By Robert & Amy Hanneman, July 2016
I am an avid believer that parents do not have to completely give up their hobbies when they have children. My philosophy is that you can modify the things you love to do and include your kids, no matter their age. For Robert and me, our passion is hunting, and we have found ways to bring our kids along while nurturing in them a love for hunting and teaching them to respect nature.
My first experience hunting with a child was when Connor, my oldest son, was just a few months old. Robert and I took him with us to eastern Montana on our antelope and deer hunts. We decided that with him being so young we would rent a motel room in Jordan to keep him more protected from the elements. Our room was so tiny that we had to make a makeshift bed on the floor for Connor. The trip was a blast! Robert and I harvested our deer, and we would pack Connor around in a front pack, covering his ears to protect them from the noise of shooting. Other than the typical baby diaper blowout, the trip went off without a hitch.
The following year, Connor turned one in July. In October, we decided to take him antelope hunting. We set up a nice family-sized tent and then set up a playpen in it for him. Robert and I both harvested antelope, but the camping situation was not quite as cozy as the previous year’s. Connor was walking, but that is a bit of a stretch when describing the beginning steps of toddlers. Stumbling around and falling like a drunken old man is a much more accurate description. We were in camp one night, preparing dinner, and a fussy Connor was given a small flashlight as bribery by his mom to keep him distracted until the food was ready. Like any youngster at that age, the first place that flashlight went was his mouth. He was happily walking around with the flashlight gripped perfectly between his brand new top and bottom front teeth when he stumbled and fell, jamming the flashlight into the back of his throat, causing a bloody mouth and a very upset baby. I felt like a horrible mom. I had no sooner finished consoling the little guy and had put him back down on the ground when he tripped into a pile of cactus and embedded its thorns into his little hands.
That night, I put Connor to bed in his playpen only to wake up in the middle of the night to his crying. I got up to check on him and realized he was freezing. The cold air was drafting under the playpen and cooling it even more, resulting in a very cold baby. I ended up putting him in my sleeping bag with me, and he slept much more comfortably than in the drafty playpen. Despite the fact that things did not go very smoothly on that trip, we still had a lot of fun and we laugh now at those minor tragedies.
Each one of our three boys has accompanied us on various trips, and we have found that certain things have helped make it more enjoyable and easy for them. The most important thing is choosing hunts that are doable for young children. When our boys were babies, a lot of our hunting was done from the truck and the stalks on animals were within close proximity to the truck. One thing Robert and I would do on these trips is one of us would stay at the truck with the babies while the other would stalk in on an animal. Once the animal we were hunting was killed, we would radio to each other and the one at the truck would pack the kids down for the quartering and pack out. Our kids have grown up hiking, and even as little squirts they could hike in a few miles and be with us while we took care of the animal and then hike back out. Very rarely was there a complaint because they were distracted by the excitement of our endeavor.
Now that our boys are older (ages 10, 8, and 7), we have started taking them on more grueling hunts and they stalk in with us on the animals we are pursuing. We try to make them as much a part of the hunt as possible so that they can feel the reward of their hard work even more. In fact, this past November, we went to eastern Montana for a 10-day hunt. We set up a wall tent and encountered a major snowstorm with heavy winds and well below freezing temperatures. One day, we were exploring new country and ended up on an icy road that we could not get the truck back out on. We spent the entire day with an axe and shovel, chopping the ice off the road so we could make it back up the mountain. Sounds miserable, right? The crazy thing is that we had an amazing time. The boys were absolute troopers, playing while we worked and helping when they could. They were completely oblivious to the seriousness of the situation and saw that fiasco as part of the adventure. Thankfully, we were prepared or things may not have turned out as well as they did.
On that hunt, Connor had a deer tag and ended up killing his first deer with Robert by his side while the other two boys and I watched from a high point. It was an incredible moment and one that he is very proud of. Our hunt extended over Thanksgiving weekend, and we spent Thanksgiving Day hunting in the morning and then eating a feast of elk steaks, mashed potatoes, and bread for our Thanksgiving meal with Mountain House apple crisp for dessert. The boys still talk about that hunt with great fondness, and I don’t think one of us felt miserable that entire hunt. I believe that being properly prepared is the key for any successful hunt, but it is especially true when hunting with young children. At Christmas and birthdays, rather than buy a bunch of toys that are going to break, we get them their outdoor gear. They each have their own sleeping bag, Thermarest, knife, headlamp, binoculars, backpack organizer bags, first-aid kit, and CamelBak.
They are proud to have their own outdoor gear, and I want them to learn how to responsibly take care of it. We have taught them how to layer their clothing in order to maintain proper body temperature, and we try to teach them how to do as much as possible for themselves according to their age. When they were babies, my pack would include extra diapers, wipes, clothing, blankets, bottles, and formula since we never knew what may come up or how long we were going to be away from the truck. We also took treats that we would not normally have to make it even more special for them and it made for a great bribery for a fussy toddler.
Our kids have baited bears and trapped with us in the spring, camped and fished with us in the summer, and hunted with us in the fall. Each one of them has their own passion for the outdoors, and they beg us to take them on our adventures. It’s not always easy to take our kids along, and there are some tougher hunts that we don’t take them on yet. However, the memories we have been able to create with them are priceless, and I am glad we have taken the time and effort to incorporate our kids into our hobbies rather than give up our hobbies so we can have kids.