Join the Hunt: No Child Left Behind

posted on February 24, 2022
JTH Join The Hunt No Child Left Behind Lead

The Towsley side of my family is the hunting side. Yet, in the ’60s they considered any kid to be a nuisance. Back then, hunting was a man’s thing—no ladies and no babies.

When the men went off to deer camp and left me home, I was mad and hurt. Never one to take no for an answer, I refused to suffer in silence. Along with my one ally, my youngest uncle, Butch, I lobbied hard for years. I was finally allowed into deer camp at 13, which was three years earlier than the “rule.”

I had been shooting and knew gun safety, but was baffled about how to hunt deer. Still, I was on my own to figure it all out. Their approach was: If you are old enough to be at deer camp, you should know what to do. Nobody, except Butch, was willing to take time out of their hunt to teach me how it was done. Often I just headed out the camp door alone. I was never afraid to walk in the woods, but being young and naive can get a person into trouble. I can tell you that it’s a terrifying thing to be lost deep in the big woods at that age, with dark coming on and after seeing a lot of bear tracks.

I vowed that if I became a father and if my kids were interested in hunting, I would never leave them behind. I also vowed I would teach them about hunting. My kids are both in their 30s now and they would tell you I kept those vows.

My approach was to simply involve them in my hunting life. If I was doing it, they could do it too. I took them hunting for squirrels, birds and deer. I used to joke that in the early years I had changed the diapers on both my kids in a deer stand. That story would embarrass the hell out of Erin, my oldest, when I told it to any potential boyfriends. My son, Nathan, just joked about the “ultimate cover scent.”

They carried their toy rifles when very young, and then BB guns as they got older. I let them shoot at a squirrel or rabbit if they wanted and didn’t worry about messing up the deer hunting. To be honest, I don’t think it ever did. Nathan spent a lot of time in treestands with me while bowhunting and became very good at sitting still and watching. He often saw the deer before I did. He had a little compound bow with which he was very good. I had a recurring dream where I was just drawing back on a huge buck when his little arrow flicked into my line of sight and bounced off the buck, spooking it into oblivion. It never happened of course, but the dream was real.

I subtly coached them about safety rather than beat them over the head with it like so many others I have been in the field with. I believe in rewards rather than punishment to teach something. By the time they were old enough to use a real gun, safety was ingrained into them. It was just how you did things, and we didn’t need to talk about it much. By then they had seen several deer shot and understood the destructive power of a firearm. They knew the rules and followed them.

I used to joke that in the early years I had changed the diapers on both my kids in a deer stand. That story would embarrass the hell out of Erin, my oldest, when I told it to any potential boyfriends.

They both took deer in Vermont when they were still preteens. By then we were often hunting on the Mason Farm a few miles from us, and that family was big into kids hunting. For several years we set up tents and a cook shack during the youth season. We had great success and helped a lot of kids take their first deer. Even more important, we helped provide a great experience; sleeping in tents, eating camp food and just being part of the gang.

Because of my job as a hunting writer, I had some unique opportunities to take my kids on out-of-state hunts. This helped them learn about the hunting culture in other parts of the country. They hunted Alabama, Montana, Iowa, Texas and Maine. This instilled in them an understanding that while other places and other people do things differently, we are all hunters and are bonded by the hunting culture.

Beyond actually hunting, I immersed my kids into the hunting lifestyle. Some of the very first words Erin spoke were the names of the animals that were mounted on my office wall. I would point to one and she would answer with great enthusiasm: caribou, antelope, mule deer, moose, bear and whitetail deer. The pronunciation often was a bit off, but she knew them all before she could speak in sentences.

By the time they went to kindergarten they could run a turkey call, rattle antlers or do a buck grunt like a pro. By middle school they knew how to butcher a deer and skin a squirrel.

I always took them to the outdoor shows I attended, and once a promoter invited me and Nathan backstage to meet Ted Nugent. We played his music on the way home and it got me into a bit of trouble. Five-year-old Nathan said, “This is my new favorite song, I can’t wait to tell mom when we get home.” The song? “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.”

The thing is, I never left them home because they might be a nuisance. I took them to outdoor shows, gun shops, taxidermists or just to visit deer hunting friends.

They both spent a lot of days with me practicing shooting. We made shooting fun, and along the way they learned skills.

Hunting is my passion and they just became part of it. I made hunting a part of their lives, just like it was mine.

Due to the declining economic outlook in Vermont they both live out of state now, so we don’t get to share a lot of hunting time. Erin is busy with a military career so she doesn’t hunt much. But, she is a shooter and loves to shoot rifles and handguns. Nathan hunts, traps, reloads and shoots competition. When they make it home for the holidays, they always want dinner to be venison backstrap.


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