As a Midwest country boy growing up in the 70’s, achieving your hunter safety certificate was a defining and memorable time in life. That may seem like a bit of an overstatement for people who don’t hunt. But for those of us where hunting was a part of our family legacy, a hunter certificate became a symbol of manhood; a right of passage of sorts.
Now, as a father myself, I have been looking forward to the day when The Boy and Daughter will have the same opportunity to experience that defining moment. The legacy of hunting endures in my family and the values we hold for the outdoors are equally strong.
Last Thursday was that day. The Boy, now 9, decided he was ready and has spent the last couple of months studying his hunter safety materials. I was so proud of him for taking his studies serious – reading the handbook; completing online practice tests; successfully passing the online exam; and enduring a 4-hour finishing class on a school night. All of this culminating in a successful in-person exam with a score of 91%!
As we departed the church where the in-person class and exam were held, I’m not sure who was more excited – him or me. It was late, 11:30pm by the time the test was scored and the final paperwork completed. I could sense that he was dead tired, but equally excited. As we strolled toward the car in the quiet, damp night, I put my hand on his shoulder and gave a squeeze of approval. The Boy stopped, looked up at me and said, “Hey dad, thanks for being here with me. I love you.”
Whoa. Who says grown men don’t cry.
The interesting aspect of Thursday’s event is that I had been focusing on it as The Boy’s journey of becoming a hunter. In reflection however, I think the day was equally impactful for me – also a right of passage if you will – as a father. The first child to enter la confraternidad de cazadores – the fellowship of hunters.
Having a young man – and next year a young lady – join the world of hunting is important to me and my family. We are fortunate that our community has several families who also hunt so there is a good deal of shared interest and values. But I am also acutely aware that just a few miles down the freeway is a burgeoning metropolitan area where the notion of guns is viewed in a very different context.
Last week, Kristine at the Outdoor Bloggers Summit offered a new challenge after reading an article in the American Spectator. To save you the pain of reading the entire article, the gist was that the outdoors are reserved for beer-slogging white guys and that women and folks of color should just stay home and do, well, I’m not sure what. If you click to the article, you’ll get a sense of the hunting community’s response in the comments section.
I found a stark irony in this past week’s events with The Boy, this article, and the OBS challenge. I couldn’t help but think that – unfortunately – it may very well be that even us middle-class white guys have failed to do enough to ensure the continuing heritage of hunters.
While the focus of the challenge was to discuss why the outdoors is for everyone, I can’t help but think about several friends I know who grew up in hunting families but who have now immersed themselves in careers and other interests and are not teaching their kids about the outdoors.
How can we expect to have our kids invite their nontraditional friends along if we aren’t introducing them to hunting in the first place? Based on national hunter acquisition statistics, I would go so far as to say that even the ‘traditional hunter’ is quickly becoming an endangered species.
Indeed, the outdoors is for everyone, including middle-of-the-road folks who must continue the traditions in our own families as well bringing people of all backgrounds and genders into the fold. Let’s make sure we start inside our own homes as well as make active strides to invite others to join us. We must have a sense of urgency about this if we are going to have a chance.