Life lessons in the deer stand

Published 2:37 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

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From an early age, my children were introduced to firearms. We teach them they are powerful tools made to kill living things. They never should be played with, only used for their intended purpose. 


We first started teaching gun safety with wooden toy guns, teaching them never to point it at anything they don’t intend on shooting. 

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Next, we brought out the Red Ryder BB gun. After explaining how not to shoot their eye out, they learned how to aim. More importantly they learned the concept of knowing your target and what is behind it. 


A neighborhood path runs behind our house, so there’s only one safe area to shoot. It confused the kids at first. 


“Why can’t we just look to see if anyone is there before we shoot.” 


Here my wife and I taught them that the smallest risk is not worth taking with gun safety. 


A .22 caliber rifle is the next logical step in the gun continuum. It makes a loud crack and it can hit targets farther away. Around this point, our son started hunting squirrels. 


Before each shot, we go through a mental checklist. See the target. Check beyond the target. Line up the sight. Safety off. Slowly squeeze the trigger. Last, but most importantly, click on the safety. 


At any point during this checklist, something may not feel right. The squirrel might not be visible. There may be another animal behind the squirrel. The excitement running through your body is making the gun shake. 


If any of these things occur, it’s time to start the checklist over or take a break. I’ve tried to teach my kid there’s no shame in not taking a shot where you weren’t confident in the outcome. 


On Sunday, the plan was for my son to try to take a whitetail doe. He has done it before and has been anxiously awaiting his opportunity. The deer have been too far away on previous hunts, but he remained excited and patient. 


A group of deer came out inside his range. I saw him raise the rifle and mentally go through his checklist. He clicked the safety off, but began to breathe heavy. After what seemed like an hour, he put the safety on and said he couldn’t get comfortable. 


Shortly after, a large buck walked out into the field. I told him to take a shot if he was ready. He went through the checklist again and paused with even more shaking. “Buck fever” had struck. 


He turned the safety on and handed the rifle to me, which I happily obliged. After the shot rang out I looked with pride at my son. He was visibly discouraged saying “I just don’t know why I couldn’t stay still. I wanted to shoot it just didn’t feel right.”


My son thought I would be disappointed. With joy in my heart I explained that this made me happier than taking my biggest deer. My goal as a father is not to make a hunter, but a man who understands the gravity of his actions on the world. When something doesn’t feel right, have the courage not to do it. This lesson that started with a wooden toy gun will hopefully carry on through the rest of his life.