The polls and articles all show the same thing. The numbers of people hunting and fishing have been in decline. Work and other commitments throughout the week are constantly demanding everyone’s time. It seems that we are just too busy today to find the time to get away. How do we reverse this trend of declining numbers of people participating in outdoor activities? We make that commitment to spending more time in the outdoors with the next generation of outdoorsmen and women, whether that is with our own children or local youth.
By introducing outdoor activities to the youth of today, we ensure that outdoor traditions will continue for years to come. I feel those traditions have played an important role in my life. Learning about our environment and the need to protect it is something best learned by spending time in the outdoors. When people lose that connection to the outdoors, we lose those traditions, life lessons and connections to our environment.
I knew before our first child was born I wanted my children to have the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors like I did. Some of my fondest memories from my youth involved the outdoors. Each summer I went to spend time with my grandparents. My dad’s parents built a pond behind their home when I was young, and it was stocked with a healthy supply of bream and bass. I can still to this day recall using a cane pole to catch bream after bream with catalpa worms that my Granny and I gathered from a tree in the backyard. She rarely got to catch any fish because she was so busy taking fish off my hook, and I would then get her pole to catch the next one. While with my mom’s parents, we would go to the hunting club with my uncle and his family to fish in the spillway and the lake. I can still to this day see my grandfather in his rolled-up overalls wading out to cast into the deeper water of the spillway.
The first deer that I shot was at my great uncle’s farm in Banks County while hunting with my grandfather. I will never forget him—in not the quietest voice—excitedly telling me that a doe was coming, and then letting me know when to shoot. Then there were all of the hunting and fishing trips with my dad. We hunted all over Georgia for deer, turkey, rabbit and squirrels prior to my dad purchasing some land in Hancock County. There is something about breakfast and hot chocolate prepared on a Coleman stove before the sun has come up that makes it taste better than any other time. Fishing adventures ranged from ponds and lakes, canoe trips on the Chattahoochee River, to deep sea fishing and a grouper that was bigger than me. All of these and many more outdoor experiences helped to shape the person I am today, and they created memories that will last a lifetime.
This brings me to my own children. As I stated earlier, I knew that I wanted my children to enjoy the outdoors like I did as a child. My children’s first outdoor experience started with the area around our home. Some days it was as simple as a walk around our home taking into account all of the wildlife that we saw or the tracks they left behind. We would also take trips to nearby state parks to walk the trails, play in the water or find adventure on the playgrounds. When our children got older, the next steps in their outdoor experiences were trips to my grandparent’s pond or to ponds near the house. A healthy supply of hungry fish ensured the kids would have the opportunity to catch fish on almost every cast. We always tried to take fishing trips when the weather was good, and we included plenty of water and snacks. We always made sure to end the trip when the kids were ready.
To this day, the one question I know I will get a resounding yes from both of our children is, “Do you want to go fishing?”
The third step was a trip to the woods squirrel hunting, which was often simply a walk in the woods with a 3-year-old. Most squirrels knew we were coming well before we ever saw them, but that was alright because we were together as a family.
Next, we had trips to the dove field. The chance to spend time with family and friends made it a memorable experience. This was followed with trips deer hunting in ground blinds to watch as animals went about their daily lives taking note of the birds, squirrels and other animals we saw. When my son was 4 and my daughter was 8, they got to come along on a duck hunt. Both decided they wanted to sit beside me as daylight was about to break. Birds started to fly, including some hooded mergansers that landed within 10 yards of us. Both of the kids were amazed by the group of ducks as they swam around in front of us calling back and forth. Not a shot was fired, but the experience helped both of our children to learn more about the environment around us and grow as outdoorsmen and women.
Next on our agenda were trips camping in the fall and to the turkey woods in the spring. When camping, the conditions and comfort are always taken into account, just like our fishing trips.
Hunts always end when the kids are ready to go. Seldom do the hunts end with a shot fired, but that doesn’t mean that the hunt was unsuccessful, far from it.
Nature photography has also taken a large role in our trips outdoors. Both of our children now want to tag along when I head out to take pictures of wildlife. They, like I, now have their cameras with them whenever we head to the park or go for a walk. They have learned that you never know what you might see when we head outdoors. The great thing about this activity is that it can be done almost anytime or anywhere. Digital cameras also provide them with instant feedback that can help them to learn and improve their photography skills as well as help to hold their interest.
One of my favorite photos that I have taken is of my daughter showing her younger brother how to use his camera one spring day when we went to walk the trails at the State Botanical Gardens.
