Hunting has always had a deep-rooted connection with American families. The first settlers in America brought their children hunting with them. Before them, Native Americans had done the same with their children. Some might argue these groups taught their children about nature and how to shoot purely out of necessity. And I would agree—to a point. But there was more to it than just necessity. They might not have been able to articulate all the fancy psychological or politically correct terms to describe what’s simply called “bonding.” Frankly, I still don’t know what today’s “experts” call this, either. What I do know is hunting has always been a way for parents to interact with and be close to their children. Life skills, not just survival skills, were taught during these times. Values and morals—things such as accountability, responsibility, patience and discipline—were passed on. These same goals can be accomplished today as well.
Both early settlers and Native Americans began teaching their children about guns, bows, nature and hunting much sooner than most of mainstream America would consider acceptable by today’s standards. I’ve never been one to believe in the malarkey that teaching children any of the shooting sports is detrimental to society in any way. In fact, I believe children who are taught about hunting tools and techniques learn far more than just how to hunt and kill a game animal.
I have two brothers and we were all taught to shoot archery and firearms. When we were young, my father also took us hunting with him. Because we were taught about these things, we learned valuable lessons about the sanctity of human life. We learned respect for all living things—something kids don’t learn by sitting in front of a TV or playing the latest bloody massacre video game. When I was a kid, my friends and I played games like army, cops and robbers, and cowboys and Indians. And you know what, we all turned out to be completely normal—not one mass murderer in the whole bunch!
Learning The Ropes
It’s vitally important for all sportsmen to understand you can’t get children involved in the outdoors soon enough. When my daughter Kaitlynn was born in early fall 2000, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t concerned about what would happen to my hunting time. I know it was a selfish thought, but hunting is a huge part of who I am, and I was afraid I’d lose that part of me. Kaitlynn was my first-born child, so I had no first-hand child-raising experience to fall back on. Fortunately, I married a wonderful woman who realized my concerns. My wife, Janet, even stayed home with our newborn and let me attend my annual week of hunting camp.
The following summer we decided it was time to break Kaitlynn into the outdoor world, so we took her camping. My family has never camped in an RV, motorhome or pop-up camper of any kind, so we camped the only way we knew how—in a tent. Kaitlynn, then 9 months old, trudged along with us to a 4-day traditional archery shoot in Pennsylvania. We figured she might as well get used to being in the outdoors, and we might as well learn how to deal with young children in nature. We weren’t there 30 minutes when a thunderstorm approached and began dumping rain on us. Welcome to the outdoors! I’d already set up the tent, so we just hopped inside and played cards, while Kaitlynn crawled around in the tent. She loved it.
I discovered a wealth of knowledge during that first excursion with an infant into the woods. First, I learned you don’t have to cancel all your outdoor plans because you’re a new parent. Kids are mobile, but at that age they don’t go very far very fast. I put Kaitlynn in one of those kid-carrying backpacks and hiked around the woods participating in the archery shoot just like I always had. In fact, carrying her around on my back probably made me a better archer come hunting season. I also learned that kids generally sleep better after they’ve been out exploring nature all day. What parent can complain about their infant children sleeping a little longer than usual? After 4 days of tent camping with a 9-month-old, we had no concerns or complaints—and neither did the folks camping next to us! We were even talking about heading off to another multi-day archery shoot and camping event the following month.
Twice The Fun
A little more than a year later, my son Nathaniel was born, and we began the process all over again. By this time, Kaitlynn was walking and would hike the trails with us as we shot the archery courses, while I carried Nathaniel on my back. Kaitlynn was carrying her own bow and would even shoot at some of the targets. Nathaniel is 2 years old now and way too heavy to carry in the backpack. He has his own bow, too, and loves to shoot. He shows everyone how he shoots, even when he doesn’t have his bow in his hand! He even likes to watch the “deer shows” with me and pretends to shoot the animals on TV. Watching him participate in those activities with me almost brings a tear to my eye—I’m so proud.
This past summer, we went to several traditional archery shoots and camped at every one of them. Compton Traditional Bowhunters hosts a shoot in Michigan that’s a first-class operation. Like most shoots, this was a weekend event and that Sunday morning, the Christian Bowhunters of America were going to have a church service. I wanted to attend the service and figured my kids would wake me in plenty of time. I woke up after a great night of sleep and discovered it was well past sunrise. I looked at my watch and realized that the service was about to begin. I rushed out of the tent and to the service. When I got back to the tent afterward, Janet told me the kids had just gotten up. If only I could get them to sleep like that at home!
We now have a third child, Faith, and have no plans to make any changes in the kinds of outdoor activities we enjoy participating in. We’ll continue our trend of camping and shooting, and will continue to involve our children in these activities as well. There is one thing that we’ll have to change though—the size of our tent!