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Teach a young person (like your niece) to shoot, enjoy the outdoors, hunt, and fish so she can bond with you (U+1) and then share that hunting enthusiasm with her urban (uninitiated) peers.

The above picture features our "new" daughter, Natasha Brookins, on her first hunt ever (March 29, 2003) with her magnificent Rio Grand wild turkey (19 pounds, 8 1/2" beard and 13/16" spurs) that she took at 12 yards in Northern California in a carpet of yellow and blue spring wild flowers. At 20 years old and a sophomore at Berkeley (University of California), she exemplifies the new savers of legal ethical licensed hunting—a young woman as attractive as the surroundings in which we pursue our wild stays and seek the solitude of the hunt. (Please see the prose with the picture of a single hunter holding two Canada Geese.)

Natasha Brookins was reared in freeway clogged southern California, but loved her infrequent visits to Nature’s outdoors. In the fall of 2002 Natasha Brookins joined me on her first trip to the Midwest and first experienced walking on a floating bog on Hook Lake (near Dunn #3 and #4). Although she could not hunt, since she had not procured a hunter’s education permit, she could start to know the essence of the hunt vicariously.

The ghostly walk through the dark moonless oak woods to wade into Hook Lake and onto its rippling floating bog brought a chill beyond that of the cold air and water. In chest waders and the dark, I had alerted Natasha to the potential peril of breaking through the treacherous/dangerous floating bog that rippled and sunk and filled with water as she walked. I told her that usually only one leg would go through and if that happened, she should wait for me to approach her with a paddle and pull her out. I admonished her that if both legs broke through, she should be careful to stay calm and hold onto any vegetation since the water beneath was well over her head.

Her care in stepping lightly was intense. She used an oar in one hand like a cane to act like a snowshoe to minimize and spread her weight. Using great focus, but impaired by the darkness, her foot found an undetectable weak spot in the floating carpet and she and both feet plunged into the chilly water which spilled over the top of her waders to her toes. I heard not a sound, but through the darkness I saw Natasha’s eyes as wide and bright as uncirculated silver dollars. As I helped her out of the deep grasping hole, her calm demeanor in the face of a threat convinced me that her baptism of the hunt (although only as an observer and unplanned) would be long lasting. Had the experience transcended her from a vacuous voyeur to a guiding guardian of wildlife, the wild, and near pristine property/habitat? Would our close bonding have been as memorable and high-impact if instead of just her and me, we had been joined by a sibling of hers or mine? This experience highlights MāHUNT’s emphasis on “Preserving Land for U + 1.”

Two hours later, Natasha pulled the trigger and fired her first shot of pellets from a gun at a target twenty (20) yards distant. Over the next two days, Natasha saw her first duck (a wood duck) bagged on a hunt and on the sixth pull of the trigger ever (the first with a slug) put a slug from the 20 gauge shotgun right through the bullseye at thirty (30) yards.

The following spring, a couple of weeks before her first experience as a hunter, and after passing her California gun safety course, I reviewed safety procedures with her, showed her videos of turkeys approaching a caller/hunter, and told her that she had to remember to breathe until just before she pulled the trigger. I also told her that her heart would be beating faster and harder than it ever had before in her life. I silently recalled one of my favorite quotes from “Shibume” by Trevainian. “Advice helps only the giver, and that only in so far as it lightens the burden of his guilt.” I hoped she would recall my voice in a couple of weeks.

After a 45 minute hike into the mountains, the hen decoy was placed 12 yards away from Natasha. Her back was against a poison oak choked and moss laden oak tree, while I was about a foot away with a video camera, shotgun and turkey calls. As first light awakened the birds, we heard the boss hen call softly about 80 yards away. The thunderous repetitive gobbles that followed raised the tiny hairs on the back of our chilly moist necks. As the flock thudded individually, but almost simultaneously, to the ground about fifty yards away, the video camera recorded two gobblers leaving the flock and walking towards my faint calls.

Natasha was ready, but the gobbler kept a lone oak between the muzzle of her gun and itself, until it finally popped out next to the decoy at twelve (12) yards. It suddenly burst into full strut with Natasha’s gun aimed at its neck. Although I told her not to shoot at a gobbler in full strut, I whispered silently “take him” as the camera rolled. Her preparation (luck is when preparation meets opportunity) sustained as the gobbler tumbled.

Natasha’s first words were: “My heart has never beat so fast and hard in all my life. You were right. I could never have shot the gobbler if I had not remembered to breathe.”

Is this not an essence of hunting—sharing the bond of growth one on one with a loved one undistracted by other family members or unknown strangers in pristine nature? Guiding the next generation to know the importance of hunting and preserving wild places is best done directly and one on one. “Hunting partakes directly in Nature’s sacrament—transcending a vacuous voyeur into a guiding guardian.”

Natasha later showed her peers a video of  “the hunt.” They had never been on a hunt or seen or had one recounted. After her video concluded, she stated she did not feel exhilaration when she shot the gobbler. The gravitas of taking an animal’s life should not imbue “fun”, but rather excitement like our predecessors experienced when they secured the rich protein required to nourish their brains and to evolve as her anthropology class at the University of California Berkeley taught.

Natasha Brookins also learned that the hunt was not complete when the quarry was retrieved and preserved forever in pictures and video. The heavy bird still needed to be ceremoniously carried the two miles back to the automobile along with the shotgun and other gear. Upon arriving home Natasha’s next previously unappreciated task of carefully plucking (so the skin in not torn to maximize the dining juices and presentation) and saving each feather on the gobbler commenced. The drawing and saving of every edible noteworthy part and shortening of appendages challenged Natasha, but careful procedures ensured a cleaner healthier tribute than a mass prepared grocery-bought fowl.

The spectacular colorful gobbler feathers constitute a salute to wildness that Natasha has learned to give to children and non-hunters in airports when she travels. Those tributes to wildlife offer the finest tangible reminder of the positive aspects of licensed ethical hunting (especially from a young female hunter) to an unexposed unenlightened non-hunter. When offered and given to a young child that is fascinated by the feather, a pheasant or a turkey tail feather delivered with a “Remember this was brought to you by a an ethical hunter” to the adoring parents, can change their attitude towards hunting and hunters one lover of the outdoors at a time.

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