Join the Hunt: Start Them With Waterfowling

by
posted on August 5, 2022
JTH Start Them With Waterfowling Lead

I drove around my map-dot town a few months back, and it haunted me. It was a gorgeous Saturday, but the ball fields were empty, concrete courts had no rubber slamming into them and I didn’t see a single kid on a bike.

That wasn’t the case in my youth. We were always outside creating our fun. The problem for today’s youth: Someone else is making the fun, and all they are required to do is click a button and stare at a screen.

I know this is a hunting article, and I ask you to stay with me. This past fall, I took a new hunter deer hunting. He was 16 years old and had never hunted a day in his life; a friend of my oldest son, I wanted to do my part and get him out in the woods. He was bored stiff. We saw 12 deer, but neither he nor my 16-year-old, who loves to hunt, hardly glanced up from their phones to experience an evening spent in autumn’s splendor. Why?

Several reasons, probably. Mainly, the hunt didn’t require anything of them. They didn’t gain permission, scout or have to do any pre-hunt work. They plopped their butts in the dirt and waited. They expected to see a large buck, and since one didn’t magically appear, the phones came out.

I was disgusted, but later that night my son said, “Dad, you should have taken him waterfowl hunting first. The action is so good, and I think he just wanted to shoot.”

I pondered the idea and realized my boy was right. Both Hunter (my 16-year-old) and my youngest son, Brody, cut their hunting teeth chasing ducks and geese. They won’t miss a hunt, and if you asked him, Hunter would tell you that he would gladly trade his deer and elk tags for a few more days of feet-down-action this coming fall.

My OCD kept me up that night, and I did a deep dive. Here’s what I came up with, and I’m sure I’m at least in the ballpark: Starting out youth hunters on waterfowl infuses character, dedication, hard work, responsibility and pure hunting joy.

I’m going to use Hunter as an example. He started waterfowl hunting when he was 10. Six years later, he’s had great hunts, good hunts, average hunts and poor hunts, but unless the morning’s hunt conflicts with sports, that boy won’t miss a single day. He gets up on his own, makes coffee and breakfast, and has the truck loaded with guns, gear and decoys when I clamor out of bed. He’s addicted, and his brother, Brody, isn’t far behind. Why?

Sure, he loves it, but years of waterfowling, getting up hours before dawn’s first glow, hauling bags of decoys and setting out massive spreads have done something to him. I promise you, it’s something positive.

Young Hunter Setting Goose Decoys

His summertime boss has told me repeatedly that his work ethic is second to none. He hasn’t been late or missed a day of work in three summers, and aside from saying he’s tired, he never complains about bucking small bales, setting irrigation tubes or cleaning ditches with a shovel.

No, I’m not bragging, but painting a picture. He keeps a solid GPA in school and, since his freshman year, has been a three-sport varsity starter. I remember a football game when temperatures were in the teens and the wind was howling. His hands were frozen, and it was difficult for him to make accurate passes. During a timeout, he looked at the coaching staff and players and said, “Goose hunting is way colder than this, and at least we don’t have to lay down on the icy ground for hours.”

Waterfowl hunting teaches young hunters a lot. I figured it may have been a fluke that I got fortunate with Hunter, but Brody, my youngest son, follows in his footsteps. Since Brody started waterfowl hunting (and he doesn’t even carry a gun yet) he has become more responsible around the house, nicer to his family and friends, and I’ve seen an enhanced work ethic in his sporting pursuits.

If you’re a hardcore waterfowl hunter, you know the game is work from start to finish, from developing communication skills and courage via the simple act of knocking on a landowner’s door and handling yourself like a gentleman or lady, to getting up early and working hard throughout the day, only to gather up hundreds of decoys at day’s end. If you’re going to be a successful waterfowl hunter, you learn to work and not take shortcuts—two life skills that will take you far. You also know joy—absolute joy, pure and simple joy. You learn to play your role and be part of a team; to be happy for others when they experience success, and be thankful for all that you’ve experienced at day’s end.

As for that young man I took deer hunting; I went with my son’s advice. The following winter, I took him on his first goose hunt. The action was heavy (we knew it would be), and he didn’t have time to look at his phone. He woke up at 3 a.m., and when we got home that evening, after cleaning birds, cutting them up and putting them on the dehydrator for jerky, he fell asleep on my couch. Guess what? He was up at 3 a.m. the following day, ready to do it all over again. And we did.

That now 17-year-old saved up his pennies and had an adult hunter purchase him a pair of shotguns. He got the money by going to work for a local farmer. He works seven days a week during the summer months and still finds time to show up to weightlifting and summer football practice. He’s learned the value of hard work and manages his money extremely well. Something has changed in him, and he will tell you flat out that hunting, specifically waterfowl hunting, has made him a better person.

I’m not claiming waterfowl hunting will save a soul or turn a rotten egg good. I’m just telling you about my experiences, and if you hit the waterfowl fields and waters often, take a chance, take a youngster, and see what happens. I think you’ll be pleased with the results, and so will they.

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