At deer camp, when we are not out in the woods hunting deer, we are often inside the camp talking about deer hunting.

One of the topics this time around at deer camp was the increasing visibility of youthful deer hunters, in this publication and in other daily and weekly newspapers. It used to be that a youthful deer hunter was typically a 15-year-old boy, whose father decided that it was time to “bring him along.”

Times are a changin’.

For a number of years now, we have had the Youth Day Deer Hunt, a special day put aside exclusively for youngsters to hunt deer with an adult mentor. The philosophy behind the special youth day seemed sensible: Knowing that our hunting heritage’s future is being endangered by competition from a maze of electronic gadgetry, it makes sense to acknowledge this fact of modernity by enacting a law that enhances the youngster’s deer hunting experience. In other words, get ’em hooked young. In this age of instant gratification and video war games, it is not easy sometimes to interest a youngster in the prospect of a cold morning, sitting still in a tree stand or ground blind.

The equation changed markedly a few years back when Maine passed another law doing away with a minimum age for youthful hunters. Today, it’s is strictly up to the parents. We now have 7-year-old kids, with the help of dad or an adult mentor, bagging a deer. This is becoming increasingly commonplace.

Some of us at our deer camp are not sure that this is all for the better. Non-hunters who catch an occasional outdoor TV show are already being misled or duped about what big game hunting is truly all about. And we wonder if a pre-teen youngster who shoots a deer from his Dad’s ground blind really is being exposed to the essence of the Maine deer hunt. There is so much more to it than simply dispatching a deer attracted to a food plot.

There are the sunrises and the sunsets. The long-awaited tracking snow. The long, cold vigils hunkered down on a stark, windswept beech ridge. Tiring slogs through cedar bogs. Long moments of solitude and, at times, sheer boredom, waiting for a crunch, crunch that seems never to happen.

Not all the seasoned deer hunters I know recount a trophy kill when pressed to recollect their most memorable deer hunt. Here’s an excerpt from my book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook, that is beyond doubt the most memorable hunt that my nephew says will remain forever etched in his mind as a hunt of a lifetime. It is about the dreaded deer hunter’s malaise: buck fever.

“He came to the grunt. I could not believe it. He was a 100 yards from me and I grunted again. He came closer and stopped. He looked right at me at 70 yards. I was on my knees. With the scope dialed up at 7X, I put him in the crosshairs. Gawd, he was huge! He filled the scope. Never saw a rack like that, ever!”

“What happened, man? What happened?”

We pleaded as our storyteller let the suspense build.

“I can’t believe it,” he says softly, shaking his head. “He was just standing there, but I rushed the shot.”

The room goes silent, except for the crackling wood fire.

“I missed,” he croaks.

” Well, did you have the crosshairs on him?” his father asks without an accusatory tone.

The storyteller pauses as if in thought. “The truth? I don’t know. I was a wreck, a wreck! Shaking all over. Awful. I never had it so bad. That buck looked so big and so close in that scope I figured that he had to see me and was about to bolt. I really blew it, man.”

He jumps up from the table, takes off his orange hat and slams it to the floor. “I blew it!” he exclaims to the camp rafters.

Then words of comfort from fellow hunters. Words like “Hey, we’ll get him next year” and “It could have happened to any of us.”

Getting back to the youth hunter. None of us at deer camp had an easy answer to the question as to the implications of younger and younger deer hunters. We do know that deer hunting, to be truly understood and experienced, must be a growing, learning process. Fathers and mentors of real young hunters are challenged to help a youngster see and become aware of more than the shooting act itself. Without careful direction the danger is that it is just another video game to temporarily titillate the participant and be left on the shelf.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.


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