July 23 11:40 AM

Rewards of deer hunting outweighs big bucks

December 01, 2007
I am angry and saddened with the mind games being used to commercialize real deer hunting today. Beneath the guise of building interest in hunting in our youth, staged seasons are now in vogue. The hidden motive buried amidst some admitted positive bonding potential that may result between parent and teen is the shoring up of lost revenue due to declining hunter numbers. This disingenuous practice will also fail. Based on ulterior motives, our youth have now become the unsuspecting source for recapturing the once predictable financial high ground. The strategy is one of luring boys and girls in using the immediate success syndrome, offering improved odds for a kill as the carrot. The end game is to capture their continued interest in becoming that new source of revenue.

Let me depart at this juncture from my initial frustration and simply allow the reader to internalize other options for attracting young people to deer hunting.

Having purchased a deer hunting license for well over 50 years (except for time in the Army), I recently began to reflect on what brought me to this wonderful dance. If limited to a single word of explanation for definition I would select "curiosity." Having anticipation for an event or activity does not automatically occur. Someone must stimulate us to start the motor of our imagination that allows us to dwell on an activity until it becomes a full-blown preoccupation. In my case it was my father who lit the pilot that has glowed brightly all these years.

In the beginning he regularly allowed me to experience the woods with him in all its beauty and harshness. He always pointed out the intrinsic subtleties of sight, sound, smell, etc., yet never spared me the stark reality of walking great distances and enduring harsh weather. (He used to unbutton me as a young boy so that I might relieve myself when my cold hands could not manage.) I learned to relish the discomfort of the out-of-doors as part of my baptism under fire, yet it never ceased to dampen my curiosity for wanting to discover what lay over the next hill or down the next ravine.

I remember vividly, as a boy, the atmosphere at our house beginning around October 15 each year when my Dad became preoccupied with all the planning necessary to journey to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for the annual two week tent camp.

Much like the wily buck, about this time of year not fully understanding its inner urgings, Dad became driven with excitement he felt even in preparing for the upcoming season. Time available after school and after Dad's workday found me painstakingly helping to get equipment ready, packing and the inevitable repair or rebuilding of time worn items, i.e., tent, trailer, stove, etc.

For me, Dad's hunt was my hunt. Evenings were laced with Dad's penchant for detailing story after story about the trips north, setting up camp, hunting new areas, camp life, hunting episodes, the lay of the land, fellow hunters, etc.

Each new season Dad took me to deer camp long before I actually made the trip by allowing me to internalize his excitement for the hunt. Sadly, the notion of most of today's deer hunters focus only on seeing and killing deer. Many of these same hunters also further reduce their own potential for experiencing the magic of the hunt by plunking down somewhere near their ORV behind a pile of bait.

The notion of the hunt influencing the persona of a person is not a new idea, but reaches well beyond guns and killing deer. Real love affairs that last and mold character for influencing the inner feelings rely upon some degree of learning by discovery.

It wasn't until the early '50s that I took the ferryboat to the Upper Peninsula myself. Our tent and stove arrived at our campsite one day late after Dad, my brother and I had slept the first night on the ground, on a canvas in our sleeping bags. We swept the snow off us come morning.

My new discovery about living in the woods and hunting camp came into sharp focus on opening morning. I had only heard stories of hunting in the Camp One Area. We left the tent at 5 a.m. to walk the mile and a half (I found out later) to Camp One.

I remember the darkness when Dad asked me if I could read my compass. With the moon helping to pick up my directions, Dad continued to walk away, and said only, "See you tonight." It dawned on me that not later, but right then,at that moment, I was on my own.

Like a child weaned from its mother's milk, my baptism to discovering real hunting had commenced. My first thought was one of fear, followed by anger toward my Dad for simply leaving me to fend for myself. How could any caring father simply leave a teenager on his first Upper Peninsula deer hunt, and only say, "See you tonight?"

I've given considerable thought to that experience these past 50 years. It should be obvious to the reader that this example of "tough love," coined some years later, was my Father's way for me to become a deer hunter for life. Yes, I was hunting lost until dusk that day, but I confirmed Dad's teachings in the ways of the woods. Using those early lessons of observing special landmarks, topography, compass reading, directional indicators and backtracking gave me the confidence then, and has allowed me a sense of

freedom ever since in many different hunting areas.

Over the years I have further cultivated my curiosity for what lies over the next ridge, or around the next bend. I've come to realize that we must create a curiosity and discovery mentality in young hunters if we ever expect them to become hunters for life.

If we take a young person hunting with us, we must help him or her attain those skills to remove the fear of what is unknown, so that they gain the security to be insecure in the woods. One of Dad's favorite sayings was, "Good hunters are lost most of the time."

Two days after our return from my first Upper Peninsula deer hunt Dad was killed in an auto accident. He had gone to check on a bear hide he had taken in for tanning the previous year. Every year in November I experience his gift of love for a lifetime.

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