If you think bowhunting is so great, wait until you teach someone else to bowhunt.
Little did I know my suggestion that Ross enter Bowhunter's Youth Hunter Essay Contest would result in him taking his first-ever bear.
As the jakes approached our hidden blind, I heard my nephew's breathing become rapid and shallow.
"Take it easy," I whispered, thankful the pressure this time was on him, not me. The turkeys stopped, sensing something amiss with the group of decoys assembled between us. At 20 yards, they turned to leave just as Ross's sight pin was settling on the closest bird, and Ross wisely held his shot. The window of opportunity had slammed shut on the last morning of our hunt.
At that time, I had been hunting with my nephew, Ross Dary, for three years. No, he didn't bag a turkey with me that morning, but as he later related to his dad, the image of his sight pin on that bird was burned into his mind. Sometimes the ones that get away stick with us longer than the successes, and I think that might have been the case that morning. Definitely, it will always count as a success in my own book because I was able to spend a great morning in the woods with my nephew.
As we progress through the various phases of hunting, bagging game often becomes secondary, and true enjoyment comes from other intangibles. That has certainly been true for me. I have enjoyed many great times afield and occasionally have even tasted success.
But the longer I hunt, the stronger my desire becomes to pass on what I love to others.
Hunting with Ross has given me an opportunity to do that.
For more than 25 years I have lived and breathed bowhunting, but until I took Ross under my wing, bowhunting was a passion I either enjoyed by myself or shared with friends. I share other outdoor-related activities with my wife and daughter, including gun hunting, fishing, and camping, and I am thankful for that. However, neither of them shares my passion for bowhunting.
At age 12, Ross expressed an interest in turkey hunting. I volunteered to serve as his guide, and on the first morning he bagged a fine longbeard with his shotgun. The following weekend, he accompanied me in the blind and watched as I filled my tag using a longbow. That lit the fuse for his interest in bowhunting, and by the following fall he had practiced with his new bow to the point he was confident to start bowhunting.
As Ross's development as a bowhunter progressed, he demonstrated re-markable patience, and before long he had taken two bucks and a doe. He is meticulous in his hunting preparation and absorbs every detail of hunting information passed on to him through me, magazines, or DVDs.
During our hunting weekends, I often carried the most recent Bowhunter Magazine, and as he was paging through an issue, he read the details of the annual Youth Hunter Essay Contest. I jokingly told him he should enter so he could win a bear hunt for the two of us.
Little did I know that three years later he would do just that!
As wonderful as it was to accompany Ross on the Bowhunter Magazine bear hunt, that was only a small reward for me. The real benefits, and those that will be the most lasting, have come from finding my new hunting partner and introducing him to the sport that I love.
None of my own accomplishments as a bowhunter can compare with watching Ross grow in the sport. One afternoon Ross came rushing to my treestand with his bow raised triumphantly in the air. He had made a perfect shot on a very nice eight-point buck and watched the deer go down within sight of his stand. After confirming that the buck had expired, he immediately came to get me and share his exhilaration. I still get chills when I think about that moment. The memory will stay with both of us forever.
I would encourage all hunters to make an effort to pass on their hunting heritage. As the average age of hunters increases, we as a society are losing touch with our heritage. By passing on our knowledge and skills, we can strengthen our sport and immeasurably influence the lives of young people.
You might think spending your hunting time mentoring others will detract from your own hunting and prove not worth the effort. But based on my experiences, I know it will only enhance your own time in the woods and make it much more rewarding.
What can you do to pass on the torch? Naturally, if you have children of your own who show an interest in the outdoors, you have ready-made partners. Never take this opportunity for granted, because the kids will grow all too fast, and you can never replace lost time.
If you have no young children, as in my own case, recruit nephews and nieces, neighborhood kids, or children of friends who don't hunt. And don't restrict your efforts to youth. Many people don't develop an interest in the outdoors until later in life, so take every chance possible to introduce friends, acquaintances, and coworkers to bowhunting.
In my home state of Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources conducts youth-only hunts for turkeys, deer, and waterfowl. Conservation and sportsmen's clubs act as facilitators to match youths with hunting mentors. Check with local wildlife officers and game-department personnel to see if programs are already in place in your area.
Volunteer work with these programs can be rewarding for all participants.
Bowhunting can have an incredible influence over a young person's life. A couple of years ago, Ross talked of someday becoming a teacher, an admirable profession. But on our drive home from the turkey hunt this past spring, he said he was thinking of attending a college with a good program in wildlife biology or forestry. It humbled me to think that I may have influenced him in life decisions. Maybe he would have discovered those interests without me, but then again, maybe he wouldn't have. Regardless, I am certain he will carry his love for the outdoors with him for the rest of his life.
We all have a responsibility to find our own replacements. Face it -- none of us will live forever, and the day will come when we will bowhunt no more. Bowhunting is generally not the type of sport a person will just pick up alone. Another person introduces most newcomers to the sport. Be that person. Take it upon yourself to pass the torch. You will be glad you did -- even if it doesn't earn you a Canadian bear hunt!
The author is a proud mentor and avid bowhunter from Lake Mills, Wisconsin.