I promised Sam I’d take him hunting when he got his hunter ed card. In Juneau, every 6th grader has the opportunity to do so through a program with the school district. Of course, the kids have to pass the written exam and shooting test to get the card, and most do. Sam got his card a few weeks ago.
I talked with Jeff and he relayed about a couple of friends getting cancer treatment. Friends who I consider in good shape. No more excuses to not go hooter hunting. I’m retired for God’s sake. The forecast for Sunday looked decent, so I texted Andrew and said if Sam wanted to go with me hunting on Sunday, I’d take him. His dad replied he would like to go.
I originally schedule to pick him up at 9 am. But, I got up early to watch the Masters golf tourney (started 5 am our time) and it was close – plus it was still near freezing at 8 am, so I rescheduled to pick Sam up at 11 am and hopefully give him some more sleep time.
When I picked him up, he was ready to go. He had a ski jacket on, jeans and sneakers. I let the clothes be but said he needed boots, and these he changed into. He said he didn’t need a bottle of water or a pack. Okay, I said. I’m all about experiential learning. As we left in the car, I could tell he was grum……..pee…….. “I thought you said we were going next week?” he said. I replied that I thought he wanted to go and that’s why I’m taking him. He said no – his dad wanted him to go. Away we went.
I drove out the road past our house about 6 miles. I stopped once, rolled down the window to listen and … nothing. We moved on another 2 miles and did the same thing. The hooters were calling up the mountain here. We pulled over, I shouldered my pack with the .22 in it., and up the hill we went. Samuel was reluctantly following, but moving along steadily.
Sam now swims some 40+ laps a day 3 days a week in the swim club. He’s lost most of his gut as he gets taller. I heard the bird and was moving up the hill, with Sam grumpily following behind. I kept up a fair pace, and would wait when I needed to if he called or I needed to see his orange coat following behind me. Up the hill we went. We went up about 4 benches, including two pretty sheer cliffs that had a little gully we could get up. It was find-a-hand-hold, find-a-foot-hold climb in a few places. When we finally got near the trees the bird was in, I made the last 50 yards but Sam said he was done. I said that was okay – he would be in the landing zone to collect the bird or see if I clipped a bird that flew downhill. That made him happy, and I could hear him wacking sticks against trees. 11 year olds really need no toys other than what they can pick up in the woods. Video game addictions or not – I’ve seen it too many times in scouts. The woods is it’s own playground.
I zeroed in on the group of trees I though the bird was in. There were two hemlocks growing right next to each other, with a third tree at a 45 degree crosswise behind them. I got up as high behind the trees as I could see, and side-hilled from one side of the trees to another. Sam shouted out words of encouragement from below, like “can we go now”, “are you done yet”, “I hear more birds below us”, “it’s starting to rain”, and “I’m going back to the car” (of course, he didn’t). I looked for over an hour for the bird, and could just not find an angle to see it. It hasn’t happened often, but most often in this stand of woods we were in for some reason. And while we seemed to hear lots of birds calling on the way up, we couldn’t hear another bird now.
I finally gave up. Sam was happy we were heading back, but worried we’d have to descend some of the same cliff areas we went up. I told him he was the guide going out and he could go around the cliffs. He led the way, cheery now to be on the way home. He asked for some water, and I said sure. But it would be $10 a drink. He said he could wait till he got home. Again, it’s all about experiential learning. About half way back, I realized I hadn’t given Sam a chance to shoot since we never saw the bird. I asked if he wanted to shoot, and he said sure.
I asked him where a good place would be to set up a target, and said that a little hill, downhill from us, would work since the bullets would go into the hill. I took out a plastic bag and put the top of a skunk cabbage flower in it as a bulls eye.
He asked if the gun would be loud since he shot an air rifle for his hunter ed card, and I said it would not. I asked him if he wanted me to take a shot first to show him how it worked, and he agreed. I showed him how to load the clip, how to work the bolt to load a shell into the magazine, and how to work the safety. I took a shot, and Sam was ready. He shot 4 rounds. Wanna shoot some more I asked? Sure, he said. He shot another 5 rounds then thought we’d better get back to the car.
We busted alot of brush on the way down. At one point, I gave him the compass as he was the leader, and we worked it so he could line up the arrow on north, and then keep us traveling east, which was the way to the road.
I asked him on the car ride home if he had a good time on his first hunt, and he said no. I asked why. He said we spent 4 hours and didn’t get any birds. I asked him if any part of it was fun and he said yes, he liked the shooting. I’ll take any win I can get.
I’ve been diligently skiing or walking since I retired, and Sam has been swimming diligently after a month or so of struggling to get him to make practice every time in January after he came back from Sierra Leone, where he got out of shape when he wasn’t swimming. Today, we both made it in and out with out too much whining so I count that a good day.
I think he’ll be willing to go again, and I’ll count that as an accomplishment.