This is the time of year when our thoughts are often focused on shopping lists and to-do lists, rather than getting outdoors, but we should all make sure that is one thing that is on all of our lists. Time spent outside, no matter what you’re doing – hunting, fishing, hiking, boiling up, or at the wood – is a remedy for much of what this hectic time of year has in store for us.
For those days, and there will be many, when the weather keeps you house-bound, make sure your November/December issue of the Newfoundland Sportsman Magazine is on your shopping list.
And speaking of shopping, a subscription to our magazine makes an excellent stocking stuffer. Click here to tick a few names off your list.
By Jen Shears
I appreciate nature. I value the vast wild spaces of our incredible province. I treasure the opportunities that we can access and I feel this way because that’s how I was raised.
From a very early age, my parents instilled in my sister and I a reverence for the lands, seas and the creatures that inhabit them. Part of that reverence involved using these resources in a sustainable way.
Hiking, snowmobiling, camping, hunting, fishing and the wild food that these activities yield were the foundation of our upbringing.
I joke (although it’s true) that when I was growing up, if I didn’t eat bear and moose, I didn’t eat. Wild game was a staple in our house. The Lewis Hills on the west coast of Newfoundland were our second home.
My husband Kerry and I have a 7-year-old daughter named Aspen, and our priority is to raise her with a deep connection to the outdoors – hunting, fishing, trapping and wild food. We often hear people telling their children that the meat on their plate is “chicken” to get them to eat it. When Aspen was younger, we had to tell her that chicken was moose. Our mainland friends get a kick out of that.
In our quest to raise Aspen as I was raised, we bring her along on many outdoor adventures.
She lives for fishing and she’s quite the little trout catcher, whether the water is in liquid or solid form.
Her biggest outdoor adventure thus far was a caribou hunt last fall. I had a licence, so one weekend we packed up Aspen, an outfitter tent, wood stove, quad, lots of gear and two young family-friends who are in their late teens (Conrad and Jenna), then headed off to the Gaff Topsails for a weekend of caribou hunting. On the drive out, Aspen was practising her caribou snorts, as her goal for the weekend was to call in a stag. She was full of excitement and anticipation for what the hunting trip would bring.
We arrived on Friday evening and set up our tent and woodstove, then saw a few moose and a couple of young caribou as we were lighting the fire. We got up early the next day, and despite the fog that greeted us, we saw a small group of caribou with a nice stag. We spent most of the morning walking out to where we saw them, but by the time got out there, they were gone.
It was a bit tough for Aspen to keep up, but she did very well. She tried her hand at caribou calling to see if they would come back, but it was to no avail.
In the evening we spotted another herd off in the distance, so we decided that Aspen would stay with Conrad and Jenna while Kerry and I hiked toward the animals. While we were out there, Conrad fired at some geese, which was a thrill for Aspen. She also found a geocache – a plastic container filled with random goodies. She added a “duck bullet” (her word for a spent shotgun shell), and was proud as a peacock for having contributed to it. As for Kerry and I, we walked many miles but I didn’t end up squeezing the trigger.
We returned to the tent and had a great night sharing stories and telling a few large tales about what we did that day.
The next morning, we began to pack up camp, prepared to come back some other weekend. Aspen had fun helping out and painting some small rocks with Jenna, and since we hadn’t harvested a caribou to take home, the rocks would be her souvenirs of the weekend.
While bringing a load of gear to the truck, Kerry and Conrrad spotted a nice stag with a few does not too far away, so we all headed towards them.
When we got within 200 yards, Aspen made a few snorts and to our surprise the stag was interested! He presented me with a shot and I took it. He dropped almost immediately into the thick, shadow grass.
I headed out toward the caribou, but couldn’t see him. The next thing I knew, Aspen was shouting, “Mom, he’s here!”
I had misjudged where the stag was and Aspen was the first person to see him on the ground. We processed the caribou and our daughter’s little hands did their share of work. It was the first big game animal she had seen being processed and although at one point she said, “I think I’m going to throw up,” she told us she really enjoyed the whole event.
On our way home we reminisced about our weekend and the last-minute caribou harvest. It was a fantastic trip, although Aspen was disappointed when she realized we didn’t have to go back the following weekend. When we got home she recounted the adventure to friends and family and told them that “she” got a caribou. It made me so proud. And she was correct – she found him first, so finders keepers, right?
It was a wonderful first attempt at big game hunting with a (then) 6-year-old, and starting children young is key. A foundation is easier to build at an early age before friends and media become bigger influences in their lives. Here are some of my tips when involving children in outdoor pursuits:
– Bring friends/family to help with childcare/supervision.
– Invest in good gear so the child is comfortable in all conditions. This includes clothing for all weather and a head net in case the insects are bad.
– Even if you have all the right gear, try to plan the excursion around good weather. Being miserable due to bad weather can ruin the experience for a beginner.
– Don’t have high expectations. Enjoying the fresh air and time together are what matter most.
– If the child makes a mistake (i.e. they talk and scare off the target animal), don’t make a big deal of it. Use it as a gentle opportunity to teach them about how animals have great senses of smell and hearing.
– Don’t push too hard by making the child walk too far or too fast. You don’t want to turn them off.
– Snacks and treats are a must. Before you head out, remove snacks from noisy packaging and wrap them in paper towels so they are quieter to eat when in the field.
– Plan for a campfire and/or boil-up. Kids love them.
– When possible, target multiple species/activities to make the experience less monotonous. Mix in activities like fishing, hunting, birding, games (i.e. who can spot the first animal or most birds), etc.
– Start children with less strenuous activities (i.e. small hikes, easy fishing, bear hunting from a stand, duck hunting from a blind, trying a stalk on a nearby caribou herd, etc.).
– Remember that the child’s highlight might not be the actual hunt. It might be something small along the way, but it’s all associated with the hunt, and that’s what matters.
– Invite the child’s involvement in all aspects – spotting, processing, photos, etc.
– Tell them (and others) how proud you are of their effort.
– As much as I hate to say it, bringing along an iPad or tablet with games or shows that don’t require wifi. It can help break up the time and make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.
– Get the child to take photos with their iPad/tablet. When they’re using it in the future they will come across the images and it will reinforce the fun memories.
– Every now and again, sneak in messages around safety and conservation
The most important part is to have fun and encourage children to engage in outdoor pursuits. Today’s youth will be leaders and policy makers before we know it. We need them to think of hunting, fishing, the outdoors, and conservation as critical parts of our heritage and future – and I’m living proof that involving children at a young age is one of the best ways to ensure that happens.
The November/December Cover features Jen Shears posing with her stag caribou as daughter Aspen jumps for joy
(Photo by Jenna Laing)
Photo of the Week
Kim Enserink’s first big game animal – a trophy stag caribou – was harvested on opening day of the 2019 season in Middle Ridge. Send us your photos for your chance to be our Photo of the Week and win a free subscription to The Newfoundland Sportsman. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org