My daughter Rowan’s first buck is probably quite similar to the hundreds of thousands of first bucks taken by new hunters. There’s buck fever. The joy. The respect. But there are a few things about her experience that seemed unique enough that I feel compelled to share.
My daughter and I have a really strong relationship. We look out for each other, lift each other up, push each other and hold each other accountable. We’re a good duo. So, at the end of last season, when she told me she didn’t want to hunt anymore, saying I was heartbroken would be the understatement of the century. My wife and I had spent the previous eight years dragging this little mini-me to every outdoor adventure we could. We camped in the backcountry when she was age two. She hiked 12km in the backcountry at the age of five. She fell asleep in her first treestand that same year and has been snoring in them every year since. She was born to be outside, and so when she told me she wasn’t enjoying hunting anymore, I was rattled.
Where did I go wrong? Did I push her too much? As I racked my brain to try and find a reason, I slowly came to the realization that this wasn’t a “me thing.” I hadn’t pressured her…I hadn’t forced my thing on her. Just as she was naturally drawn to hunting, she had naturally fallen away, and that’s okay.
Wise Beyond Years
As the next season rolled around and many meals were shared from the success of previous hunts, Rowan came to me with a request that I still find incredibly wise beyond her years. She felt that understanding where her food came from was one thing, and she had conquered that issue. Being present when the animal was harvested was another. She thought it was important to see how the animal took its last breath if she was going to continue enjoying steak night. “It seems like the right thing to do; I should be there for that,” she said.
Now, I know we all hear those parents raving on about their child’s prowess at any given sports arena and it feels like these days, some children “can do no wrong.” But I think we have to agree that was a pretty mature outlook and understanding of our food system. At her age, I was pounding back Zoodles and hot dogs without a care in the world about where it was coming from, as long as more of it was coming out of the microwave!
Anyway, we were back in business! My little hunting buddy was back for another season, and she was determined to be there when I cut an arrow loose. If you thought bowhunting was hard, try it with double the stink, double the movement, and quintuple the noise. You see where I’m going with this. Bowhunting with kids is hard, but man, did this season make it worth it!
I decided that if we were going to do this, she was going to experience the work that went into it as well, not just reaping the rewards. We put a plan together that she would need to help find our spot (she wasn’t ruining my honey holes), ask for permission and pick the spot to place our blind based on trail camera footage and scouting. I knew that if she put the work in and we were actually successful, it would be that much sweeter. So, off we went on our summer quest.
Narrowing a Location
We started by spending our mornings and evenings together looking for deer and narrowing down a location that held a higher population of deer to make things a little easier on us and was also close to home. That would equal more time we could spend in the blind, thus increasing our odds.
We found a little 80-acre, tucked away parcel that had some great deer habitat, and from what we could tell from watching the farmer’s fields at night, held loads of does. So, off we went, pie in hand and a waiver drafted to hopefully let us show up on a good note. In this neck of the woods, the famed Edmonton Bowzone, getting permission isn’t an easy task. Showing up with a pie and a cute, toothless-grin eight-year-old certainly helped the cause. After some chatting and a round of “who knows who,” we were granted permission to hunt the upcoming season for the first time on that property in over 20 years. That was exciting.
Getting Set Up
For our next step, the little miss had to get her trail cameras set up in the places of her choice. She was the one who was going to be checking them, I reminded her after we crossed yet another fence line.
We hunted a total of 12 days together from September 1 to November 25, all in the blind that she set up in a spot where she believed deer would be feeding. She actually picked a decent spot. It was in a tree line that acted as a wind row for the farmer’s fields. That site had us sitting in the middle of four separate ag fields that held a lot of deer during the summer months.
I had set up a tree stand for the days that I wanted to sneak in for a solo mission. It was in a spot directly across the field from our little ground blind where we had witnessed a lot of pre-rut activity.
Guess where all the action was? The spot where my daughter chose to put her blind, of course! I watched helplessly as deer funneled further out of my range and made their way past the blind. (She might be out-hunting her old man here a little prematurely, I thought.)
