By Josh Cottrell
We didn’t need to kill a deer to have success. For me, this still carries on today. Sometimes figuring the deer out is the win.
Looking back at the beginning of deer season, to youth day for deer, I truly enjoyed going through the Facebook posts and looking at the grip and grin photos. These youth days are paramount to growing the sport and getting kids involved. And in this age of immediate gratification it is great to see their success.
I know that my next statement may not be a popular one. However, I must ask, are we teaching our kids to hunt or to kill? Through following these posts and watching friends through the years I’ve noticed that when kids shoot deer it is often the first time they have been in the woods that year. They go out and sight in their guns and then show up to a stand/blind that someone has set up for them. The deer steps out and they pull the trigger. Once again, a great way to get quick success, but are we teaching them anything? The proverbial “if you give a man a fish”. And are they getting the quality time with a parent that we think we are giving them?
Having raised two girls to adulthood, I truly understand the time constraints that kids have these days. With sports becoming a full-time job for them from ages as young as 6. It seems there is very little time available for kids to spend time in the woods to learn. There is time, whether it is an hour or two here and there. We just need to prioritize it.
Growing up in Maine, Saturdays (no Sunday hunting here) were sacred. It was the one day that my father would not work. He would always make time to get us in the woods. Whether it was bird hunting or deer hunting, every Saturday or vacation day of the fall was spent in the woods. My father was not a great deer hunter, having only shot two deer in his life. But he really enjoyed being in the woods with his kids. That time in the woods taught me to be a good outdoorsman. I learned the habits of all animals, where they fed, where they slept and how to find them. It lit a fire in me that has never diminished. I have made hunting a priority throughout my entire life and it is a big part of the person I am today. The best parts of these days were that I spent time with family and friends. I can still recall most of those moments to this day, whether it was a first partridge, deer, or the simple act of eating lunch in the truck between morning and afternoon hunts. They are plenty of stories from those days that are still rehashed to this day.
As for success, I am not sure easy success is always the best. As with anything in life, I think you appreciate the things that you worked hardest for. Deer hunting in Maine is and always has been tough. I didn’t shoot a deer until I was 18. I had a lot of close calls and endless does that I had to pass because I didn’t have a permit. When I finally shot my 1st deer while still hunting in 10” inches of fresh snow on a freezing cold Thanksgiving morning, I was elated. I have taken many deer since those days, with rifle and bow. I learned to hunt and enjoy trying to figure out deer.
If a young person expects to kill a deer every time they are in the woods, they will lose interest when they don’t. Get them out there and teach them what deer eat, or where they sleep and why. This doesn’t have to be an in-season lesson. Just like scouting year-round, do a couple of trips to the woods at different times of the year. Let the kids be part of the decision on where to put a stand or blind. My father was great at this, he would ask what we wanted to do. I failed a lot, but also learned a lot. I would be ecstatic when one of my spots produced a sighting, we didn’t need to kill a deer to have success. For me, this still carries on today. Sometimes figuring the deer out is the win.
Don’t get me wrong, any introduction to hunting is good. If all your child has time for is one or two sits a year, then take what you can get. If it lights a fire then great, we need hunter recruitment in our sport. But if have the time, then teach your kids to hunt and you’ll be giving them a lifetime of enjoyment and memories.
Josh Cottrell lives in Brewer, ME.