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Make Hunting A Family Affair
We’ve heard every argument in the book about why kids shouldn’t hunt. Unbelievable but true, anti-hunting proponents even argue that introducing kids to hunting increases the probability that they will engage in criminal activity later in life. But those who live the outdoor lifestyle know better.
Retaining Our Hunting Heritage
From a practical point of view, ways of life, or heritage activities, are passed down from one generation to the next. Hunting has been a way of life since the beginning of time. I learned to hunt from my father, and my children are learning to hunt from me. In Canada we are still blessed with the freedom to participate in this cherished heritage activity in accordance with regulations spelled out by government, and this is a privilege we must protect.
In many respects, our hunting heritage defines who we are as Canadians. Settlers tamed the developed areas of our landscape and relied on hunting for survival. Each successive generation was taught to hunt as a way of life.
With industrial development and the automation of so many aspects of our lives, our hunting heritage is constantly under attack. For most, hunting is no longer a subsistence activity, but a recreational pastime with fringe benefits. No longer do most of us hunt out of necessity, but rather for the enjoyment and procurement of wild game to supplement our already diverse and accessible diet.
Opponents question the relevance of hunting today, and most certainly the wisdom in introducing youth to guns, suggesting that hunting is an obsolete and barbaric activity. Unfortunately, it is those mentalities that create so much confusion in the minds of those who really haven’t given it much thought but are easily swayed by emotional and politically charged ideologies.
The fact is, cultures all over the world continue to pass on their hunting heritage to successive generations.
Canada remains a vast land with a wealth of wildlife resources and unimaginable wild spaces; places that young and old can visit and participate in hunting, both for the procurement of food and for the sheer enjoyment of interacting and taking wildlife in a manner that is timeless. Only by teaching our kids the importance of nature, the skills associated with the hunt and the values associated with responsible hunting practices, can we ensure its longevity as a heritage activity.
Connecting with Nature
Along with the contemporary movement toward increasing restrictions on access to wild spaces and what we can and cannot hunt, our collective connection with nature is rapidly disappearing.
No other generation in history has been as disconnected as the current one. My parents made a point of introducing me to hunting at a very early age. They took very intentional measures to ensure that I understood why we hunt and the need to view hunting from a conservation perspective. My wife, Heather, and I continue to do the same with our kids.
It amazes me how many of my daughter’s friends have never been out of the city. With literally no connection to the natural world, the closest they get to wilderness is the meager, institutionalized exposures they receive in their school science classes. Conversely, I smile when my own kids point out wildlife as we drive down a rural road or walk a path through the woods.
Sadly, I know my kids are an anomaly. Largely because they have hunted with Heather and I since they could walk, they can identify most common animal species, from ungulates to many birds. They understand, at least to a reasonable degree, the importance of biodiversity, along with many of the intricate interactions between wildlife and the environment.
In turn, we have taken our own intentional measures to educate our kids about the importance of conservation and the fact that we all have a footprint; that is to say, we are all consumptive by nature, but taking responsibility for our actions, minimizing that footprint, keeping things as clean and pristine as is reasonably possible and consuming resources that can be replenished and are sustainable should always be a priority. They understand the importance of hunting for food and the privilege of being able to selectively harvest trophy-class animals.
Getting Them Outdoors and Active
Far too many kids today are couch-bound and mesmerized by their electronic devices. I’ve never met a young person who didn’t like to get outdoors, as long as the activity was interactive and fun. I’ve taken a lot of kids hunting and I have yet to hear one complain that they didn’t like it.
It’s an epidemic across North America – more and more kids are living a sedentary lifestyle. Glued to iPods, cell phones, computer screens and televisions, they are out of shape and out of touch with reality. Aside from organized sports, most are isolated in their digital world. I watch even my own kids falling into that all-consuming preoccupation now and then.
By getting them out in the woods and in the fields to enjoy peace and quiet, exercise their eyes and ears and helping them to get in tune with the sights, sounds and smells of nature, we do our part to help generate a well-rounded next generation of adults. But remember, this doesn’t happen without intention. It takes work, and lots of it. Introducing them to hunting and all of the diverse opportunities associated with it gets them outdoors and active.
