I hunted when I was a young kid
My father ensured safety was top priority in field
ONE REPORTER’S STORY
MADISON – When I first started hunting, I still believed in Santa Claus.
As a boy in Kansas, I came to know hunting not as something that you did but as a way you lived. I shot my first rabbit at around 6 and passed a hunter’s safety course at 7, getting my hunter’s card to sign before I learned to write in cursive.
A law signed by Gov. Scott Walker on Saturday will allow children and their parents to do some of the same things my father and I did as a boy. It’s plenty controversial: the legislation allows children of any age to hunt if a trained adult is within arm’s reach.
When I tweeted about the Senate’s
passage of the law last week, one reader lamented the safety concerns and said that it “takes a dark soul of a parent to want their child to take another living animal’s life without truly knowing the reason behind it.”
I’ve never seen a dark side in my dad and always knew why we were shooting rabbits, pheasants, quail, deer, doves, ducks and more: we butchered them in the garage and ate them at the dinner table.
My boy’s nose knew how awful a cottontail can smell being field-dressed and how good it smelled in my mother’s pot pies. I knew that to eat pheasant you have to shoot a bird with an almost otherworldly beauty, taking away its cackle, its flight and its life.
Like most controversies I cover, I see both sides to this one.
I saw myself how safely a young boy can be made to hunt if his father harps on safety as much as mine did.
The first weekends I went hunting, I only held a gun for a few seconds, getting a .22-caliber rifle handed to me if an easy shot at a rabbit presented itself. The rest of the time I was just following an adult.
In the years after that, I eventually got to carry an unloaded shotgun and load it if the dog pointed a rooster or a covey of quail. I’d get a chance to shoot, but not before I was told where it was safe to fire and where it wasn’t.
It was still more years before I carried a loaded gun and through it all I had my father asking about the safety, telling me our hunting partners were just behind that brush, reminding me that every gun should be considered loaded until your own eyes tell you it isn’t.
I was 14 before I climbed into a deerstand with my father’s old compound bow.
“I’d rather hunt with a kid who’s been taught right than an adult who hasn’t,” my dad would say, and there was some truth there.
It’s also true that no precaution should be considered too much and no parent is perfect, not even mine.
I can remember when a loaded .243 rifle was wrongly put into our truck and jostled and the hole it made in the floorboards of my father’s old Ford. I’ve never forgotten.
There were few people then who cared about hunting as much as my father and I did. There are even fewer today — I would be surprised if one child in 25 today gets the depth and quality of experiences I did.
The new law allows mothers and fathers to try to give their children the same thing, though not all of them will take the care that mine did. The law also allows trained mentors to carry their own guns or bows alongside an 8-yearold learner.
My 12-year-old son Xavier has taken a hunter’s safety course, so when I took him out for the youth waterfowl hunt in September, I could have taken my own shotgun to hunt geese alongside him.
I didn’t and I’m glad. Xavier doesn’t get to do as much shooting as I did, and he got better safety instruction because my hands were empty and my mind was on him and his shots.
My father didn’t let me do everything he did. I won’t let my sons do everything I did. When my sons come into the outdoors with me, I hope they see that I’m putting their enjoyment — and safety — first. My father was the same way, trying to show me the wonders — and the dangers — that lay outside our door.
Jason Stein as a boy in Kansas. By the time this photo was taken he had been hunting for many years in his native state.
Jason Stein's son Zane (right), then 14, and his friend Anne Motoviloff show off a pair of wood ducks bagged during the 2015 youth waterfowl hunt.
Jason Stein's 12-year-old son Xavier Stein looks out at Upper Mud Lake as they motor home from the September youth waterfowl opener.