By Gord Follett
As devastating as the pandemic has been on a global level, it has managed to introduce (push) more people to the safety of the wonderful outdoors - particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador - than ever before. Surely over the past 16 months or so you’ve noticed many of the thousands of social media posts featuring families enjoying simple outdoor activities such as boil-ups for the very first time.
If you’re hoping to get your child or grandchild involved in the outdoors, the No. 1 rule has to be “make it fun.” Adults sometimes lose sight of the fun aspect during the all-important early goings, then chaulk up their lack of success in getting the kids involved to the child just not being interested.
Hey, not every kid is going to be an avid outdoors person. I get it. But if you want them to at least have an opportunity, there are right and wrong ways to go about it.
Fishing is a common entryway to outdoor adventures. Let’s start there. If you curse and complain each time they get the line tangled while learning to cast with a spinning rod, it’s not gonna work. They’ll lose interest right from the get-go. Help them practise casting a wooden bobber or hookless lure on the lawn at home. And don’t expect them to fish for five or six straight hours the first few times they go. Be sure to pack a few treats with their lunch (remember the fun part?), and don’t forget patience; there are times you’ll need plenty of it.
Introducing them to hunting? If they miss a stationary grouse with the .410 just 15 yards ahead on the trail and you poke fun or jokingly ask what they’re shooting at, you may as well put that lil shotgun back in its case, ’cause they’re not gonna want it again. (Safety reminder: anybody - child or adult - who touches a firearm must first be versed in best safely practices and must follow them at all times.) Some years back I took my daughter to an empty gravel pit and, after going through the general firearm safety rules with her, I set up balloons at 40 yards for her to try a few blasts with my 12-gauge shotgun. She had an absolute ball and was thrilled when she picked off a pair 10 yards apart with two quick shots.
If you’re an avid hiker and want the kids to join you, start at their pace and distance preference. Stop occasionally to admire scenery, skim rocks across the water or search for animal tracks. Keep it interesting and make time for fun.
Comfort is another vital consideration when attempting to involve children in the outdoors. If you fail to provide the proper clothing to protect them from the wind and cold during a day of ice fishing, for instance, dig out your receipt for those extra rods and return them to Canadian Tire. They will not want to go again.
Success in the outdoors - as in catching fish or harvesting game - is secondary. A distant second, actually. That will come with time. But if, for whatever reason, kids are turned off during those initial outings, chances of you getting them to try it again are twofold: slim and none.
With few exceptions, involving the next generation in the outdoors these days is not strictly about continuing a tradition or putting food on the table. Adventures in the woods encourage fitness and health, they make for great bonding time, they teach life skills, responsibility and the value of teamwork - all qualities to last not just for the duration of a trip, but an entire lifetime! The relaxation and peace of mind that the outdoors can offer later in life is simply immeasurable. Trust me on this one. In many cases, the most unsettling and troubled times seem to disappear during a quiet hike in the woods or while casting a fly in a slow-flowing river.
Incidentally, the province’s Wildlife Division offers youth shooting skills events at various locations throughout the province each year. Under the guidance of qualified instructors, children aged 12-17 can take part in rifle and shotgun shooting, archery, fly fishing and outdoor survival. I’ve attended a number of these events as a sponsor representative with Newfoundland Sportsman, and to see the excitement of the participating boys and girls as they were actually learning was most encouraging, not to mention uplifting. These events are quite popular and registration space fills up quickly, so if you hear of one in your area, jump on it.
Gord Follett was editor of the Newfoundland Sportsman magazine for more than 30 years and co-hosted the Newfoundland Sportsman TV show for 15 years. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.