Most of us who hunt come from families of hunters. The love for the sport gets passed down from one generation to the next, with fathers and mothers looking on with pride as sons and daughters take to the field. With the rich tradition of hunting ingrained in the DNA of the state of Michigan, it does the heart good to see how the state has embraced our youthful hunters.
I can remember the first time I went deer hunting. I was very young, not able at the time to carry a rifle of my own. My father has passed away several years before, so Ted, a family friend, asked my mother whether I could go along with them. She nervously agreed, dressing me head-to-toe in blaze orange. The first stop of the morning was a restaurant for breakfast. It was filled with other would-be deer slayers, ready to be in the woods at first light—after a cup or three of coffee and some pancakes, of course. When we got to the woods, Ted, the owner of the local bowling alley, positioned me on one side of a stump. He sat on the other, cradling his .30-30.
My instructions were to be as quiet as I could and to slowly reach around and tap him if I saw anything. We sat well past the first light of morning and as long as my little bladder could contain the morning’s chocolate milk. Lots of shots echoing through the trees told us the deer were moving, but I had to go. I let Ted know I had to go and he had me stand up so I could “get to my business.” That’s when the buck showed up and disappeared again before a shot could be taken. I recall feeling very guilty, but Ted just laughed it off and said, “That’s hunting.” He shot that buck a few days later while I was in school.
Being a mentor
It’s been 32 years since that true story took place, and I still remember it like it was last week. That’s what hunting means to Michigan. It’s part of who we are. That is why I was so very happy to see the various youth hunting programs and the investment in our heritage by the state. The Mentor license allows any young hunter-to-be the ability to hunt with a guardian, as long as the youth is under the age of 10 and is within arm’s reach of the adult at all times. The mentor license allows me to take my son small game, waterfowl, turkey, fur bearer, and deer hunting, so I can share my passion for the outdoors. It also gives me the in-the-field opportunity to show my son how to be an ethical, responsible hunter firsthand. Michigan also has options for hunters under the age of 16. The youth hunting licenses and special youth hunts, such as the youth deer hunting weekend, give younger hunters the opportunity to experience the hunt themselves. The Mentor license is available to residents and non-residents alike.
Youth hunters still need to take an approved hunter education course before they can buy a license and hunt on their own. I remember taking my hunter education course. I still have the card with me for when I travel. Some states require the identification number from the card to buy a license.
Just like Mom and Dad
My kids want to be just like Mom and Dad—in that they want their own gear. When my mom dressed me up in my blaze orange “pumpkin suit” to go on my first deer hunt, I felt proud. I was a real hunter! When the box came with my son’s camo clothing from ScentBlocker, he was through the moon. You should have seen his eyes light up when he opened the box containing the Genesis bow from Mathews Archery, too. The Genesis is the perfect tool for teaching kids how to hunt, even if they don’t hunt with the bow itself. It teaches breath control, patience, marksmanship, and coordination. While I’ve taught my son to shoot various firearms, it’s the bow that has taught him the most.
Before the birth of our daughter, my wife and I were living a little further away from our families. We were unsure whether we’d be able to goose hunt together without a trusted person to watch our son. He was three at the time and a “little whippersnapper” to say the least. We decided to try to take him with us. We set him up with a pair of noise-cancelling ear muffs and we took turns having him with us in a layout blind. It was his first taste of hunting with Mom and Dad, and he loved it. Before he ever attended a kindergarten class, he had his own layout blind.
Teaching the next generation of hunters and anglers is part of the rich tapestry of the Pure Michigan experience. The expanded opportunities to bring our children to the field with us, and to pass down the responsibility of stewarding our natural resources to them is not only fun, but rewarding. I heard a few guys the other day complaining about the expanded opportunities young hunters get in Michigan now. They took exception to the youth hunt, saying that it takes away from “the real season,” whatever that is. I interjected myself into their conversation and asked them who had taught them to hunt and fish. They all replied the same—a family member. I asked what the problem was with a system that lets young hunters go to the field earlier and learn to hunt and fish with a trusted adult. They didn’t really have an answer. Passing on the tradition of the hunt to our youth is something you simply cannot argue with.
Learn more about Michigan’s hunting heritage on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website. I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Teach your kids to hunt, so you don’t have to hunt for your kids.” I am a firm believer that teaching firsthand the responsibilities of hunting to our kids, helps instill responsibility in our kids. Families that hunt together, stay together.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.
Images by Derrek Sigler