Getting Kids Involved In The Great Outdoors

Tom LounsburyFriends of ELO, Youth Hunts

By:  Tom Lounsbury.

One of my greatest pleasures in life as a parent was getting my three sons involved with the various pursuits in the great outdoors, and mentoring them, one on one through the process which is truly the joy of sharing, and of course “passing it on”. As a grandparent, I’m even further pleased seeing my sons doing the same in passing it on with their children. This is something we humans as hunter/gathers have been doing since the beginning of time, although in today’s high-tech society, this fact in reality can become a bit askew.

This is why I have always fully supported the mentor hunting licenses which allow kids to get involved at an earlier age than was allowed by law before. It is now up to the parents to decide whether or not their child is ready to participate and that certainly works for me. Back when my sons were able to first truly participate, they had to be 12 years old before they could get a small game hunting license, and age 14 for hunting deer with a firearm. I can tell you, for a fact, they were fully ready at a much younger age.

Certainly they could accompany me on hunts when they were little (I can remember even having to have a diaper bag along while squirrel hunting), but there is a whole lot more spice to the picture when a kid who is fully able (and under adult supervision) can actually participate. With all the side attractions such as today’s high-tech gadgets, games, gizmos and computers for kids to entertain themselves with, as well as other activities, getting them involved and fully interested in an outdoor lifestyle can be easily put on the backburner, and sadly, forgotten altogether along the way. I truly believe this is why there is an unrealistic animal rights/anti-hunting mindset floating out there, and that it is very important to get kids involved and participating into hunting at an early age, because the future of hunting depends upon it today.

I’ve heard a few adult hunters criticizing the fact kids can get out there at any age their parents deem as being fit to do so, and that some kids are way too young. There is also the typical rumor mill that claims parents are using the kids to take advantage of the special youth only hunts, and these same critics usually also think such special hunts are very unfair in allowing the kids to get a head start, something they (the critics) never had the opportunity to do in their day.  To them, the kids still need to sit on the sidelines, just as they had to do, and thus leave what they consider as being a more “fair playing field” (especially for them). One severe critic even described the special youth hunting seasons as being “legal poaching” (there’s an acute oxymoron for you). 

Needless to say folks, I fully disagree with the critics. When is it wrong to offer incentives to get and keep our youth involved in the great outdoors? Especially during these challenging times which are far different for kids today, than when the “critics” were growing up.

When it comes to my grandchildren in hunting, I’m usually just an observer in the background (and enjoying every bit of it) because my sons are typically the mentors, as it is their time and opportunity to pass it on to their kids. Four years ago I had an opportunity to accompany my son Jake and his then 12 year old daughter McKenna on a local turkey hunt. They were the “shooters” and I was the caller (minus a shotgun), something I thoroughly have a good time doing anytime, because I purely love to “talk turkey” and watch other folks get in on the action.

While McKenna and Jake got set up in a ground blind, I positioned my hen decoy (that I call “Norma Jean”) out 15 yards in front. McKenna was using an H&R single-shot 28 ga, a shotgun her father and two uncles had all began using for their first hunting adventures, and Jake was armed with an over/under 12ga. I got positioned behind them just outside of the blind, and began calling.

That day wasn’t ideal turkey hunting weather with strong, cold winds frequently spitting snow, but we were giving it a whirl anyway, as it is called hunting. Then something happened I have never seen in all my years of turkey hunting. I’ve had predators such as foxes (both red and gray) and coyotes come stalking and even charging in on my turkey decoy and calling setup, but never a bird of prey.

As if by magic, a large golden eagle (which are a tad bigger than bald eagles, and do frequently visit the Thumb) dropped silently straight down out of nowhere with talons extended and landed directly on my hen decoy’s back, which naturally collapsed and flattened right out. That was the most surprised eagle you ever saw as it stared all about in utter confusion. Its hard gaze seemed to say it was best if nobody started laughing. 

Actually, we were all mesmerized by the sudden and very unusual event, something we wouldn’t have witnessed had we decided to be couch potatoes and remain indoors. Then the golden eagle just as quickly and silently lifted up and flew away over the treetops. We didn’t see or even hear any wild turkeys that day (having that big eagle hanging around somewhere certainly didn’t help matters), but we sure went away with a unique memory certainly never to be forgotten.

My granddaughter McKenna and my son Jake have certainly enjoyed the benefits of the mentor hunting licenses for kids that have allowed father and daughter to share quality time in the outdoors. McKenna had bagged her share of small game and a large doe, before she even took her Hunter Education Class, and at age 16, she remains to be an avid “huntress” to this day.

Don Burnette of Cass City also truly appreciated the mentor hunting license, because he has been able to take his son, Zack, hunting since age 7, and now at age 14, Zack has bagged his share of local small game, deer and spring turkey gobblers. Don and Zack recently shared a very special father and son moment, when they called in a pair of large turkey gobblers, timed their shots, fired together at their selected gobblers, and dropped both birds on the spot!

Like me, Bob Walker of Kingston, is very happy with the mentor hunting license because he is seeing his grandchildren enjoying hunting opportunities at an earlier age, than his two sons were allowed to do. Bob’s son, Ryan Walker of Cass City, was able to mentor his 9 year old son, Oliver, recently in bagging his first turkey gobbler, a real dandy! Oliver’s 16 year old brother, Hugh, would also bag a dandy gobbler. Hugh Walker was 9 years old when the mentor hunting license came into being, and has bagged a gobbler each spring ever since, not to mention his fair share of whitetails each fall as well.

Frank Horning of Cass City also thoroughly appreciates the mentor hunting license which allowed him to take his son, Bradley, hunting at age 7, when Bradley bagged a 5-point buck during the special youth deer season. At age 8 last year, Bradley bagged his first spring gobbler, and this spring, at age 9, he bagged a real dandy trophy gobbler, while being mentored by his father during a very special moment shared in the outdoors.

I firmly believe in introducing a kid to hunting whenever possible (with my children all grown now, I “adopt” a kid whenever possible, to take hunting) because the future of hunting and other outdoor pastimes certainly depends upon doing so. And mentoring the youth in the field, one on one, remains to be crucial, just as it was in times way back when.

Tom Lounsbury
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