Kids First! Legacy, Tradition, Rite of Passage: But Only if You Take Them

Unless something is done to reverse current trends, in 20 years the total number of hunters in Georgia is expected to be only 140,000.... a 52 percent plunge from today's numbers. In 20 years more than 60 percent of hunters will be 55 years old or older

What to do with a crisp, beautiful Saturday in November…

In our busy lives the options are endless: stay home, build a fire, and watch football; then again, it’s prime time to see a mature buck, maybe slip back to the creek stand; oh yeah, opening day of duck season, and just minutes from the boat ramp and a good mallard hole.

Last month I chose an option that was about providing a hunting opportunity. There were two boys, Brandon and Taylor, with a desire to hunt, and a dad who didn’t yet know enough about hunting to take them. All I did was say yes and spent a day with them. It certainly wasn’t difficult, and it wasn’t an inconvenience. I didn’t give up anything, I got something, a memory and satisfaction more rewarding than I could have gotten from a hunt of my own.

I had met the father, Chris Gillig, just twice, and very briefly. We were first introduced on a dove hunt, where mom and dad had brought their three boys to observe. Mom’s family in upstate New York did some hunting, and the boys were showing an interest. The man who put on the dove shoot, Dave Willoughby, had invited them, and Dave introduced us and mentioned that the boys were interested in deer hunting. I invited them.

The next year at the same shoot, Dave put the boys on the field, and they got to shoot some birds. Chris and I talked briefly, and I again invited him and the boys to come deer hunting. A few weeks later, Chris called.

Leading up to our deer hunt, I got some comments about my plans that might shed some light on why more kids aren’t getting involved in hunting.
“You’re going to give up a Saturday in the peak of the rut?” was one I heard from several deer hunters.

Sacrifice: Apparently for some adult hunters the idea of sacrificing their own opportunity so that someone else can have an opportunity — even when it’s kids — just doesn’t compute.

“Those boys have never shot a deer rifle… that just isn’t safe.”
Responsibility. Some adults don’t want to take on the responsibility of teaching youngsters how to shoot and hunt.

Not something I took lightly, I made sure that the two boys and their dad were exposed to deer rifles in an environment that was completely safe. We started our Saturday at the Clybel WMA shooting range near Mansfield. After an hour, both Brandon and Taylor were comfortable shooting the rifles they would use on their afternoon hunts. Turns out they were excellent shots. They listened, they concentrated, and like most kids, they found out that shooting deer rifles is pretty dang cool.

After shooting, we stopped by Newborn Taxidermy and Deer Cooler, where they saw some deer being brought in. You could see the excitement in their faces. Seeing those deer and the hunters brought it all home — they were going hunting in a few hours! The boys rubbed shoulders with other hunters, and in their camo and orange hats these youngsters from suburbia were included, they were a part of the hunting community. Owner Ricky Smith gave them a tour, and he took the time to talk to the boys, making a big deal about their first deer hunt. It was a big day.

After lunch, a stranger in town saw their camo and asked Brandon and Taylor if they’d had any luck. When they said they hadn’t gone yet, that they were about to go for the first time, this fellow made a big deal about it. It was a big deal.

I had planned to take them to my little 25 acres, but Joe Chandler, one of those too-rare breeds who is always generous and inviting, said bring them on. The hunters I admire, the ones I want to emulate, aren’t the ones who kill big bucks or a sack-full of ducks. They are the ones that always include others — it’s the Dave Willoughbys and Joe Chandlers. Thanks to Joe, their first hunt took place on prime Morgan County land, some of the best dirt in the state. To get to that point, it all came through Dave, who invited them to a dove shoot.

Taylor didn’t see a deer. Brandon did everything just right, and he got one on his first hunt. They’re invited to come back, and I think they will.

It’s a rare child who doesn’t have fun hunting. When a deer finally appears, the excitement of the actual hunt it impossible to match. But for kids, the fun of hunting is much more than maybe getting to shoot something. It’s spending time with grown-ups, learning to interact, getting treated like young men and women, being given the responsibility of handling a gun.

When it all comes together, and for that to happen the child must remember what was taught and do it right, the result is more than something he or she provided to eat for the family. It is a rite of passage.

There are countless kids out there who want to hunt. The key is opportunity. Kids must have someone willing to take them. The answer lies with thousands of us — landowners, hunting clubs, individuals — who did nothing this season to provide a chance for a newcomer to experience hunting.

For those who shoulder the responsibility and make the minor sacrifice to make a hunt happen for a youngster, their own hunting experiences often take a backseat to something far more rewarding. If someone shows the slightest interest in hunting, offer. If they ask to go, never say no.

If you’re willing, but can’t find a kid, call the GONetwork at (800) 866-5516. Speak to someone about the Hunter Access program. If you provide the place, they can find some kids. It doesn’t have to be a Dream Hunt, just an opportunity.

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