The Old Man walked slowly because he was old, or maybe he’d lasted long enough to be old because he walked slowly.
Mostly he was quiet but when he talked, it was worth remembering. Sometimes he talked about things that are as interesting now as they were then, but for different reasons.
“When you ask me about how to get a kid started hunting, I’d have to tell you that’s the easiest thing on Earth to do,” he said one time, though I didn’t recall asking him about getting a kid started hunting. “The secret is making sure you make it fun, and getting him or her to understand what’s right and what’s wrong, what you can do and what you can’t, what’s safe and what’s not.
“To me, I think the best way to do it is to start them off with something like squirrel hunting or dove hunting, where you can be with them and control their shooting and their gun handling. Whatever you do, you’ve got to have him right where you can put your hands on him. Most of them like to burn powder. At that point, knowing the safety rules and having fun, in that order, are all that matter. Once it starts to be contagious with him, you can make a little headway with instructions about being still and watching the wind and that sort of thing.
“Safety has to be first, and you can’t stress it too much. It’s the most important thing no matter what.
“It gets to be a little more difficult somewhere between 14 and 17 when they know everything, but it’s worth the trouble to go through it in the end.”
I guess he thought he was at the end of it with me, because I was hunting on my own a good bit by that time. I’d been asking him about the hunting camps he’d been to. There weren’t any deer around when he was a boy or for most of his life, for that matter, but he and his friends retreated to squirrel camp a few times a year.
“If you can get your kids to be amongst a group of hunters that you know are going to do it right,” he said, “a lot of times they can correct the child and the child won’t take offense to it, when a lot of times the child would kind of bristle up at Daddy telling them the same thing. You do have to be careful about this though because once you put them in that situation and Mr. So And So tells him that’s the way something’s done, it’s the gospel. So you have to be certain they’ll tell it the right way. If you pick your friends right, though, you don’t have to worry about that.
“You don’t have to worry about the kid taking to hunting. All you need to do is expose him to it. Like a duck to water, they’re going to love it if you offer it the right way. It’s such an easy task to expose them to it, and in the end that’s all it takes.”
The wisdom of that message continues to reveal itself, reminding me of the virtues of walking slowly.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.