It's archery deer season here in Eugene, Oregon, and for the past couple weekends, my husband has been taking our boys hunting. My husband's hunting buddy has acreage on the outskirts of town, and each Saturday and Sunday morning, they head out to where he lives in order to scout the property together, bows in hand.
My kids aren't carrying bows, of course. They're 8 and 5, too young to be shooting at anything other than a stationary and non-living target. But they're out there with the men in the freezing post-dawn temperatures, doing their best to keep their excited voices down as they help push the timber.
Ultimately, everyone's hoping for the same thing: to take down a nice-sized buck. Yes, even the children ... and yes, they've seen Bambi.
I mention the Bambi thing because I think that's what many of us tend to think of when we think about hunting. Bambi's mother tragically shot and killed when he's just a little fawn! Bambi's girlfriend Faline cornered by vicious dogs! How could any child who's seen this classic film be willing to side with the evil, heartless hunters?
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I actually bought the movie a while back and my boys absolutely love it. But it didn't change how they feel about our family's hunting practices.
My husband doesn't hunt does, nor does he utilize dogs. He doesn't use guns, either -- these days he's dedicated to bowhunting. Still, the mechanics of a kill are pretty much the same, whether you use a rifle, an arrow, or a well-aimed rock. It's a bloody enterprise, particularly during the skinning-and-gutting part.
Last fall I worried a little about how my son, then 7 years old, would react to seeing a dead deer. We talked about it quite a bit beforehand, and he looked at photos from past hunting outings. When the time came, he was prepared -- and he was fine with it.
Here's what I want to be sure of, when it comes to my children and hunting: they need to be safe at all times. That's priority number one, obviously. And secondly, they need to want to be there. If either child were to express any doubt or reluctance, even with regards to the unholy hour it's required to get out of bed in the morning, no one's going to encourage them to go. There's no macho, persuasive bullshit about hunting going on in our house, and there never will be.
Hunting is a pretty standard part of life where I live, but I realize not everyone feels that way. I was thinking about this topic recently when there was a bunch of backlash over a Teen Mom star's photo of her toddler son posed next to a dead deer. A sample comment:
My husband and kids eat meat but not deer. I am totally against killing animals in any way. If my kids want to hunt, which my husband and I find barbaric, no way. They cry when they see a dead animal.
I find this attitude exactly as perplexing as that person finds hunting, I suppose. I mean, where in heaven's name do her meat-eating kids think those plastic-wrapped, styrofoam-packaged hunks of flesh in the grocery store come from? You want to see something truly barbaric, try typing "slaughterhouse animals" into Google's Image Search. The chickens, cows, and pigs most of us consume on a regular basis aren't exactly enjoying a natural lifestyle before peacefully dropping dead from old age.
Still, people have their opinions, and it's unlikely any argument I make could sway someone who's vehemently opposed to hunting. There are plenty of folks who would be downright horrified to learn that my young children have joined their father this deer season. They likely see a family glorifying savagery, teaching kids to have a total disregard for animals.
Me, I see a different picture altogether. I see my sons learning a great deal about the outdoors, and developing a true appreciation for that which puts food on our table. I see children spending time with their father and forming life-long memories. I see my boys embracing a way of living that's becoming more and more scarce these days: patient, present, respectful ... and deeply connected to the natural world that surrounds us.
I am not a hunter, but I love how my boys cherish these weekend outings. For as long as they enjoy it, they will be hunters. And if they change their minds someday, we'll be just as supportive.
How do you feel about kids and hunting?
Image via Linda Sharps