Developing Core Family Values
We all ascribe to our own set of core values. I was raised to appreciate and respect our natural resources, family time, freedom and opportunity. I was taught to hold wildlife and biodiversity in high regard; that all of creation has value and that there is an intricate interdependence that exists between all things.
Some of my most memorable and treasured family time was spent hunting waterfowl with my dad. With our insane schedules, even when I was in school, it was during those concentrated shared experiences that we bonded most. We would talk for hours on end, laugh, work toward a goal and then share our successes and failures. Indeed, our many and varied hunting trips laid a firm foundation for both our father/son relationship, but also my grassroots values as a person.
I am fortunate to have a wife who is like-minded. A passionate hunter herself, she shares those same values and the unique and invaluable opportunity that hunting affords our own family to develop the same bonds and nurture our kids to carry those similar values and beliefs forward. We recognize a significant disconnect in much of society, as young people and parents carry on their virtual lives, communicating little and often electronically. The proven result is a gradual but inevitable decay in social values; values largely based on what is absorbed from television.
Further, our own kids are learning the value of procuring our own table fare. To date, they have been observers, but next fall our oldest, soon to be 12, will hold her own license. Both of our kids enjoy goose sausage and they love moose jerky. They know that any animal we bring home is a treat and something that was usually hard earned.
Both of our girls have accompanied us on waterfowl hunts since they were able to walk. They have grown up around guns and bows. Over the last couple years, the oldest has been sitting in tree stands with us. Both kids have been with us when we have taken game. It’s not “icky” or “gross” to them – it’s just the way it is. In fact, whenever we bring animals home and hang them in the garage or clean them on the tailgate in our yard, the neighbour kids are drawn in for a closer look. I firmly believe that it is because of their comfort with the animals we harvest and the natural process of butchering that conveys to their peers that this is perfectly normal and that food doesn’t just come from the supermarket.
Oddly enough, while my grandfather and my dad were both ardent hunters, my mother is apathetic. She is not opposed to it, but she just doesn’t care either way. Even still, I will always remember what she said when I was a youngster. The Cole’s Notes version is that she feels strongly that every young person should at least know how to hunt, even if it’s not a passion. Her words have echoed in my mind for over 30 years. Truth is, I have no choice but to agree. Hunting is a life skill. It may or may not ever become a passion, but it is an important skill that must be passed on from generation to generation.
Every year, I make a concerted effort to take, not only my own kids out hunting with me, but other young people as well.
Last October, Heather and I had the privilege of hosting a mentor hunt organized by the Hunting for Tomorrow Foundation and Ducks Unlimited. We made every effort to structure it as an educational, safe, hands-on and fun experience. The young fellow we took out was a great listener, conscientious and very competent. The smile on his face said it all after he knocked down his first duck and proceeded to fill his limit! No doubt, teaching kids to hunt effectively is empowering for them and rewarding for the mentor.
So much of what kids hear and see in the news, and on television, refers to inappropriate, illegal or otherwise misguided use of firearms. In teaching kids the proper and safe use of firearms, we effectively counter those negative influences. Despite what the anti-hunting population says, it is virtually impossible to argue against this logic. I just wish someone would finally put an end to the incessant infiltration of video games that sensationalize gun violence. How anyone could even compare kids that hunt to such utter social dereliction is beyond me!
Dispel the Myths
Several years ago, I wrote about a radio talk show that I had called in to as I drove home from an elk hunt. The topic of the show was family relationships. The host implied that parents who took their kids hunting were irresponsible because they were introducing young people to blood sports. In the end, the show producers disconnected me because I was able to easily dispel each and every sensationalized myth that the show host was trying to convey.
After I was disconnected, the lines lit up with people from across the US and Canada chastising her for accusing parents of something that was not only false, but could easily be proven otherwise. Over the next half hour, callers spoke proudly of family values, passing on our heritage, responsible gun use, teaching young people to respect and take responsibly from our natural resources and more.
In the end, decisions to introduce kids to hunting should be based on everything that is good. As advocates, we should all accept the challenge to introduce kids to hunting at every viable opportunity. Done correctly, it will contribute to furthering our heritage and ensuring that our youth of today are well-rounded citizens of tomorrow.
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