deer head

A few of us older outdoors enthusiasts were sitting around discussing concerns like old folks commonly do, and one of the fellas stated he had read that the number of hunters had drastically decreased during the last decade.

That meant sales of licenses, equipment, and weapons had naturally decreased, and the number of youth getting involved in outdoors activities was also declining. If the future of our “outdoor sports” was to survive and prosper, something certainly needs to change.

We acknowledged when we were younger that we could not wait until we were old enough to go fishing, hunting, camping, and trapping with our fathers, and when we reached the age that we could own our first pocketknife, fishing pole, hatchet, or firearm, that was monumental. But it seems like time has changed, and most of today’s youth are more interested in their first computer or cellphone than going on an overnight camping trip, sleeping in a tent along the river bank or farm pond bank and listening to the bullfrogs croaking.

After some discussion, the opinions of the fellas ranged from the fault being shared with the youth priorities being more toward the “electronic age” and the interest of hunting, fishing, camping, and trapping being more “on the back burner.” It was more fun “searching the web” instead of searching for live fishing bait and having fun watching a bobber float on the water surface hoping it would eventually go under. Placing the blame was easier than coming up with a solution to rectify the problem and restore that age-old tradition of outdoor activities.

One of the guys in the group wanted to state his opinion and said it was more of a confession. After his son had told him why he had lost interest, it really opened his eyes. He hated to admit it, but his son was right, and it gave him valuable information that he needed to consider. It actually reignited the desire and interest his son had lost in remaining interested in outdoor activities.

Like so many of us, this gentleman and his son watched hunting and fishing programs where the people were invited to hunt and fish some fantastic locations that have huge numbers of big trophy fish and world-class trophy deer. It has been pounded into our heads and hearts that we don't want to catch any fish not worthy of placing on the wall or deer that do not exceed Boone and Crockett or Pope and Young, minimum scores and in many cases. The sponsors pay for most of the lodging, meals, transportation, and expenses for these dream hunts, and not many of us average Joes have that luxury.

Well, my friend had worked many hours, and he took his teenage son on a deer hunt out West.They observed deer activity every day, and the young man had opportunities to harvest some really nice bucks. But his father would not let him pull the trigger because the deer were “not big enough.” At the end of the vacation, the teenager and his father returned home without a deer, and shortly afterward, his father wanted to take him on a fishing trip. However, the young man stated he “had other plans” with some of his buddies. A few weeks later, he talked with his son, asking him why it seemed like he had lost interest in hunting and fishing. When his son replied, the father was given a huge awakening, but he realized his son was exactly right.

The young man told him, “Dad, on our deer hunt, all I wanted to do was have a good time and spend time with you in the outdoors. I just wanted to harvest a deer, any deer, but you would not let me because you wanted me to shoot a trophy. I had to pass the opportunity on over a dozen deer. Every time we went fishing, I could not keep any fish under a certain trophy size, and all I wanted to do was catch some 'keeper' fish to photograph and have a fun fish fry on the shore like we used to do. But you would not let that happen. You took all the fun out of it.”

Wow, those words certainly opened his eyes, and they also opened my eyes. Here we are trying to promote and pass the tradition onto younger people so our outdoor lifestyle can survive, and it is easy to pass the blame on other people and other situations when we, as the people trying to promote and endorse our lifestyle, might have been part of the problem all along. We never realized it.

I have never considered myself a trophy deer hunter, and, I admit, I hunt for meat. And if a nice buck ventures within shooting range, I will certainly take the opportunity, but I have never encouraged anyone, especially a kid or someone after their first deer to “hold off” for a trophy. That being said, I am not a “brown and down” hunter. I have size limitations I place on deer and have never taken a fawn or button buck, which is legal, and I have encouraged youth hunters to take the first high-percentage shot available, and, if it does not feel right, don't take the shot.

I confess to have probably ruffled a few feathers over the years, and I never meant to be offensive to anyone. But I have never allowed any hunting/fishing personality to convince me what to harvest, and as long as it is legal and ethical, I will never belittle anyone for catching fish or shooting deer. I would like for all readers to consider this young man’s opinion, and it makes sense to me. Let’s all work together and have fun and pass on the tradition.