The Importance of Reading, Writing and Hunting

Justin was the type of boy who would rather chase frogs in a muddy puddle and catch crawfish in a creek than study mundane things in reading and writing. He felt much more comfortable with a pocketful of worms than with an armful of books. His father hoped he would realize the importance of academia, but Justin was more pleased with the mere whisper of the notion of a hunt at 5 a.m. This brought him instantly to life, whereas alarms, shakes and threats were necessary for him to get up for school hours later.

But Justin was not only a son—he was a fun person.

Stringent rules govern the age at which we must send our children to school. But what age is best to introduce a boy or girl to the practical lessons of the natural world, especially hunting? I’m not talking about buying an offspring their first gun. Any child old enough for pre-school or the early elementary grades should be old enough to tag along with a hunting parent. Actually, the age of the boy or girl is not as critical as the patience of the parent. I’ve known a few men who’ve confessed that they didn’t care for hunting or fishing because their fathers were so serious every time they took them along and all the “old man” did was yell at them.

It’s not a good idea to pick an annual deer hunt or a long-awaited fishing excursion as the time for Junior to learn what fishing and hunting are all about. Choose something like fishing for bluegills or hunting for squirrels. And most importantly, pick a time when it really doesn’t matter whether you catch or bag anything. After all, it is the total aesthetics of the experience you want to convey, not the weight of the stringer or game bag.

One morning in the fall years ago I was heading for the woods with Justin. He held my coffee cup to warm up his hands during the drive.

“I’m warmin’ up now so I won’t move around in the woods and scare the squirrels,” he said.

This was not Justin’s very first trip. Nevertheless, I explained all the rules to him again just before we entered the woods, and he listened intently. With two front teeth missing, a camouflage hat that fit like a bucket and a warm camo jacket that was too long in the sleeves, it was hard not to smile at him as his face broadly beamed back.

As he followed at my heels into the woods, he stepped on sticks a few times.

“An important part of squirrel hunting,” I whispered, “is to watch where you place your feet so you don’t snap twigs, and, to move slow and easy so the squirrels don’t see you.”

Wherever we walked and wherever we sat, the boy was fascinated by what he observed and asked questions with a whisper. I answered every one of them and gave him a cautious response about noise too.

Each warning was followed by about two minutes of compliance, but I realized that he was learning a lot. He took home pockets filled with empty snail shells, various types of nuts and a plant he said was a flower for his mother. He remembers well watching a spider weave its web when he was supposed to be watching for squirrels.

Later, as we were hunting our way out of the woods, I noticed an unusual amount of twigs snapping and leaves rustling behind me. I turned to catch Justin with his knees bouncing, hips twisting, elbows gyrating and his head bobbing. Then, I couldn’t contain myself.

We hadn’t seen a single squirrel, and my roaring laughter ensured that it was going to stay that way. But it was still a memorable hunt.

I’m now aware that he was learning much more at the time than how to hunt squirrels. Justin today is a man everybody likes because he keeps everyone laughing. Maybe he came by that naturally, but I think one of the reasons is because he was allowed to be natural—even during a squirrel hunt.

Part of any kid’s education in any scenario—hunting or otherwise—should include practical education in the natural order of things, as well as lessons in just letting them be themselves. Hunting is becoming socially unfashionable, and the average age of hunters is getting closer to the retirement age each year. Fewer young adults and kids are showing interest in the sport. Perhaps, this may be in part because we’ve created a large part of society with animal rights organizations who believe and tell others that house cats and wildcats in our woods use the same litter box and have intelligent conversations with mice and rabbits.

The future of hunting rests within the heads of our offspring. We can preach individualism, but unless we teach them a practical knowledge of the natural order of wild things, tempered with wonderment and enjoyment and letting them be young, those outdoors traditions will die.

 

Ron Kruger has been communicating the outdoor experience for over four decades. He has worked as a full-time guide for trout on the North Fork, for crappies and bass on Kentucky Lake and for smallmouths on the Current River. He has served as editor of three outdoor magazines, and owns a patent on a fly/lure called the Desperate Diver.