Sports Column: Why one youth hunts (and more really ought to)

“Squirrels are way too loud!” That’s was the comment from 13-yearold Jake Pyne. It wasn’t really a complaint. Merely one of many observations he made while hunting with his father.
“When I’m in the woods hunting deer it’s hard not to notice other things. Just sitting quietly you get to see how the wildlife acts when they think no one is around,” was another.
Jake was one of many Vermont youth who bagged a deer this past weekend on Vermont’s fall youth hunting weekend.  And Jake’s growing awareness of the rhythms of nature and the life that abounds in the woods, fields and wetlands of Vermont — such as the loudness of squirrels, the songs of thrushes and the grace and stealth of a buck — is just one of many reasons his father, Lawrence Pyne, is excited to have his three offspring taking up the great tradition of hunting.
In fact, this was not Jake’s first success as a young hunter. Those who know Lawrence’s own credentials as an award-winning outdoor journalist and a skilled and avid hunter and angler, will not be surprised to know that Jake has been well-trained and had previously bagged deer, turkeys, waterfowl, and even a moose.
But Lawrence was particularly proud of Jake on this morning, in part because of his son’s growing awareness of the woods around him (“It was the first time that Jake spotted the deer moving before I did.”) and in part because of his growing patience (they had been out for almost four hours and had seen nothing, but Jake was still focused and tuned in to his surroundings.)
It is more than observation of nature, though, that interests the elder Pyne; hunting breeds intimacy with the natural world. In his essay “Good Oak,” Aldo Leopold notes “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”
For Leopold, hunting and farming went together. And Lawrence Pyne agrees. “Hunting gives Jake a tangible connection to the land,” he observes, referencing Leopold. “Backyard veggies and back-forty game are part of the same process. Land connects us and food.”
The place the two Pynes hunted together this past weekend was a family property: a cleared meadow around the remains of an old rustic homestead that never had power, running water, or a furnace. The woman who once dwelt there lived off the land.
“It’s a special spot for us,” Lawrence noted wistfully. “One I hope can stay in our family.” The two arrived well before dawn, hiked over a half-mile in, and were settled down about 45 minutes before first light and the start of the legal hunting day.
It was a quiet morning, though. No signs of wildlife. Not even turkey or grouse. Since they had only half a day to hunt that weekend because of Jake’s hockey and lacrosse commitments, Lawrence was nervous. But just before 10 a.m., Jake spotted the deer and even caught sight of antlers. It took dad a few extra seconds to see it. It was a yearling buck. Not huge, but it did have enough of an extra antler tine that it would have been a legal buck even during the open rifle season.
Jake was patient. He did not try to rush a shot even when the buck dropped out of sight. When it reappeared, though, he was ready. He waited for it step into the open and turn broadside. Then he squeezed the trigger of a .44 magnum his father had chosen for him, despite its somewhat limited range, because of the low recoil. “Kids should have a gun they enjoy shooting,” he says. The shot was perfect.
It was three years earlier, when Jake was only 10, that he took his first deer. It was an eight-point, 151-pound buck taken on opening day of youth weekend. It temporarily took the camp buck record. Jake still lists that deer and his moose as his most memorable hunting experiences in part because both were firsts.
And he actually likes waterfowl even more than big game. “My favorite thing to hunt is probably ducks because you can be louder and you get multiple chances to shoot. With big game you get one shot a season if you’re lucky.” But he counts having his father as his hunting companion as one of the reasons all of these experiences have been “very special.”
Lawrence obviously feels the same way. But he does move past his obvious pride and speaks somewhat more generally about the importance of hunting and of what and how we teach youth. In addition to fostering a tangible connection to the land, Lawrence lists as his top concern teaching safety and ethics:
“It is more than gun handling and muzzle awareness, though that is certainly important. It also means being 100 percent sure of target. It means knowing limits of your gun and how far you can ethically shoot. It means practicing patience and common sense and just being calm.”
Pyne also sees at least one other benefit of instilling in his own offspring a love of hunting and the outdoors: “They also develop a great love of Vermont. They see what makes it special. They can appreciate what it means to live in a rural state.”
He notes that on the drive home from their successful hunt, that Jake was looking up at the mountains and commenting how beautiful they looked. Lawrence would much rather have his son doing that than sticking his nose constantly in a computer game. He knows also that his kids are more likely to one day live close to home if they appreciate how much Vermont has to offer.
For that reason alone, he is thankful to the state for its efforts to promote hunting among the youth: “These youth seasons have really fostered an appreciation for hunting and getting outside. Deer. Turkey. Even youth waterfowl.”
With Jake, at least, it seems to be working. He already lists several memorable hunting experiences, and he’s likely to have many more.
“I hope to still be hunting in 10 years,” he says. “I hope I will hunt all my life.”

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