June 26 ē 11:16 PM
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A hunterís waiting game

I find the NRC's/DNR's recent decision to allow ten-year-olds to hunt small game and youngsters twelve years old to hunt deer rather interesting. It reminds me of parents who haul their kids hither and yon to play what I call "junior-junior" football games with kids who are just past lacing up their own shoes. And it reminds me of kids who are sometimes "made" into gold medal swimmers or skaters, future tennis or golf pros, or (W)NBA legends before they reach the fifth grade. And now, too, complete with cell/smart/i phones at hand ready to face/tweet the kid's next monumental accomplishment. In a way, it seems as though no one has to wait for anything for these days.

I know our great state is cash-strapped. And I understand that those who made this decision truly believe, in their heart of hearts, this effort will tag these youngsters as our future adult-license buyers. And for now, it's one sure-fire way to get a few more precious dollars into the hunting & fishing coffers. Simply put, more people purchasing licenses-right now and hopefully in the future, as well.

These kinds of political maneuvers stir up heartfelt memories. I come from a generation of today's hunters who waited. These days, when sitting in my deer blind and reflecting on seasons past, I remember the many times I went "deer hunting" with my father. I did not have my own youth hunting jacket and pants, fully insulated and waterproof, in the latest camo pattern or blaze orange. I did not have warm, felt-pack boots, or a fanny pack loaded with all of today's necessary goodies. Nor did I have a 2-way radio to call for assistance or just to check in. And I certainly did not have a license or a gun.

But here we go: back in those days, I wore my uncle's old hunting coat, handed down to me, with pockets full of stories about when he shot that buck on the south property line. I wore two pairs of heavy socks inside my cousin's old boots. A bologna and cheese sandwich, wrapped in wax paper, was the standard energy snack. A small glass-lined thermos bottle kept hot chocolate lukewarm. I had my own plastic license holder which showed off the previous year's license-a real big deal to me. Because I was the next generation of hunters in my family, I got to use the Jon E handwarmer. And I sat either next to my dad, or alone under a huge spruce tree along the edge of the swamp. And I waited.

Just before first light dawned a white, horizontal line in the eastern sky, I waited to hear leaves rustle or a stick to snap and then to see a buck stick its neck out from thick cover. I waited for a bobcat to sneak by. I waited to see the grouse land in a poplar and "bud" along the branches, eating its fill.

And I waited for the sound of a distant shot. Then, when the shot reported, I froze rigid in place and did not move a muscle. I waited to see the buck run by me and drop because I knew my father would not miss.

My father always made sure I had a compass in my pocket. Before each trip to the woods, he made me pull it out, find north, take a bearing on a distant object, and explain how I would get back to camp. If I passed this little test, I was cleared to "go hunting" for yet another day. In fact, thanks to my father, that old compass gave me something to practice with while I sat in the deer woods long ago, and waited.

Now I must confess that I took my youngest son deer hunting for the very first September Youth Hunt. I video-taped that hunt, complete with a young hunter lifting the small buck's head and smiling proudly into the camera. The early fall colors were brilliant that day and the experience is a memory for which we are both very thankful.

Yes, the rules have bent a little bit and have changed. It stands to reason because this is what rules do, over time. I understand, accept, and will live with these changes in the new, great outdoors. Yet I can only wonder if this effort to capture and keep future hunters will pan out.

But I do know this: right now, there is a vibrant and unwavering core of outdoorsmen and women who waited. We waited for what was once a child's lifetime before we entered that special world of hunting. And ever since that first hunt, we made and continue to make the outdoor experience paramount in our lives. I can only hope this new generation of hunters will someday be able to say the same.

By Russ Fimbinger
September 30, 2011

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