Outdoor Family Endeavors Should Be Top Priority While Nature Allows

Grandparents say things such as “kids grow up before you know it” or “you better take advantage of the time you have.” Until we are put in their shoes, we cannot truly appreciate those views.

Arkansas offers an abundance of outdoor activities to enjoy with loved ones.  Some outdoors enthusiast run into the fact that taking young children along can make outdoor adventures more challenging.  But, sooner rather than later, we hopefully come to realize that the challenge is worth the tradeoff of spending more time with them.

Imagine you are preparing a food plot for deer.  It takes hours of riding a tractor, using a discing harrow and sowing the wheat. The corn feeder is set up and game cameras are in place.  You are eager to finally get a look at what type of bucks are feasting off of your buffet that has been prepared for them.  After your first peek at the pictures, you barely can contain yourself. It is late September and you see quite a few does and a few scraggly bucks, but you also see a group of three big bucks, one of which is a monster.  Opening day cannot get here soon enough.

It’s clear that deer are using the food plot on an almost daily basis. You surely will get a good shot at the big boy!

Ready to Go

When opening morning arrives, you are in the stand well before sunup.  You hear what sounds like deer before the sun reveals what’s out there.As the sun rises, you can see what has been teasing you – three does and a spike. That’s not what you hoped for but you are patient and wait it out. The morning ends with no big bucks crossing your path.    

The evening hunt most likely will present a good opportunity for a big buck – you hope.

As preparations are made, your daughter asks if she can go.  Your instincts immediately think about how difficult it will be to get a big buck close to you while you babysit your girl.  You want to say no but you look into her eyes and think about how much she wants to spend time with you.  You just cannot turn her down.

The two of you reach the stand, making quite a bit more noise than you would have made on your own.  She gets comfortable in her seat, opens her snacks and starts watching for the big boy.  It is not long before a doe walks out to the corn feeder about 25 yards out.  You both see her, but your daughter squeals and says “There’s a deer!” in a much louder voice than a whisper.  As you shush her, the doe looks up at your stand.  You are both quite still and the doe goes back to feeding before long.  You are content watching her while you wait for the buck.  Then you hear the most innocent question.

“Why aren’t you shooting her?”

You were out here to hunt deer and there was one right in front of you.  It is a logical question coming from a 5-year-old.  You weigh the options and quickly realize that if you want her to enjoy hunting and to spend more time with you doing it, shooting the doe is the first step. 

You ask her if she wants you to shoot it and make sure she understands that the deer will die.  She whispers yes, so you line up your shot, and drop the doe.  

“You’re not going anywhere now, deer!” she screams. She wraps her arms around you and give you a big kiss on the cheek. 

By taking the doe, did you miss the opportunity for the big buck?  Yes, but you also made huge memories with your girl that you both will carry with you forever.  You’ve also laid the groundwork for her love of the outdoors.

On the Water

Having a child in tow while fishing can be more work than sitting in a deer stand.  Most fishing trips become more difficult – at least for adults- when kids are in the boat.  

It is March. Crappie are spawning, and you have a Saturday morning planned to try to fill your livewell.  The weather looks to be perfect; you can’t wait to get out there.  There is nothing like being alone in a boat surrounded by the peace and quiet of a lake.  Your boy has also been talking about fishing and wants to go.  After brief consideration, you decide to take him with you.  It’ll be good bonding for the two of you.

Instead of baiting one hook, you are now responsible for two – and he loses more minnows than you can count!  Getting hung up is a natural occurrence during fishing but your boy seems to get a snag every four or five casts!  Sometimes you are able to get him free, although sometimes it requires a new hook.

Between fatherly duties, you are able to catch a few fish, but fewer than you’d land if you didn’t have to take care of him.  Then, all of a sudden, he lets out a yell and you see his rod bent over and his line jerking.  He has a good bite!  He is trilled, and so are you  You coach him on how to reel it in.  After what seems to be a few minutes, actually about 20 seconds, he gets the fish to the boat and you are able to land it with the dip net.

“Dad, that was awesome! Look how big he is!”

Although the fish is not that big, to him it looks enormous.  He is having a blast!  You continue tying his line every few minutes and trying to fish for yourself as you can.  At the end of the adventure, he winds up catching a few fish, while you catch fewer than you would have if you had been on your own.  But you wouldn’t trade the smile on his face for all the fish in the lake.

Busy Lives

There is another angle to the dilemma of quality time. As our parents age, they have a lot more free time on their hands – time they would gladly spend with their grown kids.  My dad, who taught me about and planted in me a love for the outdoors, had as much time as he wanted to go fishing or hunting.  All I would have had to do was pick up the phone and he would have done anything I wanted to do.  But I had a job, a wife and three young kids.  My plate was full.

It was not until his diagnosis with cancer that I realized how quickly time slips away.  Even then, I felt as if we had more time.  I did not feel the urgency as I should have.  My life was still busy but I was able to make some plans with him.  We got in a few good fishing trips, including catching big trout on the White River close to Mountain Home.  On the second day of our trip up there, it rained all day. We still had a blast!

We both expected that we’d have time for more memories like this, but the cancer took him too fast.  It still breaks my heart that I did not make time for more memories with him. 

The Natural State offers so many opportunities for outdoor experiences that we carry with us for years.  It is important, as both parents and grown children, to use these chances Arkansas gives us to spend time with our loved ones.  We might catch fewer fish, shoot does instead of bucks, or get drenched with rain, but times like these help us to build closer bonds with those we love. 

Do not let the opportunity pass you by to get outdoors in Arkansas with your loved ones.  Ducks in the Delta, turkeys in the Ozarks, catfish in the river or anything else, take advantage of the opportunities in front of you.  I promise you will not regret it!