I can remember more vividly than most of my memories the times my dad took me out to the woods before I started deer hunting. A few small game hunts, a few scouting missions for rifle season, a handful of fishing trips – those are some of my greatest childhood memories. I can recall every rabbit we kicked up, every pheasant flushed, every deer we saw, and every fish we caught. Even after 40 years, I can recollect a play-by-play of it all. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, most times, but those memories are burned into my brain.
I vividly recall the time my Dad, my brother Fred, and I rented a rowboat from Farmkrueg’s bait shop in Menasha, WI, and paddled out on Little Lake Butte des Morts.
I was maybe 7 years old. My brother and dad both caught a smallmouth bass. I caught a nice perch and something that, as a 7-year-old, I thought must have been the biggest fish ever. It pulled my rod under the boat, and I couldn’t contain the behemoth, and the line snapped (it was probably a carp, but I was a kid).
Or that one time we were walking along old Garth’s cornfield scouting stand locations for gun season. We jumped three deer bedded off the standing cornfield. It was my first time seeing deer in a hunting scenario, so I was stoked for the chance to go hunt. I was 11, though, and needed to wait a year to go through hunters’ safety to be able to, but it set me on a path I would never deviate from.
All these memories are great! It is times like these that built a love for the outdoors. But they were few. While I would love to say my family taught me a lot about hunting and fishing, I would be wrong. I learned most of what I know by venturing out on my own from an early age to learn it all myself. But the love for it, I credit to my Dad and brothers. We never really spent a lot of time together, but come hunting season, I could expect to see them all. We made the most of our time together.
Where I think many of us need improvement when introducing the younger generation to the outdoors is in that quality time. I see so many people put the focus on the hunt or how to catch fish when they take their kids into the woods or on the water. What we should be focusing on is building a love for what’s out there. Build a base, let them build the structure. Install a love for being out there. Once they have that passion, help them build on that. The rest will come on its own.
If you put the pressure of the harvest onto a young child, and they don’t see anything, they may easily get bored or frustrated and quit. If you build that base passion, then it won’t matter as much if they don’t get one. They have no reason to feel bad, and, I think, you have a better chance of your child enjoying their time-out in the stand with you. Teach them to watch the birds and the squirrels, instead of a video screen with a game on it, to try and keep them occupied.
I see so many parents bring their kids out into the stand with them. They will set up a ground blind, crawl into it, and hand their child a tablet to play games on. How are you supposed to build up that love for the outdoors if your child just stares at a game? How are you going to teach them? How do you teach a child to listen to his/her surroundings? To wait for that twig to snap. You can’t teach the anticipation of waiting for the big buck to step out. Take that time in your blind to teach them about everything else you see. What kind of birds are making those calls? What kind of squirrel is that? What kind of trees and plants are those? What makes this a good spot to sit? Let them ask these questions. You are building curiosity. These are all hours of conversation you can have as you pass the hours in a blind. Besides, you may learn a thing or two yourself?
Next is, don’t be the angry parent getting frustrated because your kid won’t listen or sit still. It’s a child. They are not built for sitting still. I find that using pop-up blinds is a great option because it masks small movements and helps to muffle noises slightly. So it helps with a fidgety child. But you need to let kids be kids. Yes, you want to see that big buck. Yes, a noisy, fidgety kid will scare away every deer in a 3-mile radius. Yes, sitting with a kid drastically reduces your chances of bagging a deer. Too bad. Suck it up. This trip isn’t about you; recognize that. It’s about the future. The future of your family. The future of this sport we hold dear.
I took my granddaughter into my blind for the first time this past year. She was 9. She wasn’t hunting, but I wanted her to come out with me to see what it was like. I had been taking her out to scout, shed hunt, and check trail cameras a few times each year since she was 4, but never had her in the blind with me. I wasn’t sure how she was going to handle a few hours in one spot. But I worked to develop a love for being out there. I kept looking at it as this day is not for me. It was for her. It was for her future in the outdoors. It was to build a base in the outdoors she can build on for life. Not about bagging a deer.
She was perplexed a bit when she found out we were sitting in a blind. She thought there would be more walking, stalking up on the deer so to speak. We sat there for a couple of hours talking about everything, looking at what was around us, and having a good time. I could, however, see she was getting bored. She brought up again she thought there was more “hunting” involved, so I decided to give her just what she wanted.
Now bear in mind that I was on a prime piece of land, that I in no way wanted to screw up, especially because we were in early October, but it was about her. We got out, took the blind down, and proceeded to cover that whole piece of land. Slowly. Watching everything. Looking at everything. We stopped so she could play in the stream that ran through the property. She had a blast playing in that stream that ran through prime whitetail bedding area in the mid-afternoon. Long story short, I let her be a kid. I wanted her to have fun. I wanted her to enjoy being outdoors as much as I do. And yes, we saw some deer. Running away from us very quickly.
You can’t expect a child to have fun being corrected and made to think they are doing things wrong. Give your kid every opportunity to love being out there and avoid reasons they would not. Teach them why you do what you do out there, instead of correcting when they do wrong. Don’t let them sit longer than they can. They aren’t built that way. Know when to just let them be a kid. Let them have fun. Let them build memories that last a lifetime of the good times you had. Not the time’s daddy got mad because his kid wouldn’t stop moving and scared the deer away. Establish the foundation. Build the right base, and they can build a structure to the sky.