The Towsley side of my family is the hunting side. However, in the 1960s they considered any child to be a nuisance. Back then, hunting was a man’s thing, with no women or babies.
When the men left for the deer camp and left me at home, I was angry and hurt. Never someone who takes no for an answer, I refused to suffer in silence. Together with my only ally, my younger uncle Butch, I pushed hard for years. I was finally allowed into deer camp at age 13, which was three years before “rule.”
He had been shooting and knew gun safety, but was stumped on how to hunt deer. Still, he was alone to figure it all out. His approach was: if he’s old enough to be in a deer camp, he should know what to do. No one except Butch was willing to take time out of their hunt to show me how it was done. He often walked out the gate of the camp alone. I was never afraid to walk in the woods, but being young and naive can get a person into trouble. I can tell you that it is terrifying to be lost deep in the great woods at that age, with darkness approaching and after seeing many bear tracks.
I swore that if I became a father and if my children were interested in hunting, I would never leave them behind. I also swore that I would teach them about hunting. My children are now 30 years old and they would tell you that I kept those vows.
My approach was simply to involve them in my hunting life. If I was doing it, they could too. I took them hunting squirrels, birds and deer. I used to joke that in the early years I had both of my children’s diapers changed at a deer stand. That story would embarrass Erin, my oldest, when she told it to any potential boyfriend. My son, Nathan, just joked about the “last scent of couverture.”
They carried their toy rifles when they were very young, and then their BB guns as they got older. I let them shoot a squirrel or a rabbit if they wanted and I didn’t worry about spoiling the deer hunt. To be honest, I don’t think I ever have. Nathan spent a lot of time in the trees with me while he was bow hunting and became very good at standing still and watching. He often saw the deer before me. He had a little compound bow that he was very good with. I had a recurring dream that he was pulling back a large deer when his little arrow darted past my line of sight and ricocheted off the deer, scaring it into oblivion. Of course, it never happened, but the dream was real.
I subtly coached them on safety instead of hitting them over the head like so many others I’ve been in the field with. I believe in rewards more than punishments to teach something. By the time they were old enough to use a real gun, safety was ingrained in them. That was how you did things, and we didn’t need to talk about it much. By this time they had seen several deer shot and understood the destructive power of a firearm. They knew the rules and followed them.
I used to joke that in the early years I had both of my children’s diapers changed at a deer stand. That story would embarrass Erin, my oldest, when she told it to any potential boyfriend.
They both hunted deer in Vermont while still in their pre-teens. By this time we often hunted at Mason Farm, a few miles from us, and that family was very interested in hunting boys. For several years we have set up tents and a cooking shack during the junior season. We were very successful and helped many children to hunt their first deer. More importantly, we help deliver a great experience; sleeping in tents, eating camp food, and just being part of the gang.
Because of my job as a hunting writer, I had some unique opportunities to take my kids hunting out of state. This helped them learn about hunting culture in other parts of the country. They hunted in Alabama, Montana, Iowa, Texas, and Maine. This instilled in them the understanding that while other places and people do things differently, we are all hunters and united by the culture of hunting.
Beyond the actual hunting, I immersed my children in the hunting lifestyle. Some of the first words Erin uttered were the names of the animals that were hanging on the wall in my office. She would point one out to her and she would respond with great enthusiasm: caribou, antelope, mule deer, moose, bear, and white-tailed deer. The pronunciation was often a bit off, but he knew them all before he could speak in sentences.
By the time they were in kindergarten, they could sing a turkey, rattle their antlers, or growl like a pro. In high school they knew how to butcher a deer and skin a squirrel.
He always took them to the outdoor shows he went to, and once a promoter invited me and Nathan backstage to meet Ted Nugent. We played his music on the way home and he got me into a little trouble. Five-year-old Nathan said: “This is my new favorite song, I can’t wait to tell mum when we get home.” The song? “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.”
The thing is, I never left them at home because they could be a nuisance. He took them to garden shows, gun shops, taxidermists, or just to visit deer-hunting friends.
They both spent many days with me practicing shooting. We made shooting fun, and along the way, they learned skills.
Hunting is my passion and they became part of it. I made hunting a part of their lives, as if it were mine.
Due to the declining economic outlook in Vermont, they both now live out of state, so we can’t share much hunting time. Erin is busy with a military career, so she doesn’t hunt much. But, she is a marksman and loves shooting rifles and pistols. Nathan hunts, catches, reloads and shoots the competition. When they come home for the holidays, they always want venison for dinner.