“Why did you come home so early last night?” I asked.
“Uh, well, some of the guys were doing things they shouldn’t so I just decided to go home,” he replied.
This was the conversation my 16-year-old son and I had as we waited, hoping for that one flock of geese to commit to our spread of motionless full bodies that by then were covered with a thin dusting of frost. We both knew the chances of us scoring that morning were slim, so we just lay there on the frozen ground and talked. We talked about things that were important in life and those that were not—things you just can’t talk about over a busy dinner table or in mixed company. This special moment, like so many others during his adolescent years, provided me, as a father, the opportunity to communicate, one-on-one, with my son in a manner unlike any other.
It’s times like this that allow a parent or guardian the opportunity to instill thoughts into a child’s mind that will last a lifetime—thoughts that will help shape the values he or she carries into adulthood.
Years later there was another interaction, this one not with my son but with a group of strangers. It didn’t take long to realize it was another opportunity …
“Hey mister, is that a goose?”
The words jarred me to my senses as I trudged along what seemed to be a never-ending dike on Utah’s Bear River Bird Refuge. I was returning to my car after a successful swan hunt, and the giant white bird was slung over my shoulder as was my gun and gear. As I turned and looked, a little sweetheart, maybe 8 years old, was hanging halfway out of the window of a slow-moving minivan. Behind it was another vehicle. Both vehicles were loaded with youngsters. It was obvious the caravan was on a field trip as the refuge is a popular destination for hunters, fishermen and bird watchers.
“No, honey, it’s a swan,” I replied.
No other words were uttered and the group continued. “Did I offend them by the way I'm carrying the bird?” I wondered. I worried they might not view hunting in a positive manner. A million thoughts shot through my mind as I made my way towards my car and a cooler full of Coke and Gatorade, now a half-mile away. Just as I was becoming comfortable with the whole episode, to my shock, the caravan pulled into the parking lot and stopped next to my car.
Soon I was standing on the edge of the channel of water separating me from the parking area, directly across from the group. By now all of them had exited the vehicles and were lined up on the edge of the water.
“Can we see your swan?”
The same little girl who had hollered earlier was now standing in front of the class and was doing all the talking. Smiles and lots of child chatter eased my mind a bit. Even the advisors were smiling.
“You bet,” I replied. “Give me just a few minutes to get over there.”
When I started my trek at 5 a.m. that morning, a thin sheet of ice had covered the channel. In order to float across in my float tube, I’d used a shovel to chisel a narrow path, and I’d used it as a paddle, too. Now laughter broke out among the group as I paddled toward them using the shovel, with the gun, swan and all in tow.
“You really put forth a lot of work for that bird,” one of the advisors said with a smile. At that moment, I knew I was not being descended upon by a hostile band of antis, but perhaps by a friendly group of curious students and advisors who were out for an educational experience—one that I was about to provide.
For the next hour or so, I took full advantage of the moment to share with the group the rich history of the Bear River Bird Refuge and the critical roll hunters and bird watchers play in maintaining such a wonderful resource. I shared with them what the Pittman-Robertson Act is and how the money generated by this act goes toward enhancing and maintaining millions of acres of critical habitat across the United States. I was careful to help them understand what wildlife management is and why it is necessary to harvest such a beautiful bird as well as other birds and animals. I can honestly say I have not experienced a more reverent moment than that. Even the two advisors, who I could tell had reservations early on, seemed to understand and accept what I was saying. But it was the youngsters who sat quietly, listening to my sermon, who genuinely wanted to hear what it was this old guy with camo paint on his face and blood on his hands had to say. The look on their faces told me we were on the same wavelength. It was truly humbling.
“Can we have a feather?” one of the boys asked.
Up until now, I had planned to have the magnificent bird mounted, but how could I deny such a request? I knew there would be another bird, another day.
“You bet,” I said.
As feathers were handed out, I continued to field an array of questions. For a tiny blip in time, I was afforded the opportunity to enlighten the minds of an entire classroom of future leaders, educators and voters. It wasn’t much different than the many moments I’d shared with my son over the years. Whether it was my own child or a group of strangers, the chance the interaction afforded was the same: I could make a difference on behalf of hunting. As adults, we must recognize and take advantage of these precious moments to communicate with our youth on a level not possible at any other time. We need to communicate when the spirit’s right.