“Never, ever miss an opportunity to include a child or someone who might not ask to go—just ask them. If there's someone you think, you know, I wonder if Bob would like to go. Well, don't wonder! Call Bob and ask him or ask Bob to bring his kids,” said Brent Reaves, a lifelong hunter, trapper, fisherman, and committed outdoorsman. You might catch Reaves on Clay Newcomb’s Bear Grease Render podcasts. He shared this sentiment a few weeks back on my pod, Elevate Your Game. 

The good old days are mostly past when most kids were raised nearly feral on acres of wild land. Sixty years ago, the rules for kids during summer holidays were simple:

1) stay away from the water when you're on your own,

2) if you're hungry, supper is at six, but otherwise come home by dark. Most nine-year-old kids could shoot the eye of a prairie dog at 50 paces with their open-sighted single shot .22 Cooey or Lakefield. A good number of those kids ran their trap lines, which provided pocket money and deeply ingrained life lessons in addition to ample entertainment after school.

Kids participated in scouting for fresh places to hunt and could positively identify male and female versions of whitetail deer, elk, and antelope, and two kinds of bears. They helped with skinning freshly killed animals, cutting and wrapping game, and making sausage. Dads and uncles hunted, and sometimes aunties and moms, but everyone in the neighborhood celebrated a successful hunt after that 30-06 or 270 Winchester resting in the back of the window of the family pickup got a workout.

Kids also learned early how to bait hooks and figure out which strategy for fishing was most successful for whatever fish were targeted on that body of water during each season and each type of weather. Kids learned how to rig a bobber, how deep to run the bait, how to jig, how to bottom bounce, and how to chuck brass spoons half a football field from the shore or a boat.

Reaves said, “I can remember the first duck that came in when I was 11-years-old. It came into the decoys and I shot it out of the air. I can remember just like it was yesterday—smell the cordite, you know, it was floating across the timber where we were standing. I hold in reverence a lot of things like that, and I'm sure a lot of other people do too. It's so valuable to me and it's so pure and it's so human to interact with nature in that way. I want to fill up the freezer. I love to shoot ducks and turkeys, but I also know that we’ve got to take care of those things and I feel responsible as a steward of nature to help people see that.”

Taking a kid along just might change their life (and yours). Today, more of us live in cities than ever before in the history of the world. Electronic distractions abound from the assortment of Roblox games to Minecraft. I used to spend my allowance on Len Thompson spoons, mostly solid brass red and white and five diamonds, the big number twos. The local Northern Pike were hard on spoons and stainless-steel leaders. Most of the time, kids now don't even know if they want to hunt or fish because they've never even had the opportunity to see what's involved. Someone has to offer to take them along. Be that someone.

The cool thing about outdoor pursuits with kids is there are unlimited interesting things to learn and there's time to talk and listen. Can you identify that birdsong? What about this turd? Is it a deer bear or goose? (Kids love checking out turds, as do I). Where are you most likely to find bears or hares in the spring? What about the fall grouse and whitetail? In winter, what signs do you look for to find game? Can you tell the difference between a grizzly bear and a black bear by tracks and scat? While we're on bears, are all black bears black?

Plan ahead. Get mom and dad's permission and engagement. Pack some favorite snacks and drinks. Think up about 10 questions in advance that you might ask your guest, if needed. I noticed my grandkids are sort of quiet when we're all together, but one-on-one they have an unending list of questions. There are other things to talk about in the woods too. Which mushrooms are the best to eat? Have you made homemade pizza with foraged mushrooms? How about making shortbread cookies with spruce tips? Be prepared to prime the conversation pump to get them started, if needed.

Reaves said, “You'll always have time for yourself, but you may not always have the opportunity to include someone that wouldn't get to go otherwise. I just think it's so important, especially for a child, to get them in there because it's wholesome and something to be shared. You don't have to be successful for it to be fun, because if you just look around you there are red birds and there are blue jays and there are crows and there are bugs and there are different trees to look at. There's always something to learn. There's always something to pass on. My advice is don't think about including somebody else, just include them because it's just like a burden being cut in half when you share it with someone. The joy is doubled when you share it with them.”

Remember the priority is making sure whoever is along for the ride or day has some good fun. They need to learn something and be left with a desire to come along again. Offer them the chance to come along again when the day ends.

My kids started early on varmints with a rimfire .22. After a couple of years and some coaching, my boys brought their centrefires when they were 12-years-old. Each of them tagged a whitetail the first season they could legally do so. Now they have kids of their own and are gearing up to train the next generation of hunters.

“You've only got so many sunrises to see. And you'll cheat yourself if you don't get out there and share it with somebody you like, share it with somebody you love. Be grateful for what you have and just get out there and enjoy life. I think on my tombstone it’s going to say ‘I had a good time’,” Reaves said. He also talked about including his older brother, Tim, on hunts when the only thing Brent could do was get in the way of a decent hunt. But he took Brent anyway. This is a great lesson for all of us.

What will you do this fall? Whom will you take along?