“So how did the 6-year old do?” I was asked repeatedly after a hunt I had last weekend with youngster Nolan Johnson and his dad Rich. Yet quite often when I was asked by various folks, there seemed to be an undercurrent of skepticism regarding their query.
“Great,” I answered every time, and I meant it every time.
“When is too young?” is rarely asked when introducing kids to swimming, ice skating, or walking through the woods, but with hunting and fishing, it is an often debated topic. The involvement of guns and sharp objects is the reason, and I understand that, but the more I am around kids, the more I see that those closest to that child must be the ones to determine when is the right time to start, and the right time is different for everyone.
Two years ago when I saw 4-year old Patrick Carpenter fishing at Fremont Lakes SRA, he was sitting as patient as an adult, working his Texas-rigged worm up and down as his grandfather fished nearby.
However, when I was fishing with a close friend’s son Nolan Yaren yesterday, it was evident early on that he wasn’t ready for a long day in a boat. However, he was ready, as a 5-year old, to use a baitcasting reel, net fish, and hold fish. Soon enough, his trips into the outdoors will not be that much different from Patrick’s.
Then again there is my daughter Madeline, who, at 15 months old, held her first fish the other day. She isn’t ready to cast or net, but she’s definitely ready enough to see a fish being caught. And each time she saw a fish caught, she’d clap, smiling ear to ear.
It just doesn’t take long for a kid to realize that catching fish is fun. Nor does it take a kid long in life to know that guiding a kayak, shooting a gun, using a fly rod, or flinging an arrow are some of nature’s most enjoyable activities.
So yesterday when I saw a large group of 4th and 5th graders doing these activities at the Commission’s Outdoor Expo at Platte River State Park, I was encouraged by the amount of smiles I saw throughout the day. Encouraged, yes, but also quite discouraged at thinking about how many of these kids will talk about “that one day” when they shot a gun, caught a fish, or learned about waterfowl hunting. And while I think this entire Expo is spectacular, I also know it doesn’t happen soon enough.
But when should they be started? Out of the womb, of course. Small, positive trips are needed. Show a young child a deer you just killed, and then show them the three deer standing out in a field near sunset. Let them hear a turkey, then talk to them about eating a turkey.
I hope when my daughter is older, she never knows when she was around game and fish the first time, when some of her first memories are not only of her stuffed Mr. Dog and her sandbox in the backyard, but of holding Dad’s deer antlers and picking up her first fish all by herself. When it all blends together to define what her childhood was.
Was Nolan Johnson ready to turkey hunt? While sitting in his father’s lap, yes. Was Madeline ready to hold a fish? With grandpa’s help, yes. And was Nolan Yaren ready to catch frogs, fish, and himself with a net. Most definitely.
And you will only find those things out with youngsters in your own life if you take them out more than once a year.