We worked our way back up the hill toward where 12-year-old Callan stood with Jim Harris. Lindsay, 14, was with me.
“That canyon is full of deer,” I had told him. “The trick is spotting them.”
Both boys carried bolt-action 243s stoked with 95-grain Nosler E-Tips, and both were recent graduates of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Hunter Education program. Weeks before, we had spent our last session at the range. We knew the brothers could shoot. We hoped they'd get the opportunity.
It is a rite of passage in some families, the first deer hunt. Most such trips do not end with meat for the freezer. My first deer hunts were fruitless, but I learned much about life and discipline on those walks in the wood with my dad or my uncle. Not so long ago, it seems.
There was a flat spot, a place to rest, to catch our breath. It was an enforced pause. While we had the high ground with a canyon a half-mile wide to look into, anything could happen.
That's when we heard Callan's shot. I motioned Lindsay over and we saw Callan's deer and then another. It looked to be a spike blacktail buck, legal with the antlerless tag.
“You're shooting downhill, hold low,” I whispered. Steady against a transmission line pole, Lindsay anchored the rifle and fired.
Now there were two deer to retrieve from the poison oak patches below. Together, the two boys found their way down to their first deer while I walked back to the truck to get the supplies we would need to turn two blacktails into winter meat.
That evening, the hard work finished, we celebrated and the kids were anxious to thank the landowner and the others who played a direct role in their success that day.
As big a part as any of us played that day, I remembered the volunteers that gave of their time the previous spring to coach the boys through four evenings at Hunter Education class and a field day at the range. After that, other volunteers gave their time on a Saturday in September to make sure the kids' guns were sighted-in at the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association range.
How many adults played a role in the boys' success? We were with them in the field, but they learned the ethics of the hunt as well as the safety we stressed because interested volunteers played a part and helped to pass on the heritage.
It is a concept I learned from a number of adults when I was in my early teens. After a few years, a man or a woman has gained some skills, and the time comes to pass them on. Both mentor and protégé are richer for the experience.
That is the concept in play at an event we hold every year in Central Oregon. We call it the Youth Safari Experience, an opportunity for the young to learn from those with a few seasons behind them.
Last year, sponsored by the likes of High Desert Friends of NRA, Fred Meyer, Nosler Inc., the High Desert Safari Club and the Bend Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association, we held our ninth annual Youth Safari event.
Over 300 people showed up. Most were from Central Oregon, but several families traveled in from western Oregon. The kids were not required to have prior experience with guns, shooting or hunter education. Indeed, our highest goal is to introduce newcomers to the sport before they take hunter education. According to the registration numbers, the 11-, 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds were the most enthusiastic shooters.
— Gary Lewis is the host of “Adventure Journal” and author of “John Nosler — Going Ballistic,” “Black Bear Hunting,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Lewis at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.