Dads love to brag on their kids, so I guess you'll just have to listen to that for a minute here.
I've been looking forward to being able to hunt with my kids for a long time. With the mentored youth hunter program in Oregon, that means 9 years old is an important milestone for each of them--old enough to go on their first hunt. I've been laying out plans and arranging preference points for several years in order to be ready for each of them to have a chance at a mentored hunt each year from age 9 until they are old enough to buy their own tags. We've also spent time at the range and practicing at home to develop the shooting skills needed for a successful hunt. We've never been as ready as we wanted to be, but everyone is definitely learning along the way.
This was the year the older of my two boys turned 9, so we've been trying to fit in even more practice and preparation. (My daughter has already tackled 3 mentored hunts and is still waiting to bring something home, but that's a story for a future post.) According to the plan, I had applied for a doe tag in southwest Oregon where I thought we had a good chance of success. Everything led up to a Sunday afternoon drive to Roseburg in anticipation of a Monday morning hunt for a blacktail doe.
We actually spotted two deer from the parking area first thing that morning, but they were gone by the time we made it from the jeep to the gate. So, up the hill we went in search of a more cooperative deer. I was pretty worried about how everything would work out when our chance came for a shot. We had practiced mostly with the rifle on a bipod because that's the best way to get a steady shot, but anyone who has hunted knows that a real animal doesn't always present itself in a scenario where you can flop down and shoot from a prone position. I was hoping we wouldn't have too many missed opportunities due to our limitations.
After a full morning of rain, hiking, and seeing only a couple more distant deer, we finally decided to head out to the jeep for lunch and preparation for the evening hunt. That's when it happened. We were walking back down an old dirt road that is closed to vehicle traffic. "Deer in the road! Hold still!" First I ducked behind my son and set the rifle down on the bipod. Then he backed behind the gun and got ready. He had to be patient while we waited for a deer to stand broadside and clear of other deer, and they were getting a little nervous. Finally I said, "Can you see that one standing in the middle of the road? Go ahead and shoo--BOOOM!" A hundred yard shot, and thirty yards of tracking later, I heard, "Daddy, I found it. It's dead!" An excited phone call home soon followed.
We often say that kids can learn a lot of lessons about life when we take them hunting, but what do we mean? What are the lessons they learn? Let me tell you what I noticed taking a 9-year-old hunting. Experience has taught me that it's hard to slow down, but the slower you move, the more deer you see. It may be easier to walk down the middle of a gravel road, but it's a lot quieter to walk in the dirt and grass on the side of the road. You may not see a deer right now, but if you keep waving your arms and hands around, you will never see a deer before it sees you. Hunting presents a continual series of small choices, and often the outcome of the hunt depends on those choices. It's pretty overwhelming for a 9-year-old to keep up with it all, but learning to be aware of those little choices is a huge part of learning to be a successful hunter.
Having the same sense of awareness and self-control is critical for life in general, too. Knowing when to speak and when to keep your mouth shut, knowing how to respond to somebody who rubs you the wrong way, or knowing how to keep yourself out of trouble are usually directed by a similar series of small choices. If you pay attention to the little things, the big things are often taken care of before they become an issue. Learning to be aware of your choices in the woods can be great practice for learning to be aware of your choices in life.
Good job, buddy! We kept going, even in the rain, and you made a great shot. I'm looking forward to next year!