Sweet 16

Sweet 16 | Shooting Sportsman Magazine
Illustration by Gordon Allen

An unexpected pleasure of hunting with a youngster is how time rewinds itself. On a preserve hunt for pheasants last winter, Daniel, my 16-year-old son, toted the 12-gauge he uses as a member of his high school trap-shooting team. Daniel had shot his first pheasant at the preserve with a Stevens 20-gauge single-shot, and we figured the larger bore and his consistent scores of 20-plus on the trap range would translate well in the field. I left my gun home and hunted with a camera.

A related observation: Most bird dogs hunt the way their owners do. Tear through the weed field, for example, and your dog likely will run faster and flush any pheasants out of range. Amble through grouse woods, and your dog, especially if trained, will slow down and hunt methodically. Daniel has ADHD and is always in a hurry. His shorthair, Bounce, tends to rush too. Following the pair into a field of sorghum, I soon gave up trying to keep up.

My rear-guard perspective sparked a déjà vu of sorts. Suddenly there I was, combing a farm field with my pointer casting ahead like an outfielder chasing a fly ball. Then the scent strike, the point, the lanky kid moving up—body tense, gun ready—and the splash of color as the ringneck blasts out, scales to escape and folds, followed by the sound of gunfire.

Watching Daniel and his dog brought back the thrill of bird hunting and how it set aside those stresses of getting good grades, the weekend job demands, the coach’s expectations, the fear of public speaking and those mysterious hormonal triggers.

You’d think a kid born in Latin America (before my wife and I adopted him) would love soccer. Daniel hates soccer but loves football. An all-American teen, he works an after-school job, plays sports, struggles to pass Latin and soon will take his driving test. He thinks hunting and shooting trap are cool, and he relishes playing video games. Watching him and Bounce experience sheer joy at the hunting preserve while—thankfully—doing what kids and bird dogs still can do was hugely satisfying.
And it was proof my son knows where the “delete” key is.

In most states the hunting-preserve seasons are much longer than those for wild game. In Michigan, where we live, licensed commercial preserves are open for eight months of the year. Every day you pay for released birds is opening day.

Daniel went three for three on pheasants and saw how the trap range had clearly honed his shooting skills. I learned that hunting with a kid takes one back to being a kid.

Tom Huggler’s Grouse of North America and A Fall of Woodcock won national acclaim and are now collectible. His Quail Hunting in America (Stackpole) is still in print. A Fall of Woodcock was reprinted recently by Skyhorse Publishing.

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1 Comment

  • You are lucky your son has taken to shotgunning and pheasant hunting. An unfortunate 1st time out with my 16 year old created a loss of interest in the sport. For his hunting initiation we hit the skeet field until he was comfortable with a 12 gauge O/U, hitting 16-18 a round. Then for the hunt. I “mistakenly” brought along his school chum who also was also a noob. My son missed every bird. His friend, who never fired a shotgun before, hit every bird with the first barrel. With his confidence shaken and his friend getting a limit, I could see his competitive spirit was wounded. Subsequent “only him” trips resulted in few flushes and bad weather. After that, gentle invitations to go work the dog always were declined having always something else to do on weekends. Sad.

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