April, 1998. Opening day of Mississipp’s spring turkey season. We stepped out of the truck into the darkness, not knowing if we were in the right place or not. As we took an assessment of our surroundings, a semi blew his horn over on Old Highway 63, and a tom gobbled. This was the spot.
We didn’t kill a bird that morning, but at 12 years old, 4 hours of traipsing through the south Mississippi swamp bottoms and freshly cut hay fields had me hooked. I would forever identify myself, as a turkey hunter.
Those days spent in the woods with men who knew much more about the game we chased than me, had created someone who not only had a love for what could be taken from the outdoors, but had sparked a passion to give back to it.
Everyone who considers themselves a hunter has a story like this. Whether it’s sitting in a deer stand with your father on a crisp November morning, walking through the corn fields of Nebraska with your buddies trying to jump a pheasant, or climbing a ridge top in Montana glassing elk. As people who value the outdoors and the things that it provides, we all have a responsibility to see that that love is passed on. While the majority of the country has a favorable view of hunting (over 70%), only about 6% of people actually participate. That leaves us a LOT of room for improvement. It can seem like a daunting task to close the gap, but here are some practical ways we can help.
If you’re a parent, you no doubt have seen that your children tend to mimic your behavior. If you have a snack, they want one. If you cuss, they’ll drop that bomb at the most inopportune time. It would only make sense that if you bring them along with you every chance you get, they’ll want to follow suit. You don’t even have to work that hard. My first trip out with my daughter (then 5 years old) was scouting for turkeys on our lease. We woke up early, got a biscuit from Mcdonald’s, sat under a blanket in the woods, and listened. No monster bull elk shot. No bag limit of doves. It’s a memory that I won’t ever forget, and neither has she. Now she asks every year if she can go scout with me. She may or may not grow up to be an avid hunter, but her perception of hunting will certainly be molded by her experience’s with it (see video below).
We’ve all had that friend standing by while you tell your latest hunting story and says “Hey man, I’d love to go with you sometime!”. Why don’t you take him/her up on that next time? If you don’t create a life long hunter, at the very least you create a great memory for both of you, and even if they never go again, chances are you’ve given them a positive outlook on hunters and the sport. A reality is most people you take out will never be committed to it like you are, and that’s OK. Their attitude towards it might influence someone else who becomes the next FDR. (See video below for our buddy Cary’s first turkey)
While I’ve heard of guys standing outside of grocery stores trying to sign folks up to go hunting, I don’t think it’s the only way to go in order to include more people. Although you don’t have to scream it from the rooftops, let people know that you hunt, how rewarding it is, and how much we’d love to include them. In order to do this, you have to come to one of two conclusions. Either you keep it to yourself so you don’t lose your favorite spot due to over crowding (which rarely happens), or you help everyone you can get into the sport, which insures its longevity. More hunters means more conservation dollars. More conservation dollars means more opportunities, and better quality of game and habitat. It’s a pretty simple equation.
So what are you going to do next? Do you have a neighbor that’s been bugging you to go turkey hunting? Is your oldest son chomping at the bit to go look for squirrels? Think of some practical ways you can do your part to continue this legacy of hunting, I know it will be worth it in the end.