By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
2020 was a tough year on families. Pandemic lockdowns forced folks to work from home, and being cooped up with each other for months on end frayed everyone’s nerves. That’s a large reason why 2020 was such a banner year for outdoors recreation. In 2020, over 50 million people went fishing, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, the highest number in over a decade. The OIA hasn’t released numbers for hunting, but based on how crowded Utah’s general-season elk and deer hunts were this year, it’s safe to assume 2020 was a big year for hunting participation, too.
Now, a month into 2021, I think we’re all cautiously optimistic this year will be better. But that shouldn’t dampen your enthusiasm – newfound or rekindled – for outdoors recreation that you experienced in 2020. Rather, that optimism should help you set some lofty, but attainable, outdoors-related family goals for 2021.
One I’d highly recommend is to take the whole family hunting.
Despite what some politicians and all the anti-hunting groups would have you believe, hunting isn’t all about bloodlust and killing animals. Hunting is one of the best ways to interact with nature on a personal level, and it’s the only way I know of, short of farming, to actually know where your food is coming from.
Now, I know hunting seems daunting at first, but it’s not something that’s impossible to do with the whole family. Even if your kids are only eight years old, they can still participate in a hunt.
Selling the idea of a family hunt instead of a trip to Disneyland might be hard, but if you can pull if off – with buy-in from your significant other – you’ll be surprised at how much fun you can have. And Disneyland is still closed, anyways.
Regardless of what you hunt, how long you hunt, or if you bag any game, there’s so much else to do that the entire family can work together on. Planning where you’ll hunt, what animals you’ll chase, where you’ll make camp, what you’ll have for dinner – it’s a process that those of us who hunt alone or with just a select group of buddies do almost unconsciously. I know when my buddy Lynn Adams and I are out chasing elk, he’ll always have some dinner ready. He expects me to spring for breakfast. It’s unspoken, and it works.
If you’ve never hunted with your kids and significant other, you can’t expect that level of active engagement. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s something to keep in mind if you put hunting at the top of your list of family goals this year.
This Works – I Tried It Myself
I got married in August 2020. Before I met her, my wife had fished only once in her life, and never gone hunting. She grew up with a casual familiarity of recreational shooting – her aunt is a retired California Highway Patrol trooper – and church-run girls’ camps were the extent of her outdoors experience.
So, when I brought up the subject of elk hunting in October – just a month and a half after we’d be married – my wife was understandably hesitant. She’d never done anything like hunting, much less a backcountry excursion for elk.
Thankfully, my wife was honest about her concerns. She didn’t know if she could hike the outrageous amount of miles I cover when elk hunting. She didn’t have the first clue about setting up a backcountry camp for elk, and she wasn’t even sure what one looked like.
So, I worked with her to address those concerns. Instead of a big backcountry camp, we settled on setting up shop at the trailhead into a remote basin in Utah’s Uinta Mountains. I took her scouting with me at least once a week for two months before the hunt to help her get in shape for both the altitude and rough terrain (and I needed that physical workout, too). While scouting, I’d quiz her on how to find elk sign, and what to do if she spotted an elk on the hunt before I did.
My wife picked everything up with lightning-fast speed. During one of the last nights we spent scouting before the hunt, we sat on the edge of a big clearing. The clearing was full of elk sign, but none of it was terribly fresh. I let out a few cow calls, hoping to elicit a response.
And that’s when we heard it – a faint, but notable, bugle. My wife’s eyes instantly went wide, and she pointed in the direction of the sound. She’d never heard an elk bugle in the wild before. I thought she’d split her face from smiling so hard.
I kept up with the cow calls until the bugle was louder, and joined by the chirps of other cows. Within minutes, an entire herd was talking back and forth. We couldn’t see them – we were losing light and the forest was thick – but we could hear them. If nothing else, that moment was proof for my wife that we weren’t just running around in the woods with no idea of what we were doing.
The hunt didn’t go quite as planned – I never even got a shot on a bull – but we spent opening morning tracking a herd, listening to them, and even got close enough to smell them at one point. Through it all, my wife was pointing out the fresh tracks, the old antler rubs, and the steaming piles of fresh scat that showed we were right on the elks’ tail.
Would the hunt have gone differently if I was alone? Perhaps. With my wife and my best friend along, we moved slower as a group than I would’ve on my own. But my wife never complained about the hike, the pace we kept, or the fact that we were always seemingly a step or two behind the elk as they wound deeper into thick, impenetrable forest.
Instead, when the hunt ended, she asked when we could put in for tags again.
The memories we made together – especially as a newlywed couple – were invaluable. If you can tailor a hunt to your family’s needs the way I was able to do that for my wife, you’ll have just as fantastic an experience.
Don’t settle for easy family goals this year. Set ’em high, and go chase them. You’ll have a blast along the way.