We had a few opportunities and close encounters with some does and with young bucks chasing them, but they were traveling pretty tightly together. Singling out a dry doe was posing a challenge. As with most challenges, it was a great lesson for my daughter to learn in her young hunting career, in that just because an opportunity presents itself doesn’t make it an ethical one.
After a few long days and a few shed tears, it happened. And it happened quickly.
We tucked into our blind early on November 19 and had some action almost as soon as we settled in. A young buck snuck up on us and came cruising by the blind at five yards. He stopped by Rowan’s window, took a break for what felt like hours, and continued on his search for young love.
My daughter thinks that when hunters name their deer, that’s the coolest, so she is always naming our deer. She dubbed this one she dubbed “Lil Tight,” aptly describing his little tight antlers.
I was happy with that experience as is, but the stars had more in store for us, thankfully. The field was soon active with visibly annoyed does out to feed and being harassed by young bucks. Rowan was getting a real Whitetail rut show and we were getting to learn so much together.
Then, our moment came. With all that action in the field, “Lil Tight” couldn’t resist making a last-ditch effort for romance. He came back into our shooting lane at 15 yards. I turned to Rowan and asked if this was what she wanted. She emphatically gave me the green light. An arrow was cut loose, Nature took her course and in a matter of seconds, we had provided countless family meals.
Now, I’m sure this first half reads like the wise father teaching his daughter lifelong skills and life lessons that she will carry…yadda yadda yadda…Certainly, those are great and they are the whole reason we do this. But the real story here is what I was able to take away from this experience. Those lessons included:
1) Sacrifice pays off.
I mean this not in the sense that my daughter worked hard and sacrificed so much to be successful. I’m talking about what I perceived as sacrifices to my hunting season. The missed nights in the stand, the used-up brownie points, the time taken off. The list goes on for the reasons why it sucks taking your kids hunting. Honestly! But man offers that sacrifice in a way I’m not going to be able to put onto paper. It’s about a feeling of connection. That’s a familiar feeling, one that has unfolded for thousands of years before my daughter and me, and in exactly the same way.
2) Never give up a chance to make a core memory.
Core memories are created when a person experiences a certain event that defines one of their behavioral traits. We’ve all got them. I recall as clearly as day the time my father dropped me off to my first job, his sandpaper hand engulfing my kneecap. He reminded me that hard work built our last name, and that the responsibility was now on me to not just live up to it, but to strengthen it. (Talk about a core memory and you bet your ass I’m a hard worker).
I’m confident that experiencing this event at such a young age will shape who my daughter is. We are creating hunters when we create these core memories. It’s been happening this way since we’ve had to provide for ourselves and teach others to do the same. Passing on the knowledge and the spirit of the hunter feels like a pretty big responsibility to me but what an experience to enjoy.
3) Food is powerful.
I ask: What else would drive a child to kill? Ok, I know that might sound a little too candid, but honestly, how powerful must food be to create this dialogue in my child’s head?
Again, coming from the restaurant guy, this might sound biased, but that’s truly what has spawned this new hunter. Sure, she was drawn to it because Daddy does it and it equals quality time together. I’m sure there are a million more little reasons as to what makes up a hunter. But it all boils down to a basic human need: Food. That is what spurred the big questions around ethics and what is moral when it comes to consumption. We are talking some serious existential stuff here for a nine-year-old.
4) Size doesn’t matter.
The opportunity to have my girl do everything but release the arrow in her quest to understand where her food comes from is something I will never forget. In a world where we can get lost in inches and size, I can wholeheartedly and honestly say that this was the most exciting hunt I’ve been on.
This same season, I was at full draw not once, but twice, on a 180-inch world-class Whitetail…and still, Lil Tight had me shaking like a leaf and jumping for joy.
For every meal we shared from this little buck, we also noticed a huge difference in flavor and tenderness because of the age of this young fella.
This experience has started to guide my expectations and goals for the upcoming seasons ahead. I want to count laugh lines, not antler tines.