Kids and Hunting
My son started coming hunting with me as soon as he could walk, he would toddle along behind me always excited for whatever it was we were going to do. I took every opportunity to bring him along, though sometimes the days events were too rough to bring a small child. This was a lesson I learned myself as a youngster, but I was determined to make sure I pushed the endeavour as long as it stayed fun for him. My Ridley is a legal adult now, and I often wonder if I could go back in time, would I have done it the same way.
A Father’s Guidance
I grew up under the watchful eye of my father, himself quite a dedicated hunter. I often speak of how my dad was also raised hunting these same dry desert mountains of Utah, so it should come as no surprise that as far back as I can remember I wanted to hunt. So many of my most memorable childhood experiences were related to the times that I was able to tag along with my dad or my grandfathers. You can read more about those Memories right here.
That was a different time I suppose, different rules and more hunting options that were much easier to participate in. My dad is a bowhunter, while he’s shot plenty of animals with a rifle I think in his heart he truly enjoys the thrill of the ancient art of archery.
I’ve been on a few bowhunts in my lifetime, and looking back I can better understand why I never got to go as a child. Sneaking into archery range of a Mule deer is hard enough when you have the wind, concealment and noise working against you. I can’t imagine trying to put the sneak on one with a child by your side.
My Experience with Kids
As a young man, I too was bitten by the bug carrying the archery pathogen, and spent countless hours preparing myself for an eventual bowhunting trip. Unfortunately I grew out of it by the time I had reached the age to go, that and the fact that teenage girls existed greatly reduced my dedication to the sport.
Many years later I would find myself longing for hunting memories that never were. So when my lifelong dream of becoming a father was realized, I made a mindful decision that my own son would never want for the chance to join a hunting adventure. In fact I hoped that conversely he might someday look back, and wish he’d taken the opportunity more often.
One of the many adventures involving my son, also happened to involve my dad. It was well over a decade ago, and my father and I were situated along the spine of a steep ridge in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. One side of the ridge was a traditional slope that had a trail we had come in on ATV’s that morning, the opposite side of the ridge was as steep a hill as you can imagine. It was littered with thick brush and deadfall, and dropped for over a mile into a thick wooded forest below.
We were after Mule deer bucks that morning, and I had learned the pattern of them crossing this ridge spine over the years. Dad and I had spread out several hundred yards across the ridge to better cover potential bucks crossing over. Ridley was probably four or five years old at the time, and he sat near me quietly munching snacks and watching the sunrise. We’d spent the morning softly answering his many questions about trees and squirrels and every other thing that caught his curious eyes.
As we sat there in near silence, I heard a noise that immediately captured my own curiosity. It sounded like sticks breaking and the occasional rustle, I closely paid attention to the sound, and told Ridley to do the same. It would come and go, but I knew that something was moving up the steep drop off below us. As minutes passed, I continued to listen.
After a few minutes I knew action was at hand and I motioned to my dad to come toward me, in anticipation of something stepping out. As dad made his way towards me, my son in a whisper asked me if he could walk over to the fourwheeler to get something. Sensing his pocket to snack ratio reaching critical, I told him he could go as long as he stayed quiet and in sight.
Once again I heard noise coming from the drop off, and this time it was much closer. My heart nearly stopped when I heard the familiar chirp of an elk from below. Now, I had said we were deer hunting but it just so happened that my father also carried a cow elk tag in his pocket that was still good. I immediately started making frantic hand motions for him to hurry to me, he had clearly understood the message, all but the frantic and hurry parts.
As he made it to me I told him what had been happening just over the edge of the ridge. We sat there quietly listening to rustling brush, and the occasional elk chirp. Ridley was quietly refilling his pockets with goldfish from the backpack on my fourwheeler as dad and I watched carefully for the sign of an elk coming through the trees.
Like they often do, the elk made their way so close to us under cover that we were quite surprised when they emerged. Barely sixty-yards or so away, two cows came up through some aspen trees. It was quite obvious that they knew nothing of our presence.
As dad lifted his rifle I remember thinking to myself; that’s it, we’re gonna have elk for dinner. As the front elk cleared the second one, I knew that dad was probably starting to press the trigger. That’s when things went south…
Perhaps fifty yards away in a different direction, my son continued his supply mission. I was of course looking at the elk, so I can only imagine what it was like from his little guy perspective when he too spotted the elk standing on the edge of the treeline. Forgetting all the counsel I’d given him that morning, he saw the elk and in the most excited voice he shouted out: “Dad there’s two elk!”. I can just imagine his big brown eyes wide open, spitting bits of goldfish as he belted out his discovery.
I’ll spare you the rest of the story, and the rest of that hunt for that matter, it was uneventful after that morning. I remember hurrying over to the fourwheeler to him, his face lit up with excitement. I remember a sense of calm that came over me, and despite my internal rage of missing an easy opportunity, I calmly explained to him the consequences of him breaking silence. I distinctly remember wanting to make sure not to chastise him, and sour the experience of hunting for him.
Dad and me were both a bit sour though, we’d been so close.
I’ve never regretted taking Ridley along, not that day nor any other. He learned his lesson about keeping quiet, and that was his very first experience with elk, but it would not be his last.
We’ve been on so many hunts together since, and my daughter too has come along with us. She has an elk tag of her own this year. I think back to all the times where I had to carry extra snacks, make fires to keep kids warm, and hold chubby little hands as we descended a sketchy trail. And there is no amount of venison, or bones on the wall that would mean more to me than the adventures we have shared together.
I can guarantee that the elk we didn’t get that day isn’t the only animal lost because I had one of my kids along, but the experience is far more valuable to me. I don’t blame my dad for not taking me hunting more when I was younger, but someday when I’m long gone I hope my kids will remember all the adventures we made, and smile. And more importantly I hope it serves as inspiration for them to raise the next generation of adventure seekers.