New Hunters are Born
So, after all my years of chasing game around the hills and mountains of Southern California, with a little slice of Ohio and South Carolina mixed in, it was finally time for me to pass the tradition forward. My two sons had finally shown enough interest, and more importantly responsibility, for me to get them their hunting licenses. I started researching for a local hunter safety class and eventually found one pretty close to the house that would be given about a month away. I signed the boys up for the class but didn’t tell them that I had. Instead, I pulled up a hunter safety course online and told them that if they ever wanted to get their licenses, they were going to have to start studying. To my surprise I “caught” both of them on the site at random times throughout the next couple of weeks. Their studying was of course accompanied with arbitrary questions from time to time and usually led to a story or two on how to apply what they learned or why the law was the way it was. The boys had both been able to shoot BB guns and a .22 on a couple of different occasions and they both had done pretty well. I was especially impressed with my 10 year old and his muzzle control. He even questioned me from time to time in the field!
Well, on the Monday before they were scheduled to take their safety course I broke the good news to them. They were so excited and couldn’t wait for Sunday morning to finally arrive! They studied more and asked more questions throughout the week and finally Sunday arrived. We were the first truck in the parking lot of course. I was so proud of how my two young boys attentively sat through the course and how they always had their hands raised to answer questions that the instructor had posed to the class. I would guess that there were probably six or seven young boys and girls in the class and the remaining twenty or so was a combination of different age groups from late teens to one guy in his sixties. I was also a little afraid to listen to some of the incorrect answers and even more completely off-the-wall questions that some of the “older” attendees asked or answered with.
It definitely made me appreciate the time I had taken to teach my boys and the time they had taken to study. Finally, at the end of the day it was test time. They got their test papers and I headed outside to wait (albeit impatiently) with a couple of other Dads that had brought their boys. About 45 minutes to an hour later, one of the other attendees opened the door to leave and I saw my 13 year-old up at the instructor’s desk waiting to get his test graded. I couldn’t stand it so I slinked back inside just in time to see the instructor put a big smile on his face and reach a congratulatory hand out to my son! “99%” he said, “congratulations young man”! I was so proud I almost cried!!! He came out and we talked about the test while my other son finished his test. About 15 minutes later, he came out with a big old Kool-Aid smile on and immediately reported “I passed Dad”! Man, what a day to be a Dad! I think I was more proud and happy than they were, but you’d be hard pressed to determine it. We weren’t in the truck more than ten minutes when the questions started flying; “Dad, can we stop and get our license?”, “Dad, what time does it get dark? Can we go hunting today?” etc... Of course, Dad hadn’t thoroughly planned the whole situation out. I had a .22 that they could shoot and other than that, the only other gun that would fit them was the one my Grandfather had given to me when I was 13. It is a single-shot H&R 20 gauge and has to be the hardest kicking gun I own. So, I put out some feelers for a youth-model semi-automatic or pump action 20-gauge when we got home and in a matter of hours found a contact that had a gun that fit the bill. We made arrangements to meet up the next weekend and do the transaction a my local FFL. It was then that I had to explain the 14-day waiting period to my boys. Doh!
Three weeks after they got their licenses must have seemed like years to them and I know it took longer than I would have liked but, it finally arrived and I was able to go pick up their “new” youth-model Remington 1100 20-gauge. That was on a Tuesday and we made plans to boogie up to a nice little meadow as soon as I got off work on Friday.
Once Friday finally arrived, I think time almost went backwards at work. I couldn’t wait for 3:30 to get there so we could finally have a little fun. I hurried home and picked them up and off we went. I brought their gun, my 870 and, just in case they wanted to try, I brought “the mule”. It seemed like someone had made the trip longer than it usually was but finally, we turned that last bend in the road and arrived at our hunting grounds. We immediately started seeing rabbits here and there! The boys were soooo excited. I asked them if either of them wanted to try my old 20-gauge and they both emphatically passed. While getting our stuff together, I told them that since there would only be one of them shooting, I would leave my gun in the truck and would just play rabbit dog. But, they both talked me into taking it along “just in case they missed”. They did the rock-paper-scissors thing to see who was to be the first shooter and it appropriately ended up being my oldest. We made a game plan and off we went. 50 yards into the field and I see my boys raise his gun and yell “rabbit”! The following is short bursts of dialogue that followed:
Me – “shoot it!”
Trevor (my oldest) – “I can’t”
Me and Brandon (my youngest) – “Why?!!
Trevor – “too far”
Brandon – “right there Dad!”
Trevor and Brandon – “Shoot it Dad!!!”
Me- boom, “Got it!!”
That was enough for me. I told the boys to hold tight and I promptly walked back to the truck and locked my gun away. I didn’t want the hunt to be about me. So, I returned and off we went again. A few more steps and another cottontail lights up and then for some reason stopped about 30 yards away. Booooom! “Got it!!!” and right there on that beautiful Friday evening, my 13 year-old son just got his first game animal of what I hope to be one of many more to come. Next it was Brandon’s turn to be the shooter. The rabbits weren’t as nice to him so we had to work a little more for the next one but we were not going to be rejected. We bumped a few more and then finally I saw one up a little hill. I told him to try to sneak up on it and off he went. Trevor and I just stayed back a little and watched the show. He crept along like he was bow hunting a 200 class mule deer in the open sage in Utah. Unfortunately for him, like that trophy deer, the bunny let him get only so close and finally bounded away. The look on his face was priceless and if not for what happened next, I think he was going to cry. For some reason, while he started to walk back towards me, I looked to my right, and there sat a nice fat cottontail. I loudly whispered to him and pointed towards the bunny. He finally saw it and went back into full commando stealth mode. He made his way back within shooting range and, deciding he didn’t want a repeat occurrence, raised the shotgun and boooom!!! Another hunter was born! He did a little more damage to that one than we would have liked but it was a trophy none-the-less. We hunted until legal shooting light was reached with the boys taking turns as the shooter and ended up with two for Trevor, and one each for Brandon and me. After a few pictures, the boys got their first lesson in game cleaning. They both help clean the rabbits and we enjoyed them for dinner Saturday night. The boys have both started back in their respective sporting events since then so we have only been out once more but they both were successful when we did make it back out. In California, a youth hunter has to be 12 in order to hunt big game, so this will be Trevor’s (he just wasn’t ready for it last year) first year going after deer. I sure hope that deer and I can make things happen for him!
My boys with the Red Ryder before they were old enough to hunt with me.
My boys with their first kills!
Trevor with another bunny from his second trip afield