“The little world of childhood with its familiar surroundings is a model of the greater world. The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more it will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life.”
- Carl Gustav Jung
We hear it all the time; I know I do: “Kids these days!” … “They just are not into hunting.” … “It’s clear that ours is the last generation of real hunters.” … “There are too many distractions.” In fact such talk was reinforced by quotes in an article I recently read:
“I think it’s a pity that super-sophistication has combined with modern pace to cheat our younger people of the sort of fun that my set enjoyed as kids. … I regret a kind of thinking that regards hunting as shameful, if not sinful. … I do not admire a concerted attempt to sell the idea that the killing of game is a cruel sport. … Perhaps today’s boys will never care for the woods the way we did.”
The writer nailed it, right? He is really dialed into what is happening with youth and hunting today. This is a modern guy who understands the problems of today’s society. He understands the difficulty of keeping the traditions of hunting alive. Except these quotes are from an article Robert Ruark published in 1961: “People Like Us Never Grow Up.”
Every generation complains the succeeding one is not doing it right. Well, let me tell you that is not entirely true. I recently met some kids who are as hard-core as any hunters alive.
Take Kerigan Disorda, for example. She was barely 12 years old when I met her, but she already was building her own pack of bear hounds. In fact, it was her dog that opened on the track first the day I hunted with her. When there was a dispute about the terrain where the dogs were heading and which roads would get us where we needed to go, I was amazed when the adults asked her what to do and then followed her instructions. She was the one who provided the answers. When we arrived, she jumped out of the truck, took a compass bearing then headed out into some of the roughest country anywhere in Vermont. She didn’t look back, but assumed we would keep up.
Same thing with Devin Russell; he has his own hounds he runs with his dad, Joe’s, dogs, and he handles them like an old pro. Both kids moved through the woods with the confidence and agility that comes only from years of experience. It would be an understatement to say I was blown away. Of course, these kids have the benefit of great dads who have guided them through the hunting world. But what I witnessed was a genuine love of hunting, not just kids experimenting with what dads want them to do. Believe me, after guiding dozens of kids I know the difference.
I love to bear hunt with hounds. My travel schedule makes it impossible to have hunting dogs of my own, so I rely on the generosity of friends with dogs. When my buddy Pete Richardson lost three of his best bear dogs, he decided not to rebuild his pack. After 40-some years of running bear hounds, the cost, the increasing regulations and the growing social problems of hunting with hounds finally became too much for Pete, and I had to find some new dogs with pet people who will let me hunt with them.
A buddy hooked me up with some folks, and when I met them early one Saturday morning in a McDonald’s parking lot there were kids all over the place. (I thought it was a bit early for Happy Meals.) And when we loaded up to hunt I noticed they all jumped into trucks.
Not a problem for me; I am a huge advocate of kids and hunting. I love introducing new hunters to this wonderful obsession we all share. In fact, I ran a youth camp for years where we helped a lot of youngsters take their first deer. But as the day played out I realized these kids like Kerigan and Devin were different than those newbies I taught in camps. While most of the kids I followed into the bear woods were still a few years shy of puberty, they were experienced and competent hunters with a lot of success already.
Also along that day was Gabrielle Ochs; she was on her first hunt ever. We didn’t get a bear that day, but we ran one for hours before it went into a cave and escaped. It’s the same bear, I suspect, that a few weeks later they treed and Gabrielle shot. That bear was her first head of game, and it was taken on her second day of hunting ever. The experience no doubt has her hooked on hunting for life. In fact, she got the bug so bad she now has a bear dog in training.
Later that first day, while some volunteers were hiking back to the trucks, we waited in the shade with the panting dogs and I started talking with these kids. I learned they were not just hound hunters, but loved any kind of hunting. Most of them already had taken more deer, bears, turkeys and small game than most hunters twice their age. Yet they were all a little surprised and embarrassed that I was so in awe of their accomplishments. Kids have a much smaller experience base to draw on than adults and to them, I suppose, it was just a normal thing for a kid to do. They are hunters. Hunters go hunting and shoot stuff.
They were all polite and respectful, and they showed a “hunting” maturity far beyond their years. Bear hunting with hounds is a tough sport and at times can really beat you up mentally and physically, yet these kids worked harder and complained less than most adult hunters with whom I have been in the field. All the while their woods-savvy, gun handling and can-do attitudes were impressive.
Kids don’t hunt today? These kids live to hunt.
One thing I find impressive is that these kids decided to build a pack of bear hounds. Raising and training hounds is a serious commitment; it’s not the kind of long-term thing you see kids start and carry through to completion, particularly not “kids today.” Of course the dads help, but it’s clear that other than somebody to drive the trucks and drag the bears the kids don’t need much help.
I have been bear hunting with hounds off and on for the better part of 35 years, and I have noticed hound owners are a very independent breed. These youngsters are following that lead. Often enough, they are not turning to adults for guidance but doing it themselves.
