The Joys and Rewards of Hunting With Youth
It’s not often that I’m lost for words. However, if asked to name only a single benefit to taking my children and grandchildren hunting, I’m afraid that I’d be hard-pressed to nail down only one reward. I will say, however, the absolute pride and warm deluge of love for them that fills me as we sit together in a blind or tree stand would have to be right at the top of my list.
Watching my young son walk away from me some years ago, for the first time to his own deer blind while wearing my oversized, old set of hunting gear and carrying my old shotgun was a moment as fresh in my mind now as it was then. That was a feeling and experience I recommend strongly to anyone with young family members or friends. What a wonderful time of bonding and kindship!
THANK GOD FOR ALABAMA
Because Alabama authorities have long known the benefits of letting young hunters join their fathers, uncles, grandparents and other guardians in the field, I’ve had the privilege of watching family members harvest their first deer at a young age. Taking our youth with us as we enjoy the outdoor bounty God gave us is important for many reasons including family time together, bonding, outdoor pleasures and, for me as a father and grandfather, button-busting pride in having my children share in a sport that I love so much.
On the opening day of his first solo bow hunt, I told my oldest son, Jason, that we would meet up at 10 that morning provided no one had shot a deer earlier. When Jason walked calmly to my stand at 10 sharp, I figured his morning had been as futile as mine. I asked him if he’d seen anything. “Yea, a 6-point,” he replied as calmly as though it had been 100-yards off and, of course, offered no shot.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Oh, I got him,” he said. “He’s back there under my tree with three arrows in his chest. I wanted to make sure we didn’t lose it!”
“Wow!” I thought. As calm as he is after killing a nice first buck, this kid can’t be mine! I could hardly sit still after shooting my first one!
I guess shooting a 6-point on his first morning hunt made him think this hunting stuff was easy! As we all know … Not!
Keeping my head the same size as my hat was tough enough after Jason’s first deer, but three weeks later, my son harvested yet another buck with his bow. This time, he let another 6-point walk past him to shoot a trailing 8-point! Talk about a proud dad that year! It’s a wonder I could keep any buttons on my shirt at all!
THE NEXT GENERATION TAKES ITS PLACE
Today, all three of my grandsons tout with pride the fact that they’ve each harvested whitetails at the ripe old age of eight years old. Jackson, my oldest grandson, took a doe and buck on his first hunt as his father, Jason, relished the joy and pride that I felt some years earlier.
Two years ago, Jason again accompanied Jackson, now a seasoned veteran, or so he thinks, while I sat with another grandson, Nolan, in a ground blind. Jackson scored on a buck the first morning, but it took Nolan a bit longer. Over the course of a few days, Nolan and I saw and passed on a few does and a couple small bucks until, eventually, a respectable one showed up.
All three of my grandsons tout with pride the fact that they’ve each harvested whitetails at the ripe old age of eight years old.
To really appreciate Nolan’s reactions after I told him that he could shoot this deer, one really needed to be there with us. I assisted my grandson in raising his rifle to a shooting rest and told him to wait until the buck turned broadside. Once turned and offering a perfect shot, I whispered, “Okay, go ahead and take the shot.”
A long pause followed. Again, I whispered, “Okay, Nolan, take aim and squeeze the trigger.”
Another long pause. Eventually this trembling 8-year-old, shaking like Jell-O and looking through the scope at what would be his first whitetail, squeaked out, “I can’t. I can’t. My heart is beating too fast! It won’t stop!”
After repeating this a second time, he managed to subdue the buck fever long enough to place a perfectly aimed shot behind the buck’s shoulder. When the buck dropped 20 yards away, Nolan popped up and began jumping around like he’d been given a lifetime pass to Disney World. I can honestly say that very few things in my lifetime have or will ever match the feeling I got experiencing this moment with my grandson.
Not to be outdone by his older brother and cousin, my youngest grandson, Haven, joined his father in a ground blind near Athens last season. This would be the first time Haven had hunted anything. Shortly after daylight, I heard the crack of his rifle and wondered if he could be so lucky as to get a deer that quickly. It didn’t take long before I received a text photo of a beautiful 8-point with a perfect shot having been made at 100 yards. Once again, I experienced that warm, almost indescribable, feeling of pride.
Crawford Fite is another young, Alabama hunter who became a hardcore enthusiast in the sport early on.
“I started taking Crawford hunting with me when he was only four,” his dad told me. “I made sure he felt like a bigtime hunter by letting him hold a BB gun. His mission was to take out any squirrels or rabbits that happened by. Of course, that didn’t happen, but in his mind, he was officially hunting.”
At the age of seven, Crawford joined his dad and older brother, Dan, on a hunting trip for deer. There, this future protector of our sport downed his first whitetail buck. Heading afield again during the 2015 season, Crawford choose to pass on a number of does and small bucks and was rewarded when he harvested a half-rack 8-point.
