Participation in conservation leads young people to hunt

I am a blessed father of two beautiful daughters, both of whom are in their teens. They have a lot to do, so quality time with them is valuable. Spending time with dad is usually not their best prospect for fun. Looking back, I was the same at their age. That’s why it meant so much when my youngest daughter Annabel asked if we could go turkey hunting during Missouri’s youth season.

My eldest daughter Bailee killed two turkeys, the first when she was only 7 years old. I pushed too soon with her. Although she was excited to go at that age and catch a bird, the recoil of her shotgun hurt her. She had only trained with a recoil reducing shooting rest. I soon realized that I had made several mistakes while wiping the tears from her cheeks. After that, I never chased any of my daughters again. I would ask, but I would accept their refusal. Until Bailee arrived and took her second turkey at the age of 14.

It’s normal for parents to want their children to share a mutual love for the hobbies and activities they enjoy. I have never hesitated to share my passions with my daughters. I don’t think I treated them differently than I would have treated a son. My daughters have been exposed to the outdoors since they were born. And while it’s safe to say that neither of them is eaten up by a specific outdoor activity, they both appreciate nature, love wildlife, and understand the importance of conservation.

Annabel has a good heart. In her first year of high school, she will tell you that she wants to go into marine biology and live by the ocean. I have this vision of her rehabilitating sea turtles in an open-air laboratory. It warms my heart. I am proud and admire his compassion for animals. And I know it’s confusing to some people, including her, that you can absolutely love animals while hunting and killing them. Hearing someone say that can leave someone scratching their head thinking, you love animals but you kill them. It’s quite contradictory.

With time, however, it can be shown how this is possible. I deliberately tried to do just that with my daughters. As they see me hunting and coming home with deer, turkeys, ducks and other wild game, they also see me and sometimes help me with habitat work to improve the land for wildlife. Not just the species we hunt. All mammals, birds, insects, invertebrates, fish and aquatic species that live there. We plant native trees and plants. And we talk about climate change, the environment and our responsibility to do better for our planet.

When I bring game home, the goal is to eat it. I’ve heard the argument that people in this country no longer need to hunt for food. For the most part, that’s true. But I want to hunt for food. Because on the one hand wild game meat is better than any protein I can go buy on a piece of polystyrene wrapped in plastic or frozen in a plastic bag. If you don’t know the richness of venison tenderloin, you’ve missed out on one of life’s pleasures. My daughters have experienced the care we take with game meat. They grab the premium benefits.

This full-circle effect of participating in habitat activities beneficial to ecology and wildlife, and then feeding one’s body with the life supported by those habitats, brings a level of understanding that non-participants will never grasp. Understanding the beginning and end of this life cycle, I believe, helped 15-year-old Annabel finally decide that she wanted to go turkey hunting with me. She knew it was her last chance to chase a youthful season and she said she wanted to. I was surprised and very happy. I never pushed her. She made her decision on her own.

We were fortunate enough to be invited to hunt with State Representative Bruce Sassmann and his wonderful wife, Jan. They own a beautiful farm in Osage County where they have undertaken a major conservation plan. The few structures they built for their Legends of Conservation program are also impressive. On site is a replica of Aldo Leopold’s cabin and Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. Annabel had previously visited the Sassmanns to watch conservation re-enactors portray Leopold and Thoreau, as well as Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir. She was delighted to return there to hunt.

It was cold the morning of the youth season opener here in Missouri. After about an hour of suffering, Annabel made her way to Thoreau’s cabin and borrowed a blanket from the bed. Now blind roasted, we settled in for a spectacular show that included a dozen hens and a tall, beautiful gobbler that spat, drummed and circled around, all spread out, but wouldn’t come within shooting distance. But a bearded hen was, and Anna wasn’t going to be picky. With a perfect shot, she took her first bird.

After much adulation at the Sassmanns’ barn, I cleaned the turkey and we headed home. Annabel quickly fell asleep in the passenger seat as I reconciled all the emotions. Bailee was quite shocked that sweet little Annabel killed a turkey. That night we ate grilled wild turkey, fresh never frozen, with salad and fries. An incredible meal that you will never find on a restaurant menu.

I’m proud of Annabel for going on the hunt because it took her a long time to develop her desire. I feel like she got there honestly and on her own initiative. She’ll probably never be someone who hunts all the time, but she did, said she’ll probably do it again. She has come full circle.

See you on the trail.

Brandon Butler writing and outside column for the Republic. To send comments for [email protected] For After Driftwood Outside, Check outside the Podcast on or everywhere podcasts are broadcast continuously.

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