I have wanted to write this article for some time now. My thoughts and feelings on the subject of what we are teaching our youth, the next generation of outdoorsmen, is no secret to those around me. It is a subject that comes up often in conversation. Questions are constantly raised by other outdoor writers such as, “What do we define as a trophy?”, “How do we introduce new young kids to our sport if they did not grow up around it?” or “How do we keep our hunting and fishing heritage alive if all kids are interested in are video games and the other technologies of our day?” The list continues. I often compare the hunting and fishing heritage for the next generation to another far different category… Fabric and sewing supply stores. This is a pretty far reach so I know what you are thinking but stay with me. Consider that many folks in older generations grew accustomed to making their own clothing and grew up in an era where sewing and altering your own clothes, as well as making other things at home, were a common practice handed down through the generations. As that generation born during the Great Depression and shortly after get older and pass on, the traditions of making your own clothing from patterns and fabric will pass with them. I think many of the stores frequented by these seasoned customers will fall by the wayside as a result. Our culture is different today than back then, after all. You can buy many things cheaper than you can make them in many instances. It’s cheaper to replace than to repair so many things we own. The technology of our current time has made most of our lives easier and more efficient than ever before. But what about the next generation and the traditions and heritage we pass on to them?
I recently was reminded of the phrase “Use it Up, Wear it Out… Make it Do or Do Without”. This was a common saying many years ago before we had many of the modern conveniences we have today. I was raised, in part, by Depression-Era grandparents who taught me the value of providing for your family from the land and water and where food really comes from. It certainly was not all from the grocery store shelves. Some hunters have told me that there is no need for the traditions of the past. We are in a brave new world. Everything is different now. I get that. But what will become of the sport and traditions we love and want to see live beyond our lifetimes with our children, grandchildren, and other young people around us if we manifest that attitude?
As I have written about before, I started later in the sport of hunting than many did. I made it a point to surround myself with experts and positive influences in my beginning years. “Birds of a feather flock together”, as another old saying goes. The same should be true for young people. Be careful in the stories and experiences you share with hunters in their formative years. While we never want to “shelter” hunters new to the sport from some of the possibilities that can happen in the field, we don’t want them to get jaded or have negative experiences from our influence if at all possible. At the time of this writing, I was the youth hunt coordinator for Hill Country Bowhunters (www.hillcountrybowhunters.com). I recently returned from one of our youth hunts at DB Hunting Ranch (www.dbhunting.com), a ranch I also work for as Sales and Marketing Director. During our hunts with the youth, I make it a point to talk about any issues affecting our hunt or mistakes the hunters may have made during the hunt away from the young hunters, exclusively with the other adults in the hunting party. The youth need to know what is going on but they don’t have to know every single detail about every aspect of the hunt when or if something goes wrong or they make a mistake in the field. They are there to enjoy the hunt and striving to make sure they have the best experience possible is our job as the experienced adult hunters guiding them.
I was recently at a “Captian’s Day” event at our local Cabela’s retail store in Buda as a Pro-Staff with Marty McIntyre and Garquest Bowfishing Guide Service (www.garquest.com) as one of the exhibitors for the weekend. Next to our table was an older seasoned outdoorsman who hosted summer youth camps for Texas area kids. His passion for getting kids outside and involved in outdoor activities was evident. Young boys and girls who came by were wide-eyed and grinning ear to ear about the prospects of attending one of his camps where he covered basics of archery, firearms, hunting, target shooting, fishing, camping, and more. He even offered scholarships for kids who could not afford the camp and talked with Marty about adding bowfishing to the mix of events offered at the camp in the future. This is the kind of thing that excites me beyond words. Getting kids who do not have a hunting heritage in their family or circle of friends is the core demographic we should concentrate on where possible and that is what this particular camp program was doing. Other larger programs like NASP (National Archery in the Schools Program) seeks to do the same thing through schools, although not directly hunting related.
