I hunted when I was a young kid

My fa­ther en­sured safety was top pri­or­ity in field

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - Ja­son Stein

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.

FAM­ILY PHOTO

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 / MILWAUKEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

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.

MILWAUKEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL JA­SON STEIN /

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.

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