My daughter Liz's question gave me that immediate hot faced flush we all dread when the moment of truth is upon us, the curtains suddenly part, and we are naked on the stage. I had not meant to deceive her, but simply wanted her to know the facts. For three months I had slipped venison into everything from spaghetti, to burritos to Swiss steak while she staunchly maintained that she hated venison or any other wild game for that matter. I was trying to win her over by proving her wrong, which is flawed psychology at best. Now on the hot seat, I was poised for the catharsis, knowing full well I was about to create in her a complete rejection on sheer principal.
"yes", I squeaked, almost inaudibly. "WHAT ?" she bleated incredulously while at the same time spitting a half chewed mouthful of manicotti back onto her plate. I will never forget the look of complete look of betrayal on her face, and I will never forget that sinking feeling of despair I had... knowing I had probably turned her off to hunting or eating wild game for life. I wanted to crawl under a rock.
As hunters mature into true sportsman, their desire to bring others into the fold begins to grow stronger. This is especially true concerning our children, other youngsters or even other non-hunters. Many a hunter laments that their children or others they have mentored, wind up rejecting our sport. In part, this may well be the fault of the hunter/teacher but often, it is the lack of passion on the part of the student.
I crouched down on one knee with my gun poised and eyes focused on the scrub brush 30 yards down the steep slope of the mountain. My nine year old son was stanced like Dirty Hairy, parallel and 10 yards from me. He properly clenched the .22 rifle his grandpa had given him as a reward for passing the Hunter Safety course. We heard the rustling in the brush from one hundred yards away, and like two cougars, had quietly stalked toward the sound in the bushes. This was our first outing to squirrel hunt after many times practicing at the gun club. Here in the Sierra Mountains of California, the sun was high, the air was dry and the shared adrenalin between the two of us was electric. He wasn't my kid anymore. He was a predator, and my equal and he sensed that for the first time. We slowly inched closer to the brush, hoping for the opportunity to bag a bushytail. Or to turn tail and run if if was a wild boar. The mystery critter suddenly burst away from us and down the mountain slope unseen, leaving only the sound of birds and fluttering leaves in it's wake. We both lowered our guns, grinning broadly at each other. "Was that cool or what", I said.. "Yaaaaaaa", responded my son "My knees are shaking". He let out a pregnant sigh. . I knew he was hooked. This would begin our journey of hunting together and the link that would join us for life.
Dick , a friend of mine who is a Baptist minister, recently shared his regret that his two grown sons had mostly chosen not to hunt. "In part, I blame myself", he lamented. "I think I may have pushed hunting too soon for one of my sons. When he was quite young, I had him walk in the woods with me bird hunting but he wasn't ready. He was grossed out by the whole thing". His other son admitted he could never shoot a deer but would accompany his father occasionally to bird hunt and spend time with Dad. Dick had envisioned his boys being his hunting buddies later in life, but they just did not have the passion that their father had. Wayne, another hunting buddy and friend, had mentored his son at the same camp and same time that I started hunting with my own son. He hunted the 2001 deer season alone for the first time in years, because his 19 year old son had chosen to stay home. "Jake and I aren't getting along right now so he decided not hunt with me this year" the usually positive and talkative Wayne shared sadly. Wayne and I both agreed that this was a temporary setback because Jake loved to hunt. "He'll be back", Wayne smiled.
Prior to the venison incident and much to my chagrin, my daughter had been doing a steady retreat from any involvement with hunting. She began humanizing animals after being influenced in gradeschool, and evolved later into rejecting not only wild game, but many kinds of meat. She had instruction in archery and she helped select her own bow at age 10. She took Firearm Safety, had her own .22 and went to the gun club shooting with me at age 11 and 12. I took her to the deer woods to snow shoe, scout and hike, and to the Duck Property to explore and go canoeing. But for her, the switch never flipped. and she never has embraced the passion for hunting and the outdoors. She still startles at seeing deer mounts and recoils at seeing the hooves of deer sticking out of my truck after hunting trips. She looks at my bow kill photos with a combination of sympathy and disgust, never understanding the art behind the achievement.
The moral of the story, if there is one, is that there is a right way and a wrong way to groom people for hunting, yes. But even if you do everything right, you may still have a non-hunter on your hands in the end. A person has to have the passion for hunting. If you push someone who does not have the passion, you will simply end up with the square peg/round hole paradigm and a lot of hard feelings. A person with the passion does not need to be led by the nose. Their switch is immediately tripped . They learn fast and pursue with gusto. A person without the passion will never truly understand the hunting addiction or the tie that silently links the brotherhood of hunters together.
"Is there venison in this?".
Two years later I heard these words again and smiled to myself from the next room. This time my hungry daughter had arrived home from work and was unknowingly devouring a venison casserole, declaring it to be delicious. My son was quick to point out that she was eating Bambi. "You have to admit... it's really good, isn't it?" I said. My daughter grinned back her affirmation and simply said "Oh Mom........!".
I might just make a hunter out of that girl yet.