“We saw the buck come out of the trees and onto the greenfield,” the young hunter told me. “But then it turned and went back in. Eventually, he came back out beside us at 90 yards. I had to wait until there weren’t any other deer in front or behind him before I shot. (Wisdom gained through proper training) When I did shoot, he dropped in his tracks.”
More parental pride came when 8-year-old Gunner Karr joined his dad on a whitetail hunt in Limestone County last season.
“It’s hard to describe how it feels having my son sit beside me in a blind while doing something we both love so much,” Gunner’s father, Jerrod, told me. “There’s just nothing like sharing times like that with your son.”
“We were in the blind when we saw a big doe walk onto the field to eat,” Gunner said. “I was really nervous because this was the largest deer I’d seen. I thought it was too far to shoot, but my dad told me to take my time and aim carefully. When I shot, it ran into the woods and I thought I missed.”
Apparently, the training and practice dad’s been doing with his son really payed off!
“We walked over and found some blood,” Gunner told me. “After walking into the woods a little ways, we found my deer. I was really, excited!”
Gunner’s mother told me that he didn’t stop talking about the hunt for days.
GET BACK BOYS, THE GIRLS ARE STEPPING UP
If you think deer hunting is a “guy’s sport,” don’t tell that to Amanda Andrews or Emilee Zarazua. These two gals enjoy the hunt as much as any of their male counterparts.
“My daughter has been hunting with me since she was 10,” Tom Andrews said. “I love taking her with me and wouldn’t trade the experiences we’ve had for anything. I’ve made it clear to my girls that I don’t just bring them hunting with me because I feel like I have to. I genuinely want them to be there. Having my girls along with me makes the trip fun.”
To Andrews, fun with his family also includes a bit of tradition.
“I’ve made it clear to my girls that I don’t just bring them hunting with me because I feel like I have to. I genuinely want them to be there. — Tom Andrews
“After the morning’s hunt, we always stop at a small, town restaurant for breakfast. Now, after years of doing it, stopping there has become part of the experience we have together. It’s sort of a tradition for us now. It’s all good stuff!”
Tom’s daughter Amanda didn’t manage to harvest a deer with a bow as a youth. However, slim pickings during the archery season didn’t stop this young lady from putting her share of venison down with a firearm.
“Amanda learned to love hunting right away,” Andrews told me. “It’s in her blood now and has even passed down to my granddaughter.”
Amanda’s daughter, Emilee Zarazua isn’t about to be left home when it comes to hunting. At the age of only 10, Emilee successfully managed to bow kill her first buck.
“I was in a 2-person tree stand with Papa,” Emilee stated. “We saw two deer working their way in our direction. When they got to within about 30 yards, Papa whispered to me to slowly stand up. Once they were at 20 yards, he again whispered telling me to draw, aim and take the shot”
When asked about how she felt about making a hit, Emilee had no doubts in her reaction.
“It was great! I began to really shake a lot,” she said. “I think my Papa was even happier than I was!” As a grandpa myself, realizing that is a no-brainer!
Realizing the rewards of taking our youth hunting, but also knowing the need to do it safely, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources requires young and new hunters to learn safe hunting practices. Young hunters and those born on or after August 1, 1977, who wish to purchase a non-supervised hunting license must complete an approved hunter education course. This course includes the responsibility hunters must undertake while afield, wildlife management, wildlife laws, firearm and archery safety, muzzleloading, basic survival and first aid. Additional benefits sought by the state include teaching the importance of the relationship between hunters and landowners along with hunter behavior and reducing hunting-related accidents.
TAKING A HUNTER SAFETY COURSE
People can take a hunter education class in two ways. Traditional or online classes can be taken that will meet the hunter education requirements needed to purchase a hunting license.
The online courses feature state-of-the-art hunting, safety videos along with interactive learning exercises, games and comprehensive hunter education material. These are designed to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to become a safe and responsible hunter. Online students can expect to pay a nominal fee to take the course.
The traditional hunter education course is a minimum of eight hours of instruction plus a written examination. The course is taught by Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries personnel and volunteer instructors to participants 10 years of age and older and is offered free.
Young and new hunters interested in taking the hunter education class or those interested in the Archery in Schools Program can do so by going to www.outdooralabama.com.
Our country is being inundated with anti-hunting pressure today. Anti-hunting, anti-gun, animal rights groups and dozens of other organizations would halt our sport if they could. Keeping our young folks involved and enjoying our heritage afield is the only way to keep our sport growing and alive. After enjoying the bounty of rewards received by taking my next generation of family with me, I can assure you that you too can reap those great times in God’s great outdoors.