introduce your children to hunting. It’s quite, so it won’t scare them like a gun may, and small children who can’t pull back a compound can hunt the warmer archery season with a crossbow. Hunter took a nice 6-point deer with his Horton crossbow when he was just seven years old, and he shot his first turkey with a crossbow this year.”

Hunter says he likes to hunt because he gets to hang out with his family, enjoy the outdoors and watch the wildlife.

“It’s not all about the hunting,” Hunter says. “I like to goof off in the outdoors, throw rocks and search for morel mushrooms, but most of all, I like spending time with my mother and father. We have a great time outdoors just goofing around and learning about nature. There’s nothing I’d rather do than hunt with my family.”

 

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