I’m just a simple country boy who grew up in the middle of a cornfield in Ohio. You know, running around chasing frogs, dogs, cats, playing with sticks and in the ditch that ran behind our house on that little 3 ½ acres. After all those years that little plot of land seemed to become too small as I grew older, and my desire to venture grew. However, as I think we all eventually do, the appreciation for my roots was realized in the years to come.
My dad and grandpa are some of the hardest working and most consistent people I have ever known. I’ve heard other people say the same for their relation, and I like those people. I hope everyone had a perspective of this work ethic at some point, because it’s something our future generations desperately need. My grandpa, dad, mom, grandma all showed and taught me the value of hard work and consistency. To dad I was often the “gopher”: “go – pher” this, go – get that… When younger he often did a lot of showing, but eventually let me work with it hands on, and taught me many things I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.
When possible we tried to do most things ourselves. We did a lot of hunting. Not all, but much of what we ate came from what we harvested ourselves during hunting season. Skinning and cleaning everything from rabbits, deer, ducks, geese, fish and even snapping turtles was taught to me by my father and grandfather. I didn’t think this was outside the norm at all while growing up; it became part of my existence, and I learned to work hard to harvest these animals. But most of all it was taught to respect and appreciate that their harvest meant providing food for my family and self.
Dad constantly preached ethical shooting and consistent practice with firearms and bows. That way when it was time to take game in the field we did so in the most humane means possible. I cannot guess the arrows shot through my bow or hours on the gun range. All this began for me from about 8 years old on. I still remember the first rabbits I harvested – 2 back to back as our beagles ran them around, one shot each with a double barrel .410 when I was maybe 9 years old. My first whitetail deer at 30 yards with a PSE Nova bow from the stand my dad and I were quietly awaiting in after hours when I was 9 years old. My first pheasant and first goose with my 20 gauge Remington 1100 youth model. All these stories remain vivid and fresh for me and still excite me. Now I have come to appreciate the respect my dad instilled in me for these creatures as well as the aptitude he demanded to be afield.
In relaying my story, the point is that mentoring our youth in the art of shooting and hunting is something to be passed down and continued to be taught. The respect for the animals needs to be taught. The knowledge of weapons, how to use them safely, how to care for them needs to be taught. Humans have been an intricate part of this ever-evolving circle of life for some time now. Our landscapes have changed, how we gather sustenance has changed, our interactions with nature have changed. By continuing to support the proper modes of shooting and hunting, we pass on more information than we realize.
I began into a youth shooting program at about 9 years old. YHEC (Youth Hunter Education Challenge) consisted of 8 events: shotgun, rifle, muzzleloader, archery, orienteering, hunter safety trail, wildlife identification, and a hunter proficiency exam. This program was geared to be a fundamental lesson to teach the next generation of hunters. I was never the greatest athlete growing up, although I could hold my own more often than not on the wrestling mat and the cross country trails. But I truly found a purpose and excelled in my shooting. My father, family, and the many volunteers we met throughout our 10 years during this program had a huge role in teaching me these life-long lessons.
The lessons I learned from shooting transcend into all areas of my life today. Most of all, consistency and hard work are going to be required for whatever you aspire to accomplish. It may feel like you’re getting nowhere at times, but if you stay the course, advancement will occur. Patience is required, when on the rifle range, archery range, or in the deer stand or duck blind. The work that you put in now, today, will not manifest today, but will culminate and begin to appear in the months and years ahead as long as you continue to hone your skills. I was not good at these things at first, but I enjoyed them and realized the potential they had to benefit me later in life. Recognizing this motivation helped me to improve other areas of my life.
Years later, now my wife and I work together in business, and I still look back to the principles that began being fostered during my shooting years. These still serve me and have helped provide me a solid platform for growth to this day. In our business, one of our core values is empowering youth through not only conventional sports, but those which improve a person’s character, moral compass, work ethic, and teach life lessons. I was motivated to write these ideas because of a youth shoot my wife and I sponsored and competed in a few days ago. The funds raised went towards our local youth shooting team. I was taken back to my younger self for the first time in so long. In these young shooters I saw traits which were reminiscent of myself years ago, and those of the many friends I met along the way, some of who became life-long friends. This is what gives us our passion, our fire. The opportunity to help others realize their potential.