Each trip represented time together as a family, a learning experience about the world that we live in, and memories that are priceless. We learned about the environment around us, and the need to protect, respect and preserve it. We learned of firearm safety, and how to safely enjoy the outdoors. We have learned about each other and are growing as a family. By making sure that each trip is about our children’s experience, they have both come to love spending time outdoors around the house, on the water, or in the woods.
Both of our children have also taken part in the Georgia State Parks Junior Ranger program, working to earn their badges that are awarded as children complete different tasks. They both have been excited to turn in their booklets that can be found at your nearby Georgia State Parks and see their newest badge. These activities encouraged them to learn about nature in the world we live in no matter the time of the year and about the human and natural history of Georgia.
Both have also earned their Get Outdoors Georgia badges for completion of different activities geared at encouraging them to find ways to get exercise in the outdoors to help build a healthy lifestyle. Combined with the before-mentioned trips hiking, fishing and hunting, our children have grown and learned about the world they live in. This will continue to help shape their lives, much as it has continued to shape my own life.
How do we learn of opportunities to take our children or other local youth into the outdoors to have similar experiences? The Georgia Department of Natural Resources provides opportunities for children to participate in special hunts and fishing opportunities. These often take place in areas that are heavily stocked with fish and have abundant wildlife for children to watch. Many are on areas that only children are allowed to hunt or fish. GON also does an excellent job reporting on events for children. This section is called GON Kids & Outdoor Outpost, which includes educational material about the outdoors, a calendar of events, word search, pictures of children in the outdoors, and other information related to getting children into the outdoors.
Local 4-H programs also provide opportunities for children in their districts to participate in outdoor activities, which vary with each county. You can contact your local 4-H office to learn what programs they have to offer such as archery, camps and others.
Georgia State Parks offer programs and local events to encourage children to become active in the outdoors. You can find events listed on each individual park’s website. The Georgia State Parks also offer the Junior Ranger Program that I mentioned earlier that my children participated in. Children have the opportunity to earn three different badges on completing a variety of outdoor activities. The booklet that lists the tasks to be completed can be found in any of your local Georgia State Parks. You can also get assistance from employees at the State Parks in completing the activities.
State Park employees will also assist with that first camping trip you might decide to try as a family. Parks that offer fishing will often have fishing rods and tackle available for use at the park office. This assistance that is provided can often help to ensure that a child’s first experience in the outdoors is a positive and rewarding experience that will leave them wanting to experience it again.
Geocaching is yet another way to spend time in the outdoors. Geocaching is an activity in which families can get the latitude and longitude coordinates in which a cache, or box with a variety of items in it, can be found. The coordinates can be located from geocaching websites and by using a GPS unit that could be as simple as an app on your phone. Caches can be found in a variety of locations from state and local parks, to a city’s downtown. This, like the Junior Ranger Program, can be done almost anytime and anywhere. The idea of finding a hidden treasure is an activity that will appeal to almost any child, and it is yet one more way to get children into the outdoors.
Various organizations like the Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quality Deer Management Association, Scouts, Trout Unlimited and others offer youth-centered events such as camps, fishing, hunting and educational opportunities. These opportunities can be found on their organizational websites and are centered on helping children to enjoy and learn about the outdoors.
Spending time in the outdoors has made such an impact in my life and that of our children. Bird watching, fishing, hiking, hunting, photography and other activities have taught our children so much. They have learned about their environment, history and safety. Both of them have learned to interact with others, respect others and the environment. They have also learned to be active and healthy while we have grown closer as a family. Each person’s and families’ experience will vary, for we all are unique individuals.
From our own backyards to across the world, opportunities are there provided by local, state, and national groups and organizations. A quick check of GON, your local newspaper or an internet search should provide you with a starting point. Also, don’t forget our wonderful State Parks that provide organized activities and opportunities to create your own family activities.
Now it’s just a matter of finding the time to go. I hope your family and youth in your community learn from and enjoy their time outdoors as much as my family. The larger number of people that get out and enjoy the outdoors, the more stewards of the environment and wildlife we will have. Citizens involved in the outdoors are more likely to fund and support programs that provide wildlife, parks and outdoor activities. If the youth are involved in camping, fishing, hiking and other activities, these traditions will continue for generations to come and not fade away.
Get out there, and find an activity your family will enjoy. Try something new. Get the kids outdoors, and leave the electronics behind.
Show them all that surrounds them, and the fun that they can have all across Georgia in the outdoors.