Sunday, February 15, 2009

Adding Hunters to the Ranks

There are a few keystone moments in a kid’s life that he or she can remember in vivid Technicolor. For me, one of those memories was the weekend that my dad took me and my friend to get our hunter safety certificate. I remember the drive out to the Isaac Walton League and entering that cold, brick meeting hall with all the other fathers and sons (unfortunately there were no huntresses or daughters). I can still smell the stale, dank air and how quiet we all were with anxious anticipation.

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.


Terry Scoville said...

Really nice post Jon, brought a tear to my eye too. I remember much the same as to passing my hunter's safety class. You are eloquent in pointing out the challenges that face even us "die hard" hunters and to carrying on tradition. Inclusiveness is what it is all about, well said Jon.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Congratulations to your son - and you! And I'm really glad you're thinking about your kids inviting their friends along - I've met some hunters who got started that way, and it's a brilliant way to extend your reach as a hunting parent.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to your son, and how great that you are passing on your love of the outdoors and hunting to the next generation.

The Hunter's Wife said...

Congratulations to your son! Sounds like Dad was really proud and should be.

sportingdays said...

A lot to chew on from this post.

First, let me offer my congratulations on passing the hunting tradition onto your kids. Just from reading your blog, it's clear to me that your kids have some wonderful hunting role models. They are lucky.

** Field & Stream had an interesting article a few months back on the "Disappearing Hunter" and made the argument that hunters were largely to blame for the dropoff in recruitment: Hunters weren't getting their own children involved in hunting -- never mind introducing nonhunters or other kids into the sport. Given all the financial pressures, time commitments and other demands of modern life, it was just easier for hunting parents to go with the flow -- get their kids into youth soccer, ballet, and a million other youth activities today -- than buck the cultural mainstream and carve out time, resources and the emotional and intellectual energy needed to pass the hunting tradition onto their kids.

** As a father of two young boys, I, too, look forward to the time when they can get their hunter's safety certificate. However, I do think we have a serious problem with hunter education today. I think it needs to be an ongoing and more rigorous process.

Think about it: What does it say about our hunter education system when an 8- or 9-year old child can score 90 percent on a hunter education test?

What are they really learning? What will they remember when they're 14 or 18? Think about the message that sends to the nonhunting public when almost any child can earn a hunting certificate before they're done with 4th grade. It's ludicrous.

I'd like to see a system where hunters have to retake the exam every five years or so -- and the test could get more difficult accordingly to require some ongoing education. The test for adults should be different than the one a 9-year-old can pass. The safety scenarios and exam questions should be more complex and demanding as should questions about wildlife biology, conservation, the philosophy of hunting, heritage, etc.

I don't see this ever happening when everybody is trying to lower barriers and get more folks into hunting. As a hunting community, however, I think we suffer from such minimal hunter education standards.

LC said...

Great story--and congrats to your son! What's next for the boy?

Live to Hunt.... said...

Sporting - great comments, thank you for your thoughtful responses. Funny thing - I was thinking about my next post being related to the hunter education process that The Boy endured (and of which I was an observer). I share some of your sentiments, the current CA system is archaic and outdated (they showed videos from the 70's!). Although I don't know if I could so far as continued comptency exams as you suggest.

You've inspired me to write that next post. Thanks!

Jamie said...

My husband too, has fond memories of taking hunter's safety with his dad and I know he looks forward to the day that we will be able to take our son to hunter's safety. I love reading about passing the tradition on. Congratulations to both you and your son!

Dennis A Carroll said...

Hunter Safety Certificate. No metaphor needed there.

After reading your post, I wish I had kept mine.

Additionally, "Love to Hunt, Love to Eat, and Enjoy Life?"

You mean there is something else. Congrats to you and yours.


Blessed said...

Great post. And congratulations to your Boy - I remember taking my Hunter's Safety Test too, as an adult - I can't wait until our little ones are big enough to want and need to do this!

The Downeast Duck Hunter said...

I still have my hunter safety manual kicking around somewhere and that dates back to 1986.

