I’ll admit it, sometimes I like to wander around the woods, put some miles under my boots, wear the dogs down til their tongues are dragging and have a game bag full of the daily limit of upland birds to make my back ache. But those “sometimes” are becoming less and less as having children became a game changer.
After hearing from Hazel that kid number two was on the way, I had a sinking feeling that my time in the woods chasing uncooperative feather and fur alike would soon be coming to an end. Add in the fact that I decided to start our small firearm cleaning business at the same moment in time, begs to realization why I never became an event coordinator...apparently, my timing is terrible. But is there ever such a thing as "good timing"?
“We’ll make it work,” Hazel took a deep breath and smiled.
And as per usual, she was right. You see there are two ways to look at this situation:
One. You put hunting on hold until the kids are old enough to pay taxes and ruin dad’s back.
Two. Involve the kids in everything we do, we are a family after all.
We challengingly opted for option number two. As parents, Hazel and I decided not to put our joys of hunting in the back burner, stop exploring, or fear adventure because of the hardships of parenting. Part of being a member of the family is to teach our children our normal and help them understand why we do the things we do. Now is this going to change the way we hunt? Absolutely! How do we explain why we find excitement walking around the woods watching Sage's tail wag like helicopter blades and eyes wide in awe as a grouse burst into the air gliding for an escape route? And then shoot it? Ha! Explain that to a three year old.
This past weekend was a prime learning adventure as we packed the truck with car seats, a Lightning McQueen backpack full of toy cars, snacks, and plush animals with names, large dog kennels containing Sage the lab and Braker the pudelpointer, shotguns, ammo, a cooler full of milk and more snacks, and every bit of comfort we thought we needed to keep sane. Full to the hilt, our truck looked more like a lowrider than an offroad vehicle. Now this is how I like to enjoy my weekends.
After three hours of packing up the truck and pulling the plug on Hazel's paranoia that we've forgotten something, we were off to dusky grouse country. “At least we’ll look cool leaving the city,” I said to Hazel with a half smile.
I sorted through my CDs and looked for “Lowrider” by War until I realized that nobody uses CDs anymore and that I now was officially old.
That’s a problem to talk over with my psychologist, not you guys. So I’ll continue my story.
I pointed the truck towards the mountains and set her on cruise control as the kids faded to sleep in the back seat.
By the time I had the pop up camper set deep into some National Forest, the kids and dogs were chomping at the bit and ready to expend some pent up energy.
“Do you want to walk with mom and dad and go hunt for some grouse Atlas?” I asked.
This would be his first real experience with hunting. He’s hunted with us before, but this year he was old enough to put together what our goal was while we were out here.
I waited for his reaction.
“But I love the birds daddy,” came his innocent reply.
“So do I buddy. Let’s just go walk the woods and see what we find,” I replied back with all types of explanations running through my head on how I would explain taking an animal's life to a three year old.
Maybe the best bet will be letting him see and absorb it for himself. Let eons of of humans doing exactly this for survival to come out naturally in him. Sometimes words aren’t enough, but rather we need to experience it ourselves to truly understand what it all means.
Hazel strapped Greta, our one year old, to her back and we headed out.
“Hunt ‘em up boys,” I said.
The pups needed no further explanation. They were off like a shotgun blast in scattered directions.
Knowing that Atlas’s little legs would only be able to expend so much energy, I steered the dogs to a familiar area where I’m know some Dusky grouse reside.
“Dad, why is Sage so happy? Why is his tail wagging so fast?” came Atlas’s question.
Observant boy. We watched as Sage got birdier and birdier until the grand finale came.
A grouse exploded from the ground and flew to the nearest pine.
Instinctively I drew up my over/under and started to point it at the blur.
But I held back. Normally I would only take a shoot on the wing, but this was a special circumstance.
As the grouse came to a soft landing in a nearby branch I looked back at Hazel.
She knew what to do and called Atlas back to her. Wing shooting was not an ideal way to hunt with kids running around. We didn’t want the loud blast from the shotgun to scare the kids, so we had them go back as little ways with Hazel to watch.
“Daddy’s going to shoot that bird,” I heard Hazel tell our son.
I looked back and saw him staring up at the bird.
I switched my safety off and selected my lower barrel containing the modified choke.
I squeezed the trigger and a puff of feathers surrounded the bird as his body tumbled down the branches.
In an instant Braker scoops up the grouse and is at my side. I took it from him and gave him his release.
Now came my real concern. How would Atlas take all of this in? Would he be terrified of the whole situation or would his brain process it as being natural and the way of the world?
I broke my barrel, pulled the shells and put them in my pocket. I knelt down next to Atlas with the heft of the bird in my hands.
“Do you want to touch him?” I asked him cautiously.
He stroked the bird’s soft plumage with wide eyes.
“Can we eat him daddy?” came his response.
Well that was quick. I guess no explanation was needed.
“Of course buddy. We don’t shoot them if we don’t.” I said.
I was proud of him for processing the situation and putting it all together. I was happy to see him equate hunting with food and that somehow or another he understood that “loving the bird” didn’t necessarily mean that we don’t kill the bird. That’s one that I’m happy he understood because I had no idea how the heck I was going to explain it to him. Again some things we can’t explain, but rather need to be experienced for full comprehension.
As we drove back to camp in the fading light I hear the repeated question from him.
“Can we get another one? It’s mommy’s turn. Can we get another one?” He asked in only a way a three year old can repeatedly ask.
“We’ll try tomorrow son. It’s not that easy really. We need to look for them a long time sometimes in order to find them. We got lucky finding one so quickly this time,” I responded to his question as I look at him in the rearview mirror.
He may have understood why we hunted the grouse, but in true three year old form, he doesn’t understand why we don’t continue the fun until the end of time. Why stop when something is so fun?
Looks like I’ll have to introduce him to work next. That one I don’t expect to be so easy!