While at this Cabela’s event and talking to head director of this camp, the head of the bowhunting section of the camp came to visit and the two men engaged into a friendly debate about the message of the camp. The head director stated he did not want kids to be introduced to the “killing” stage of hunting, although that is what many kids, especially boys, were naturally interested in with bowhunting. The bowhunting director thought otherwise. Why teach bowhunting if we are not sending the message that there is an end product to the hunting adventure? Both men made good points about the messages kids are exposed to today. Hunting and fishing should not be all about just “killing and catching” but that can certainly a draw for kids to get into the sport to begin with if they do not have any hunting or fishing background at home. What message do we send? The sportsmen’s message of enjoying nature as it is and being part of it or, additionally, providing for yourself and your family out of nature in participating as part of the natural ecosystem is a good well-rounded approach in my opinion. Are we doing a good job of teaching both aspects of our sport (providing for yourself by “killing and catching” and enjoying the outdoors and natural beauty) now in what the young people of today perceive of our outdoor pursuits? All of these are good points and questions that I think need to be considered.
Hill Country Bowhunters supports youth hunting and raises money for this purpose through to providing monthly 3-D archery tournaments and encouraging adults and youth alike to enjoy the sport of archery in a 30 target 3D archery course during the off-season of deer season. As I have mentioned before, 3D Archery is a great way to introduce youth to archery and hunting without a lot of extra time, money, or work. Just show up to the event and prepare to enjoy the outdoors and fellowship with others. The archery industry has seen a spike in young archers getting involved in the sport due to movies like, “The Hunger Games” and others where archery is part of the story line. The main thing we need to seek to do as experience archers and hunters is make sure the youth that are starting out are using the right fundamentals, being safe, and having fun at the sport. A youth bow can be purchased used or new very inexpensively and many young archers, along with adults, can practice in the privacy and comfort of a large backyard without having to ever visit an archery course or range, making daily practice at home a great habit.
On the subject of firearms, most of us started with BB guns, pellet rifles, and, of course, the venerable .22 rifle. With all the media hype on “assault weapons” and “black rifles”, I think kids should understand that the look of a rifle, shotgun, or handgun, does not affect the function of the firearm. A gun is simply a tool. That being said, there are no bad or evil guns. For people to say that there are is a major misunderstanding. The media would have you believe that guns go off by themselves and harm innocent victims without addressing the people behind them who are pulling the trigger. A gun is certainly a more serious platform to talk about safety and fundamentals with a new hunter but we have to keep in mind that our youth are surrounded by a world who sends mixed messages about gun control as many of their peers that will never have the benefit of knowing and understanding the 2nd Amendment or why hunters and target shooters use and own guns like most of us who have been around guns for a long time. Start them off with the right perception and outlook on firearms first. Obviously, one of the cardinal rules on guns is to get kids started with low-recoiling guns and moving up to higher and more powerful calibers only after they are comfortable with their shooting. I will never forget what it felt like when I was introduced shoot my first two high power rifles, a 25-06 and .308 Winchester. Now that was a new experience from what I had experienced with a .22 or an air rifle for sure! Many adult shooters that I have helped with shooting fundamentals as a range master at my local gun range over the years developed bad habits like flinching on anticipation of the shot, pulling off target to the left or right due to pressing the trigger to hard and fast, or other common issues, come to the surface because they were not educated in the right way to shoot when they were young or when they started target shooting or hunting later in life. New shooters and sportsmen in general need to be surrounded by champions that will build them up and encourage them as well as know what to look for in bad shooting form so a bad habit doesn’t turn into a long-term issue down the road.