I have to sort of disagree with Sportingdays perspective about the hunter safety program for several reasons. First, it's the first step to help get a youngster better prepared for safe hunting. In Maine, this goes along with junior hunting days where youngster may participate in there own special days with an adult who does not carry a firearm. The idea behind this is to help these aspiring sportsmen apply there learning. Secondly, I feel that we as adults should be responsible for continual hunter safety especially with our children. This attitude derives from the idea that government has just a little too much swing in my life and let me bear the responsibility of having a safe hunter, not some tax supported "safety expert" or "test".

However, I do agree with his statement about complying to the mainstream world of go baby go and if we don't start making paying attention to these issues then change will continue to draw our kids away from the outdoors. What stinks is that I saw a kid lose playing time because he went to a traditional father/son hunting camp. Apparently, his commitment to the team was more important than his commitment to his family.

So here's my question, how do I balance the run and gun world of soccer, basketball, gymnastics, softball, karate, etc. against the other world of camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking? This is where it's going to get hard, because I know both are going to be powerful influences on my girls.

Great post, tell your son congrats on my behalf, we're all proud of him and look forward to seeing his hunts ahead!!!


The Downeast Duck Hunter said...

sorry "their" instead of "there"...

Rod McBellanic said...

Thanks for coming by sorry for the delayed response in getting over to check you out. Great post and cuddos to being a great dad. With you all the way..."if grown men don't cry". Tears come along everytime one of the kids show me all the love I received from my father. Also, added your site to the "Good Folks" and will on Field Dress as well.

Chad "Rod"
Field Dress
The Wild Side Blog

SimplyOutdoors said...

I remember my hunter's safety course like it was yesterday. It definitely is a right-of-passage of sorts for a young boy...or girl!

I can't wait for the day that my daughter utters similar words as your son after completing her hunter safety course.

And I think recruiting your kid's friends into hunting is an excellent idea, and one that a lot of us would not think about.

Great post.

Justin said...

That is great on your son passing the hunters ed class. I grew up in the midwest also and it was taught in school as part of our shop class and then in high school again as part of our ag class. Is there a site where I can find out where and when the exams are being held around me? I thought it was just taught in school but with school now I doubt they teach anything like that.

Live to Hunt.... said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments and well wishes for The Boy. He is excited each time I let him read these comments.

Jennifer said...

Hi all - This is The Wife here. I've enjoyed reading all of your comments, and feel compelled to make one myself, specifically to Sporting Days.

I was born and raised a "Valley Girl" from So. Cal, so this whole hunting thing is very foreign to me. I didn't know a thing about hunter safety, firearms, shooting/hunting skills & techniques or hunting laws until I started studying the hunter safety guide with The Boy.

We took practice tests online and in the beginning, I was clueless. For the experienced hunter, the test may seem too easy, but coming from a perspective of someone who has never hunted a day in her life, it wasn't a cake walk.

The fact that The Boy passed with 90% isn't because the test was easy, it was because he, his father and I took a vested interest in him respecting the reason for the test, the process of studying for the test and taking the test.

He and his dad studied for months before he took the test for the first time in December. The instructor made The Boy feel intimidated, uncomfortable and rushed. Ultimately, he did not pass and our hearts we broken. Not because of the result, but because the instructor seemed to want him to fail. Maybe he held the perspective that if a 9 year old boy could pass it, the test is too easy, therefore lowering the barriers.

However, it strengthened our resolve and both Jon and I worked with The Boy to help him prepare for the next test in a few months. He passed with 90% because he put hours of his time into it. I can say that because I was viewing it through a novices eyes. I think it is easy to take for granted the skills, ethics, common sense and safety practices seasoned hunters have learned over the years.

There are two ways for the new hunter to learn those 1) study the guide and continue to use as a resource and 2) have an incredible mentor to teach them in the field. Unfortunately, you can't really do #2 without number #1.

Forgive me if I'm on a soapbox, but I don't want anyone, for one minute, to think any 9 year old could pass that test with 90%. The Boy EARNED that score.

The Wife and proud mom of The Boy