Day before yesterday was Saturday. I dragged myself out of bed that morning at 4:15am and stumbled into my kid’s bedroom. I gave my sound-asleep thirteen year old son, James, a wake-up nudge. Not even two seconds later his eyes blinked wide open and he practically sprang out of bed. With a big smile on his face he gave me a thumbs-up and headed downstairs for some breakfast. The boy was raring to go.
It was to be my son’s first day hunting geese. He was going with someone who is an experienced goose hunter. Which means, alas, he wasn’t going with me.
James was going hunting with a man named George, who is an avid sportsman. George and his wife, Sandy, have been good friends of our family for a long time. They are Christians. They are agrarians. They are homeschoolers. Their youngest son is about the same age as James. But, unlike James, he isn’t interested in hunting. James told me George’s son thinks hunting is boring.
I drove James to George and Sandy’s log cabin home located about 15 minutes from our place. George outfitted him with a 12-gauge over-and-under shotgun. They headed out in George’s pickup to meet with another man, Tom, his six-year-old son, and Gunnar, a black lab birddog.
Before daylight, the hunting party had set themselves up a few rows inside a corn field. They were sitting comfortably in folding camp chairs. In front of them was an alfalfa field with a pond. They set decoys up in the field. Obscured by the corn and some camouflage netting, they waited for daylight.
It was a frosty-cold November morning but James was dressed for it. Picture this: He had on my military surplus “Mickey Mouse” boots (waterproof and incredibly warm, though a few sizes too big for him), insulated Carhart pants, a military surplus wool sweater, Belgian military parka with hood (the coat hung down well below his waist), my insulated deerhide gloves (the best winter gloves I’ve ever owned), and a well-worn, all-leather, WWII aviator’s cap (surprisingly warm).
The geese came in batches, from all directions and many gathered on the pond. Tom was using a call. None of the birds came within shooting range. Then, around 8:30 some geese flew over low enough to shoot. George downed two of them. At the sound of the shot all the geese that had gathered on the pond took flight and headed directly over the hunters. Tom shot two. James shot twice at the last goose to pass over. His second shot brought it down.
Before he went hunting, I wondered if James would like it. I thought he might find it too boring or too cold. But that wasn’t the case. James had a great time. He loved the whole experience.
My son returned home later in the afternoon, goose in hand. Well, not exactly all the goose. I guess it is customary to cut out only the meaty portions of the bird (breast and legs). So he had a plastic bag with red meat. I never realized wild geese have red meat.
The next day (Sunday morning) George and Sanday sat next to us in church. I thanked George for taking James hunting. I figured one hunting session with James would be enough for George. He said they had a good time and, to my surprise, wondered if James could go out hunting again the next morning. It sounded good to me.
That afternoon Marlene cooked the goose (Sandy told her how after church). She sliced the cooked meat into slivers and we all tasted it. On James’s first bite, he chomped down on a small piece of steel shot. Other than that hazard, the meat tasted pretty good. I think it would be better with some sort of sauce. Perhaps some of the chutney Marlene canned a couple years ago (I’ll have to see if there is a jar left in the pantry).
This morning (another frosty one) James was back in the field hunting. The corn had been harvested so they tried a ground blind. No luck. Then he and George went back home for a canoe and headed out to a few special locations. George said he could tell his mom and dad where they went but not anyone else. Hunters like to keep their best hunting locations kind of secret.
They ended up canoeing slowly up a stream that went into a swamp. George, in the back, paddled, while James was in the bow, gun at the ready. They saw some ducks and geese but none close enough to shoot. James and George hunted for just about the entire day. They didn’t get a single bird, but James sure did have a good time of it. While most boys his age were in government school, James was out hunting in the wild. That is the beauty of homeschooling a boy. Flexibility. When something more important comes up, you just go do it.
Some who read this may be wondering why I wasn’t hunting with my son. I could have and perhaps I should have, but I decided against it for a specific reason. I wrote about it somewhat back in three 2005 blog essays: A Son’s Identity, A Son’s Identity (Part 2), and A Son’s Identity (Part 3).
Those essays were about providing wholesome role models for boys. I asserted that fathers should be wholesome role models, but that fathers should also help their sons to find other role models. My friend, George is a fine role model. I know him to be a man of integrity and strong Christian conviction, in addition to being a knowledgeable sportsman (something I am not).
There is something else associated with this matter of shaping a boy’s identity that I know I’ve mentioned here before but can’t recall where it was. I believe it is very, very important that a boy, as he gets older, develops wholesome interests and skills that are his alone within the family. He becomes the specialist in this particular area of expertise; the resident expert. When this happens, the boy develops self-esteem and confidence, and it leads him to become more independent. Independent at 13 years old? Well, yes, to a degree. Slowly but surely we want our sons to learn skills, acquire wisdom, and develop confidence so they can one day leave to establish their own family.
I hope they won’t leave too far, but that’s another blog subject for another day. And if I had girls, I would not want be training them for independence (and that’s a blog I will let someone else write, since none of my children are girls).
In the final analysis, James is actively pursuing a healthy interest. He is learning about how to build blinds, how to call geese, how to position the decoys, how to cut the meat off the bird, and much more. He is now the goose hunter of the family. And someday I will go goose hunting with him. When I do, he will be able to teach me how it’s done. That’s something I’m looking forward to.
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