For me, I grew up in rural Eastern Kentucky hunting farmland in river bottoms off of the Ohio River and up in the hills where it was mostly big timber and hardwoods. At a very young age, I was lucky to learn how important it was to always respect the outdoors and the general principles of safety, preservation, and providing for your family. I remember taking a picture with me to school when I was in kindergarten because I was dying to show off my first squirrel kill to all of my buddies. Safe to say that instantly, I was hooked.
I remember my dad passing down the same knowledge that his dad had taught him when he was young. He would take me hunting and teach me everything he knew about basically all things outdoors. How to walk quietly, when to listen, how to load my old 4-10 single shot, and so much more. He’d tell me to never shoot something if you can’t use it or eat it, always treat a gun like it’s loaded, always know the direction where your buddies are hunting, and if you kill it, you clean it. Even though his dad (my papaw) has passed on, I keep those same basic principles with me today every time I step in the woods. Sometimes I think, “If it weren’t for my family passing on their love for the outdoors, how would I have learned?”
Now, I’m 28 years old and working as a teacher and baseball coach in Raceland, Ky. I see kids every day that are less fortunate or who may not have a role model to encourage them to get outdoors. Most of the students I have in my classroom everyday are more worried about their cell phone or how much battery they have left on their laptop. Luckily, I do get the student on occasion who wants to swap hunting stories or trail cam pictures before class. For the ones who have never been introduced, how do we focus on teaching them everything that we learned that got us interested in the outdoors? What about those young people that don’t have a dad, uncle, papaw, cousin, or a close buddy to get them hooked like we all were at some point in time?
Anytime we get the chance to take someone new into the outdoors (no matter the age), we should do so. Sometimes they might not reach out to you and ask to tag along, so we have to offer and extend the invite. You never know what small event might happen that could get them absolutely hooked like I was as a kid. You could take them on their first successful hunt and see their adrenaline rush out of control after they pull the trigger for the first time. You can’t beat that!
We have to remember that it’s up to us to teach the correct principles and responsibility it takes every time we step into the woods. We must teach the respect for an animal after you get to the end of a blood trail and find another successful harvest. It’s the little things like that that can get the next generation completely hooked into our lifestyle and carry on this way of life the correct way.
Teaching someone the way of the outdoors and being a mentor can create lifetime bonds and friendships that will always be cherished. Personally, I cherish every weekend I get to spend at the Reed Hunting Camp with my dad, brother, uncle, my cousins, and the occasional hunting buddy that wants to stop by for an exaggerated story and a cold beer. It’s all about building those relationships and sharing what we all love. Be the person that finds a way to throw out the line and bait to get someone else completely hooked.