The vast majority of passionate hunters and anglers began their infatuation with the outdoors at an early age. And most of the thanks for this can be pointed directly at one person – a father who took the time to share.
My dad taught me to hunt, shoot and fish, and I’ve passed on the same love of the outdoors by teaching my two sons. Was my dad the perfect teacher and mentor? No. And God knows I’m not either, but like my dad, I’m trying. I’m really trying.
One of my sons just turned 11, and the other is 13. Both killed their first deer with me sitting beside them, and I look forward to watching them grow into fine outdoorsmen.
This is an important point: By “fine outdoorsmen” I don’t mean the person who always shoots the biggest buck or catches the biggest bass. Those things are nice, but more importantly, I want them to have in-the-field integrity, which means doing the right thing when no one (like a conservation officer – or me) is watching.
As I look back at the years my kids, my wife and I have spent in the woods and on the lakes and streams of Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming, I take comfort in knowing I’ve done some things well. And it pains me to realize I’ve failed in other ways.
So it’s time to get to the point of this story and share with you – a dad who might be raising a young hunter, shooter or angler of your own – seven lessons I’ve learned along the way. Because as my dad, who at the age of 78 is still going strong in his outdoor pursuits, told me when I was a kid: “A stupid man learns from his own mistakes; a smart one learns from other people’s mistakes.”
- It’s not about you. When you take a child hunting or fishing, put him or her first. Even though the on-the-water conditions might be perfect for muskies, if your kids haven’t developed the skills (or desire) to pursue the “fish of 10,000 casts,” it’s better to target sunfish, crappies, bass (even rock bass!), northern pike, catfish or carp. Your kids want action. Give it to them.
- Don’t get angry. It’s easy to become impatient with tangled lines and the like. Of course, you must be firm when it comes to the safe handling of firearms, but in all things keep a level head. Your son or daughter won’t want to spend hours with you in the outdoors, and probably will choose an iPad over a fishing rod, if time in the field equals a yelling – or nitpicking – father.
- You’re not always right. Just because you always place your turkey decoys a certain way doesn’t mean your son or daughter has to follow suit. Let them make their own decisions. And you just might find that their way can be just as good. Or better. Trust me on this one.
- Trophies can wait. My brother arrowed his first whitetail, a yearling doe, with a recurve at 12 years old. He didn’t shoot his second one (a doe) with a bow until his mid-20s. Why so long between kills? Because he was holding out for a big buck. Kindly discourage the pursuit of trophies – fish and game – until your son or daughter has many years of experience. That way, when a 10-point buck finally walks through the shooting lane, chances are good your child will make the shot because they’ve killed numerous smaller deer during previous seasons.
- Pack food. Just because you can survive 10 hours in a deer stand on nothing more than a Mountain Dew and three sticks of beef jerky, your son or daughter will enjoy their time outdoors more if they’re not starving. Take granola bars out of noisy foil wrappers and place them in more silent zip-closure bags. Prepare their favorite sandwiches and pack extras. And bring lots of snacks – lots and lots of snacks.
- Good clothing matters. Hand-me-downs are fine if they fit and are in good working order, but don’t assume your son or daughter can “tough it out” with poor gear. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to ensure they’re dressed properly. Show them how to dress in layers when it’s cold, and you should wear about the same amount (and quality) of clothing as them. That way, you’ll both experience the weather conditions in much the same way.
- Stay in the moment. I remember a time last summer when I boated eight bragging-size, deep-weedline largemouths in only a couple hours of fishing. And then my 10-year-old’s voice from the back of the boat knocked some sense into my head: “Dad, I haven’t had a bite. Can we try for sunfish?” Shaking my head at my stupidity, I grabbed all of the bass rods from my front casting deck and stored them in my rod lockers. I then steered the boat for the shoreline and my son spent the next 2 hours sight-fishing for sunfish. I unhooked the ones he couldn’t release on his own. And during our evening prayers, when each family member explains their favorite part of the day, my son said: “When I was catching sunnies with Dad and that huge carp swam under our boat. I tried to hit it with a rock from my sling-shot, but I missed. I thank God for that carp.”
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!