Another good practice I think we can all engage in is conducting ourselves with respect and dignity both in person, and in our correspondences on the phone and through the internet. I bring this topic up specifically because of a recent post on a very popular hunting forum that I frequently advertise on as well as take part in online fellowship with other Texas hunters. With the advent of technology, many hunters I have come across are well-meaning folks in person but will not hesitate to “dogpile” on an issue or attack or someone, an controversial issue, or even a hunting ranch or deer processor on a hunting or fishing forum. If you don’t think kids read these posts, think again. They are on the internet all the time and very impressionable. One practice I will not take part in is jumping on the bandwagon of a topic or issue that I am not an expert in or have no personal experience with when it come up. If you don’t know the issue or situation or have a proverbial “dog in the hunt”, it might be best to keep your comments and opinions to yourself. A recent hunter that visited our ranch came to the owners singing my praises for not getting involved in the politics of the hunting forum I was on. He said I made a good practice by just getting on there, doing my business, helping new hunters with questions as needed, and leaving the drama alone. My response to that is that I simply do not allow myself the time to do much more than that. Life has too much to offer and getting involved in a dramatic political discussion or throwing my two cents in with my opinions on a ranch I have never heard of or been around, for instance, is a waste of time in my view. Remember, people can read things you wrote on outdoor forums, social media sites, and more for many years. Choose your words wisely. You never know who is reading and what they will think about our sporting heritage as they form their first experiences in woods or on the lake…
I love hunting shows. Of course, I am part of one of them so that makes sense. One issue I frequently take with many shows on television and the internet today is the message they send to new hunters and even the influence they have on those of us who have been around the block a time or two. I for one do not necessarily believe in taking 1,000 yard or more long range shots, leaving a deer overnight before going back out to track it the next morning, or shooting only huge trophy animals in the course of hunting. Everything is relative to circumstances, of course, but the limit is getting pushed every day on what we see in outdoor TV shows. Many popular hunting shows embody some extreme characteristics as common place and this is the wrong message to send to young or inexperienced hunters. I understand this is the nature of what hunters want to see but new hunters need to understand management hunting, depredation hunting, general land and resource management, and more. That might be boring to some but it needs a front row seat sometimes. So many times the fundamental subjects of our sporting heritage take a back seat to those extreme shots and huge trophy kills and catches.
Another topic that should be mentioned is what we consider a trophy in hunting or fishing and the message we send to those around us about this subject. Harvesting or catching a trophy doesn’t always mean one hunter is better than the other. Unfortunately, the way many hunters judge themselves is to compare themselves hunters on TV or other career celebrities in the hunting industry when they asses what they have accomplished. Much like in our American society, we always look to folks who have bigger and better versions of what we have instead of enjoying the journey of life. I have been guilty of this as many hunters have but we should be careful again in the message we send to the youth and newcomers to the sport. The hunt does not always have to be about the kill. The fishing trip does not always have to be about the lunker bass or huge slob of a catfish. For many outdoorsmen, however, it seems the only thing that matters is the size of the horns or antlers, the number of keeper fish put in the box, the number of kills on a hunt, and the list goes on. The next generation of hunters notices this and will follow what you do carefully. Perception is reality to them. There was a story at my hunting camp this year of a young hunter who shot a 170-class Whitetail, which is a very large trophy-class deer by Texas standards. That may be the biggest deer he would ever shoot in his lifetime and it was his first deer. The question came up around the campfire that night, “Where does he go from here?” Those are high standards to live up to if you ask me. Young hunters and seasoned hunters alike should recognize it is about the experience, not necessarily the kill or catch at the end of the day. Limiting out, harvesting a trophy animal, or other thrills of the trip are icing on the cake. A successful hunting or fishing adventure does not always have to be defined by meat in the freezer or a trophy on the wall. I fear we will lose many of our new hunters if they have to compare their successes in the field to what has been defined as success by many hunters today.
We must understand the amount of influence we have as experienced outdoorsmen and it is up to our seasoned hunting generation to pass the torch to those in the coming generations if we wish for our outdoor legacy and heritage, along with family traditions, to live on. Youth and new hunters of any age are looking to those of us who have “been there and done” that for tips, techniques, suggestions and general helpful advice. We must be ambassadors of our sport if we want it to continue. Share the legacy you have made in your own outdoor adventures with those young and impressionable hunters around you in a positive and educational manner. Take a young person in your life on your next hunting, fishing or other outdoor adventure, even if it is only to watch what you do and be a part of the experience. Approach the young and new hunters in your life with the same joy, wonder, excitement, grace, and understanding that you had when you started and show the same patience you were given by those experienced around you back then. I am excited about the future of our sport and our outdoor industry. It is better than it has ever been before and we should cherish that. Share your passion and love for the outdoors with those around you every day.
Dustin Vaughn Warncke