Alaska editorial: Pass down hunting traditions this season

Posted: Monday, September 11, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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If the kind of people we become is a direct result of our life experiences, then the things that we do as young people - the firsts, those early milestones - are of supreme importance.

Psychologists and social scientists have lots of research, brain-twisting jargon and acronyms for these experiences and what they mean for young people. But for us moms and pops, uncles and cousins, and big brothers and sisters the whole of it comes down to spending time with younger family members and seeing that they get to enjoy the things we enjoyed - or wished we could have enjoyed - in our own youth.

And that brings us to the opening of waterfowl season and the popular moose hunting season in the Interior. Though the opening days of a variety of hunts fall elsewhere on the calendar, the beginning of September could be called a sort of ceremonial opener.

Hunting is an activity rich with cultural and family traditions - traditions that should be passed along to younger generations.

It is tough for a lot of us work-a-day folk, these days, to find time to hunt, so the idea of taking along a youngster involves some willingness to share that valuable time. But, those who have spent that time know that it is not only worth it, but that the act of sharing the time itself becomes a satisfying experience afield.

Consider the many milestones and first experiences to achieve, and it soon becomes clear that the hunting is made to be shared and is naturally an activity for teaching self-reliance, responsibility, ethics and respect.

Even the youngest children quickly fall into the spirit of a camp setting where everyone needs to pitch in to set up house, build a fire, prepare the meal and fend off the elements. Responsibilities like gathering firewood are quickly taught and easily adopted as valuable camp roles. Early personal gear for a youngster might include a compass and compact binoculars. As they get a little older, maybe they are awarded their first hunting knife, a small milestone that shows they have earned trust. Children can learn how to use a goose or duck call, and the awarding of that first call of their very own can be memorable.

Often the trip to the woods involves boating or driving all-terrain vehicles, and that requires training, adult guidance, and a gradual gaining of responsibility and independence in their use.

Then, of course, the first time a young person gets a firearm or bow of their own is a major event. No matter how old they get, hunters remember the first time they were allowed to go afield on their own.

Many hunters still have their first knife, first gun, a duck call or some other memento bestowed them by a mentor.

As they age, all hunters continue to savor accomplishments. It may be the time their first hunting dog follows commands and makes a retrieve, the first time they use a duck or goose call to effect and crouch frozen as a flock sets its wings and zeroes in on the hunter's position.

Then there is the first moose, first caribou, bear or other big game animal; the biggest, the most exciting, the most exotic, the most adventurous hunts, and the list goes on.

And then there is the best hunt, often that time when the hunter has grown to the point they are ready to be a mentor themselves, and they find there is nothing so satisfying as realizing a tradition passed on and to see it carried out by a son, daughter or youngster they have taught themselves.

The opening of the hunting season is a day for grand traditions, and it's a time to share that tradition with the younger generations.

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