As you read this, I’ll be sitting in a deer stand in Wisconsin, hoping for the best. Either that, or the best already will have happened, and I’ll have a deer down. Regardless, my 18-year-old son, Cole, will be nearby, hunting with me out of a shack not far from Cumberland, Wis.
That Cole is now a high school senior seems a bigger deal to me than when his older brother, Trevor, now 20 and away at college, was the same age.
With Trevor’s expected departure, I knew I still had Cole to hunt and fish with for a few years. Now I’m on the cusp of going afield more often without them — an uneasy prospect.
Over the boys’ lifetimes, I’ve given quite a bit of thought to the worth of exposing them to outdoor pursuits, and how best to do it, assuming they had an interest.
The issue — nationally, at least, though less so in Minnesota — of declining hunting and fishing participation among young people is among primary threats facing North American conservation.
A continued falloff in young people who go afield not only undercuts hunting and fishing but fish and wildlife themselves. In the United States, hunters and anglers traditionally have paid the brunt of their management, and the acquisition of their habitats, through license fees.
So, today, I offer some thoughts on exposing kids to outdoor pursuits, based on my experiences.
I do so recognizing that we’re all different, with varying interests in various activities. Some kids wouldn’t hunt or fish if you paid them. Which is fine.
Additionally, there is no intention here to place outdoors interests above, say, leanings toward the arts, excellence in the classroom or distinction on a playing field. Each has value.
That said, the appeal and rewards of outdoors activities are broad, if not universal, whether it’s hunting and fishing, paddling, hiking, biking, riding, climbing — all of it. Challenge is one reason, as is self-actualization and the prospect of personal accomplishment.
Importantly, introducing kids to the outdoors might also blunt the effects of today’s popular culture. Which would be a good thing.
Many parents fear raising children in a society dominated by electronic toys and gadgets, easy access to drugs, and TV shows that not too many years ago would have passed for soft porn.
In this environment, it can be valuable and rewarding to expose a kid to walleye fishing or canoe paddling or whitetail hunting — or all of it.
Based on my experiences, then, here are suggestions about how to introduce kids to the outdoors and to help them grow in related pursuits.
First lesson: Outdoor activities aren’t variations on soccer practice, where Mom or Dad drops off little Barbie or Ken and heads to the mall or grocery store. Parents instead have to go fishing (as one example) with the child, not send her or him alone or with someone else.
Unfamiliar with shore fishing (for example) in the Twin Cities? Then acquaint yourself with the sport simultaneously with your son or daughter. And if you’re an expert, learn anew about the activities through your children’s experiences — and be there to answer the many questions that will arise.
Try to arrange these earliest trips so kids have a good chance to catch fish or otherwise succeed.