January “Outta’ the Woods” by Tony Young
As sure as I eat black-eyed peas and collard greens with hog jowls every New Year’s Day, we Americans love our traditions. Whether it’s our taste in music, what we wear, what and how we celebrate, or what we like to eat, our culture is centered on tradition. For hunters, our passion for the outdoors and preserving our hunting traditions ranks right up there with apple pie, baseball and cowboy boots.
All hunters have a story about how we were first introduced to hunting and why we have such a love of nature. My wife was in the Wisconsin deer woods from early on, accompanying her family hunting when just 2 years old. For me, it was something I sought to try on my own when bass fishing slowed down and my dad was busy on the golf course. Each of us has our own story, and we take pride in never missing an opportunity to add another memory.
As a sportsman, I made sure to do my part by taking my daughters along with me on deer and turkey hunts when they were younger. When my oldest, Cheyenne, was 8 years old, I was fortunate enough to harvest a really big tom on family land during a spring hunt while Cheyenne ran the video camera. It was a wonderful experience for me to be able to share my love of the outdoors and of hunting with her. And I’ll never forget the look on Cheyenne’s face and how big her eyes got when we first heard that long-beard gobble less than 50 yards away just before it stepped into view. Those memories and moments are priceless to me.
While I’m sure both my kids have fond memories of tagging along with their dad on a few hunts, hunting is not something either of them have shown very much interest in… at least not yet. They both like to wet a line in our backyard creek every now and then to see what’s biting, and they enjoy hiking, boating and kayaking. They know they may always accompany me into the woods anytime they might want to give hunting a try – but if they never do, I’m OK with that. Just like I’d rather not chase a golf ball around a manicured green, hunting is a pastime that isn’t for everyone. It’s a personal decision that each of us makes about whether we want to participate or not.
Although my daughters haven’t yet developed a passion for hunting, they definitely have learned a lot about conservation, understand the importance of maintaining good habitat, and have developed a great respect for nature. They both really enjoy eating the venison, wild turkey and alligator meat harvested by my wife and me, which are great sources of lean, healthy protein that contains no preservatives, hormones or antibiotics. But all they care about is that it’s delicious! And we’ve taught them to realize the role that hunting and hunters play in helping keep wildlife populations in proper balance.
Recently, over Thanksgiving dinner, Cheyenne, who is now 18 years old and a freshman in college, announced out of the blue that she wanted to unplug after the stress of taking exams and go hunting during her winter break to try to harvest her first deer. I told her we could do that, but that she needed to do a couple things before we went afield.
First, Cheyenne has never shot a centerfire rifle before, so we will need to spend some quality time at the shooting range. She will have to get used to firing a gun that is quite a bit louder and kicks considerably more than the .22-caliber rimfire rifle she shot when getting her hunter safety certification at Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center’s summer camp at age 10. Before taking a shot at a deer, she needs to first show that she is able to put a few rounds into a pie plate at 50 yards.
After brushing up on the shooting skills, we will need to purchase a Florida hunting license for $17 and a $5 deer permit in order for her to be legal to hunt deer on our small family farm. It’s a pretty quick process to get licensed, whether we purchase online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, over the phone by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or at a tax collector’s office or retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies.
While Cheyenne may not know this, I want her to understand that the sale of hunting licenses funds wildlife management, and that each of the states’ wildlife agencies, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), benefit from funds from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. By simply buying a hunting license, she will be impacting wildlife and conservation efforts in Florida in a positive way.
When it comes time to head to the woods for a hunt after proving she knows important hunter safety skills, can consistently hit where she is aiming, and has her hunting license and deer permit, she will need to be outfitted for our deer hunt. She knows that deer have great sight, so understands the importance of camouflage. My wife and I have a selection of camo clothing she can borrow, including camo caps and facemasks.
Even though her entire outfit does not necessarily need to be camo from head to toe, it is most important for her to dress for the weather and be able to remain quiet and still, especially when animals are within view. Wearing warm and dry footwear and socks is important, as are gloves, thermal long underwear, fleece, a good heavy jacket and even a ski cap if the weather is cold. And if we don’t have extras of all that in camouflage, she can definitely get by with wearing an outer layer of clothing that is darker and earth-toned in color, such as dark green, brown or black.
Besides having great eye sight, deer have a keen sense of smell. So I’ll remind Cheyenne that we’ll need to wash her entire hunting outfit using scent-free detergent and dryer sheets. She will also need to take a shower before the hunt using scent-free soap and shampoo, and apply only scent-free deodorant without using any hairspray or perfume.
Being comfortable out there with the right clothing and doing all of these other things will give Cheyenne the best chance for a successful hunt.
If you would like to take somebody hunting for the first time, I have a few suggestions that will better ensure they have a positive experience – which should help you also enjoy the experience more. First, try your best to make the hunt and the experience all about them. An afternoon hunt is probably a better option for a first-timer rather than going in the morning, since waking up super early and walking to a hunting spot in the pitch dark can be a scary experience for some new hunters, regardless of age – or whether they’ll admit it.
Also, don’t plan to sit and hunt for too long – remember, make it about them. Be able to read their body language and have a pulse on whether they are getting bored or are not enjoying the experience of being in the woods. Hunting takes patience, and that can take a while to adapt to, especially in this day and age when most things are pretty instantaneous. Make sure to pack some snacks and a drink, and other things to help occupy their time – a book, tablet or video game can be great to have along when the action is slow. This is especially true with younger kids, but I will admit to occasionally passing time on my smartphone in the woods as well!
I can’t say with any certainty when or if Cheyenne will join me anytime soon in the woods, but you can bet she’ll have her phone with her if she does – so she can take multiple selfies and post ’em on all her social media accounts, of course, — to let all her friends know exactly what she’s doing! Hey, we all get our passion for hunting in our own way, right?
I hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday, and I wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year. When you can, offer to take somebody new hunting – be a mentor and help connect others with nature by introducing them to a longstanding tradition that is such a big part of our American culture.