My family and I are opportunity hunters. No matter the species, if there is an open season, odds are we will be out hunting. At least as much as time and money permit.
I was raised that way. When I was a kid, Dad and I would switch from dove season to deer season to duck season to squirrels and rabbits. In the summer, it was fishing and bowfishing.
It doesn't take much money to enjoy our great outdoors, and when I was growing up we couldn't afford a hunting lease or land. So we did what most hunters do, and that's take advantage of the amazing opportunities public land provides. We didn't shoot a lot of game back then, and when we did it was never what some people would call a trophy, but it was to us.
To me, hunting is never about harvesting something, although that certainly is the goal. However, when I was a kid, I would have said it was all about hunting. It wasn't until later in life that I realized I was learning life lessons while spending special time out in the field with my dad.
Back then, I remember my dad would always stop at a little convenience store on the way to hunt in the morning, and we would share one of those little rolls of white powder — sugar-coated doughnuts. I must admit that ritual started my addiction for those little circles of deliciousness that I still have today.
For me, hunting was always that special time when Dad and I got to spend time together. I could ask him about girls, or tell him what subjects at school I was doing poorly in. They were always special times. It was quiet in the woods, and we would often talk in whispers as we walked deep into the timber to get back to the "good spots" on public land.
Hunting taught me a lot when I was a young man. It was subtle things, which is how I think most kids learn the best. At a young age, hunting taught me to be self-reliant. If it rained or got cold, and I didn't have raingear or an extra sweatshirt, I was uncomfortable. So, I learned to think ahead. If I didn't pack some food or water with me and I got hungry or thirsty, there was no one to blame but me.
If my dad and I split up and I had to meet him later in a spot in the woods, or even hike back to the truck by myself, I would get lost. Dad would test me by asking me occasionally to point out which direction the vehicle was. Half the time I had no idea, and it was scary and embarrassing, so I learned to pay attention. Hunting also taught me responsibility, and to be safe. Because there was a zero-tolerance policy on being irresponsible or careless with a weapon, it also taught me to handle my tools correctly and to take care of them whether it was a bow, a gun, or a knife.
Through hunting, I learned where food comes from and about the balance in nature. It taught me that sometimes nature is cruel. It also showed me that animals and plants must die so that other animals can live. You don't learn that from eating a burger at a fast-food restaurant, or by picking up a chicken or steak wrapped in cellophane at the grocery store. Hunting taught me to respect wildlife and to give thanks when I brought home dinner. I learned about insects, snakes, fish, birds, and mammals. I memorized what noises they made, and what their tracks and scat looked like. I figured out what different animals liked to eat and where they slept, and which ones are nocturnal and which ones, like us, are diurnal. Oh, and I also learned the meaning of those two big words I just put in that last sentence.
I have friends who take their children to big amusement centers or crowded waterparks for family time, and to me the noise and chaotic pace of those places doesn't seem like a good environment for bonding or learning. I have tried it, and to be honest I spent a lot of money, waited in long lines, and didn't feel very relaxed. So, like I was raised, we choose a family bowhunting trip or a frog-hunting adventure for most of our family fun.
Kids have a lot of things pulling at them nowadays. Cell phones, television, and video games often take the place of quality time outdoors. We made a rule in our house a long time ago: No cell-phone games or TV on Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday. It was the best thing we did for our kids. They can ride a horse, shoot a bow, or go chase what's in season. Opportunity comes in many forms. The opportunity to learn about our natural world is often the result of simply checking to see what's in season.