A flock of geese set their wings and drifted into our decoys as though scripted. Shotguns blazed, and several birds fell from the sky. We looked over at our daughters and said, “go get them.” We did not have to ask twice, and the twin three-year-olds ran from the blind, giggling and screaming with delight, to pick up birds and drag them back. This is what it is like raising kids in the outdoors.
When is the right age to take your kids hunting and fishing? If they show any interest, they are ready to go. Our twins have been living an outdoor lifestyle since they were born. They love ice fishing and bird hunting, and they even accompanied mom and dad on a moose hunt this fall and helped retrieve all the meat and antlers from the forest. “Game Night” at the Fenson House means processing proteins. Our girls always help and put their flair on each package with unique drawings to indicate what’s inside.
Given second chances, this is what I see: This past year, I enjoyed watching our now four-year-old twin girls reel in fish, retrieve waterfowl and grouse, help break down their mom’s moose and get it back to the truck, and prepare incredible meals. None of the activities are mandatory, and the girls continually ask what the next adventure may hold.
Having a second chance to be a dad has proved to be inspirational to all involved. I tell people we know that this next golden opportunity has allowed me to enjoy my first and second families and make the most of my time with them. More importantly, our kids love the outdoors, are not addicted to electronics, and will undoubtedly grow up to be self-sufficient; my son and his family already are.
The girls participate in meal preparation and help with sorting food, cutting, portioning, and cooking. They are eager to participate, and mom found some unique poly knives that cut vegetables, cheese, and meat but not fingers. Even at a young age, the girls know and understand where food comes from and appreciate the fish, goose, deer, or other animals that make dinner possible. They help plant and harvest a garden and stuff jars with cucumbers, dill, and garlic to make pickles. Getting kids involved and learning life skills is invaluable in their development and their growing respect for the food chain. It also helps with things like portion control and balancing a diet. Learning life skills is not a punishment. It should be enjoyable and part of our everyday lives.
Gross Not Gross
Many people squirm or make faces when field dressing a fish, bird, or animal, especially for the first time. The experience is only gross if somebody says it is. We dressed a moose this fall, and the girls were there learning their first knife skills and helping to blaze a trail back to the truck for mom and dad to pack the meat. They even took a turn on the handsaw to remove hindlegs to make packing easier. To them, it was an exciting adventure, and there was nothing gross about it. There was no yuck, ewww, or negative expressions.
It only takes one person in a crowd to taint or reduce the enjoyment of others. Eating venison is a good example. One person can complain about the taste, and others at the table suddenly do not like it. The good thing about kids is that they are a blank canvas; if mom and dad are not negative, neither are the kids. Positive expressions, talk, and experiences leave kids wanting more.
Camping and kids go hand in hand, like peanut butter and jelly. Outdoors and learning how to collect firewood, gather water, or cook a meal over the fire are excellent skills for anybody to learn. The skills we learn as kids often carry into adulthood. Our family gathers firewood and water and plans meals when we go camping. An assembly to clean fish, dip fillets in egg, breading, and eventually toss them into the pan keeps everyone involved. Everyone plays a role and understands that we need wood to make fire, a knife to clean fish, and steps to prepare the meal. Appreciation and respect go to the fish.
Twins, like most siblings, play off each other and accelerate the learning curve. The goal is not to make them competitive but complementary. Where other siblings are not present, allow the child to be part of everyday life and develop skills like and with parents.
We have taken our girls out for a weekend of ice fishing on the lake, where we camp on the ice and enjoy 24 hours of angling adventure. It is a special time of day when we can break out the headlamps and set some rods for the twilight bite.
The girls know how to set waterfowl decoys and help retrieve and skin deer when possible. Planting the garden, cutting and collecting firewood, and watching nature with appreciation ensures a future of respectful, self-sufficient hunters and gatherers.
Boundaries for Parents
Taking kids outdoors does require some special considerations. Kids are always learning, so take the time to teach them. Every trip is an adventure, training them to want to be part of outdoor activities for the future. Events need to be fun and memorable. Do not forget to pack lots of snacks and drinks, and get the kids to help pack for each outdoor adventure. Get them to help to ensure you have what they like and foresee the needs while afield.
Leave the electronics at home. Phones, iPads, and games distract kids and keep them from learning what’s important and taking in everything about the outdoor experience. Take an extra phone to be used as a camera only or even a small digital unit to see things from a kid’s perspective.
Why care about taking a kid hunting or fishing? Because we were all kids at one time.