Tests can come in the classroom or when we're hunting alone
There are probably very few people who would argue against the importance of education. It’s necessary. We all understand that to be successful in our lives, we need to have knowledge to pull from. The same is true for the outdoors.
Very few people have just randomly picked up a fishing pole or a shotgun, taken to the outdoors and had much success. Someone has to teach us how to use these things. Tools without understanding are quite useless.
Most of us garnered our outdoor education from our parents and grandparents. This is a timeless tradition that can be traced back as far as humans go on the timeline. One-on-one time with a mentor is what it takes to pass on skills.
In more recent history, most states throughout our country have supplemented this age-old training with more formal education commonly referred to as hunter safety courses.
In the state of Illinois, anyone that is born on or after Jan. 1, 1980 must complete a certified hunter’s safety program before they can purchase a hunting license. In other words, the state wants to make sure that they are sending people into the woods that have a solid background of the dos and don’ts.
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting through the hunter’s safety course again. This time it was my 10-year-old son’s turn to take the class so he could have his own license.
The entire week building up to the first night of the class, Cody was nervous. He had heard all about the 50-question test at the end of the class that you had to pass. Being a school-aged kid, of course he was nervous about the test. He would randomly ask me questions throughout the day about what to expect.
We went over a lot of the traditional “how-to” information that a father would pass on to his son. But the majority of the class was spent on ethics.
The first thing the instructor did was to ask the entire class — all 80 people — who could define ethics. As I sat there, I realized it’s not as easy as it sounds. You could see the adults in the room struggling to find a good answer. One dad a few seats over from me said, “It’s got something to do with morals, doesn’t it?”
After a bit of conversation, the instructor told us that ethics can be summed up in one sentence from Aldo Leopold, “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching — even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”
Hmmm. That makes you think. I looked down at Cody, and you cold tell that he was chewing on that piece of information pretty hard.
Hunting is just about the only sport where the active participants many times are completely alone. All other sports have referees or umpires on the field of play telling the athletes what is unsportsmanlike conduct and what is legal.
We don’t. When we hunt, we are on our own.
The class was full of examples of ethical and unethical behavior in the woods and fields. As I sat there, it became quite clear which adults felt this was important to pass on to their kids and grandkids, and which one smirked at the thought. This is exactly why the state of Illinois wants to stress this to our future hunters.
The 10--hour course proceeded and Cody absorbed as much information as he could. I helped him when he had questions or we asked the instructor. As the waning hours of the class approached, I could see him getting nervous.
Finally, the pencils and paper were passed out. It was time. I sat next to him and watched as he read each question carefully and scanned his possible answers. One by one, he checked them off and turned in his paper.
He was all smiles when he learned he got 49 out of 50 correct and we were on our way home. On the way back home, he kept asking me questions about all types of hunting. He was a sponge, soaking in all I had to say.
He may have completed the class, but now it is up to me, and all the rest of us, to make sure that we instill in these kids the right choices. They are watching and listening to us intently. Our behaviors are the behaviors they will mimic. What choices will you make when no one is watching?