I started comparing notes with my new friends and discovered Kerigan is the granddaughter of one of my old deer camp buddies from back in the day: Guy Carruth. Her great-grandfather, Harry Carruth, was a bit of a bear hunting legend in my part of the world. He didn’t use dogs; he still-hunted or stand-hunted. He did this in the big woods of the Green Mountains, not in the corn fields of farm country as do most bear hunters. He worked deep into the wilderness, found the bears on their turf and managed to outsmart them time and again. In a state where bear hunters without dogs measure success rates in fractions of a percent, he shot 42 bears in 43 years of serious bear hunting. If there is another modern Vermont hunter who can match that success rate, he has escaped my notice. Clearly, that hunter’s blood has been handed down through the generations.
Kerigan and her dad, Jeff, are best friends, and hunting is one of the things they share. She is a little wisp of a girl, small and thin. She often hunts in camo and cowboy boots, or if it’s wet, in Muck Boots, but she can out-walk just about any man alive. Today at 13 she is just growing into the beauty that will drive legions of adolescent boys crazy in the years ahead. For now, she is focused on hunting. She started hunting at the age of 11, and in just three years, in one of the toughest states in the country, she has accrued an impressive resume. She has taken two bears, three deer, two turkeys and a bunch of small game. She started bowhunting in 2013 and is hoping to take her first whitetail deer with a bow this fall.
Ash, her first dog, is a Redbone/Lab mix that looks more like she is interested in being a house dog than a hunting dog. “She is a hunter,” Kerigan told me with a smile, “a couch hunter!”
That’s the thing with hunting dogs: You don’t know until you try. Kerigan’s current pack of hounds consists of three dogs. Bella is a treeing Walker female with a no-nonsense attitude about hunting. She has been barking at the base of a lot of trees with bears in them already. Two of her pups, Sugar and Maple, are treeing Walker and Plott mixes. Both Bella and the dad are good bear hounds, and the pups are showing great promise.
When I asked Kerigan to write down a little bit about herself, she made sure to mention her great-grandfather. Her notes ended like this:
“Great grandpa—42 bears in 43 years.
“Me, two bears in three years.
“I hunt every chance I get.”
No worries about this kid keeping the hunting traditions alive.
Devin Russell is 12 years old but started hunting when he was 7. He used his .243 Winchester to shoot a 258-pound boar bear that year. He has also taken seven deer and three turkeys in those five years. His list of game includes a coyote, a bobcat, four coons and a bunch of small game. Remember he is only 12 years old! Plus, most of their hunting time is running bear hounds and, like most hound people, they usually don’t shoot the bear or they let somebody who has never taken a bear shoot it. That’s a lot of hunting for a young guy, but it’s clear the fire in his belly is just growing hotter.
Devin is a “Mini-Me” of his dad; they both sport buzz-cut blond hair and hard-core toughness when it comes to hunting. Hound hunting is not like most other types of big-game hunting. It requires a tremendous amount of physical output at times, and it can be extremely trying on you mentally. Bears have a habit of running into some of the most remote and rugged areas before treeing, so hunters can’t dilly-dally about getting to the tree. Also, when you turn the dogs loose, you are committed; you don’t go home until you get them back in the truck. It doesn’t matter how tired you are or how hungry or how sick of hunting you might be, you have to keep going until the end. That’s one of many reasons why hound hunting is not as popular as sitting on a deer stand. It’s one thing for an adult to understand, accept and even embrace the difficulty of hound hunting, but for a kid to take to it as hard-core as these kids have exposes a deep love of hunting and a toughness of character.
Devin has his own dogs, of course. Shilo is a beagle. His bear dogs are Moose, a big redtick male, and Hank, a Redbone pureblood.
Devin’s sisters are also hunters. Lily Russell, age 8, has taken a large bear and a nice whitetail buck. Megan Russell, age 16, also has a bear and three deer to her credit.These kids can’t do this without adults. Jeff Disorda sold his fishing boat so he could spend more time hunting with his daughter. He and Joe Russell make it a point to involve the kids on all their hunts. Their own kids, the neighbor’s kids, relatives, friends—everybody is welcome.
When I visited Jeff’s house high on a mountain in Vermont, I was amazed at the view he had out over the valley, clear into New York. I was also amazed at all the dogs running around the place. Puppies, momma dogs, house dogs: They were all well-mannered and friendly. Well, a couple of puppies did steal a rag Jeff’s wife was using to refinish a chair. It was funny to watch them carry it away, each one holding an end, their body posture clearly stating they knew they were making mischief. But, at Kerigan’s command, they dropped it, which is pretty unusual for hounds of any age, in my experience.
Joe Russell is a hard-core hound man: When I visited his house in a remote location in rural Vermont it was apparent the moment I pulled into the driveway. Multiple dogs came to greet my truck. I spent a moment making friends with them all before looking around to notice there were a lot more dogs back in the shade at their houses. Joe, Jeff and a passel of kids had just returned from the first training day of the season. It was unseasonably hot and humid for June, and they quit early to spare the dogs. On the front deck was a huge cattle watering tub that one of the kids was filling with fresh water, and every few minutes another dog would run up and get a drink. Clearly this was a family who loved their dogs. They love kids, too, as there were almost as many kids as dogs.
Both places were hunters’ houses full of trophies and making no apologies for their passions in life. They were also clearly places with happy, loving families. As long as America has people like these raising children, teaching them values and showing them the outdoors, I think the sport of hunting will be fine.