This past week, the kids were all on spring break. Coincidentally, I also wanted to go hang some game cams and scout for the upcoming turkey season in May. As a husband/father, I'm always finding myself torn between relational obligations to my family and the time it takes to be a successful hunter. Has anyone else found the perfect balance between putting meat on the table and avoiding a very "Cats in the Cradle" situation back at home? I can't figure it out! So for this particular situation, I decided I would try to combine some great father-son camping adventures with scouting for turkey...the perfect compromise!
Now, this isn't my first rodeo...I knew what I was getting into. I knew that the second I decided to bring a 9 and 5 year-old along, this became a less productive scouting trip...I totally get that! However, by managing my expectations and adjusting the priority list for the trip, I believe I set myself up for success...at least mental success. You see, if I had dug my heels in and insisted that I was going to spend X hours scouting, cover X miles, etc. and still drug my boys along, all three of us were going to have a miserable time. Once I mentally turned this into a memorable camping trip for my boys, and the icing on the cake would be taking a little walk and maybe hanging some cameras...it was smooth sailing from there.
Well, actually it was anything but smooth sailing, but those disaster moments are where the memories get made! As soon as we started down the dirt road towards camp, I knew we were in for some danger. A snow storm from a couple days prior was still melting away, and that road was pretty slushy. Of course, since I had both boys and all our gear, I was driving the wife's 3/4 ton 2WD Suburban with street tires, as opposed to my highly capable Jeep. So even though I had mentally chosen a spot two miles down that road, I quickly decided that the first spot we came to just a half mile in would be good enough. However, as soon as I turned into the camp site, we hit a huge mud bog I significantly underestimated...and I buried that truck!
Since we were about 4 hours from dusk, I got all the gear out, got the boys a snack to distract them, set up the tent, and even gathered some firewood before I set my attention back on the truck. With about 10 minutes of effort, a folding shovel, and some old school MacGyver action...I got the truck out of the mud and parked safely on the dry patch of grass at the front of our campsite.
With the question of "how in the world are we gonna get out of here" answered, I could relax and settle into camping with my boys. We built our fire, ate some camp staples (all roasted over the open fire, of course), told a few hunting stories, and turned in for the night. Of course, the five year-old I was worried about most (who was spending his first night ever in a tent) fell fast asleep and stayed that way all night. Then, just as I was drifting off for the first time, I awoke to, "Dad! Dad, wake up...do you hear that? Something is breathing outside our tent!!!" Somewhat delirious, I popped my head up and listened closely...sure enough, there was a steady, growling, breathing noise that sounded extremely nearby. As I listened, trying to remember if I had, in fact, put every scrap of food safely back in the truck so as to not attract bears, I realized the sound was coming from directly in between us. I breathed a sigh of relief and whispered, "go to sleep - it's your little brother snoring." Of course, now that the older one was all amped up, it would be a rough night of minimal sleep for him (and by extension, for me). Meanwhile the fake bear between us got a solid 10 hours of uninterrupted rest...go figure!
The next morning we made breakfast, warmed up a bit by the fire, and then got our gear together and set out to do some scouting. Having decided to play it safe and camp as far up the road as we had, I knew that my original destination for hanging cameras was completely out of the question. But, since this was already "a fun camping trip that MIGHT result in some scouting," I didn't really care. I had the boys on a mission to look for tracks (especially in the snow patches still on the ground), turkey feathers, and even antler sheds. We took our time, investigated countless piles of scat, at least 3,298 sticks that looked like antlers, and my boys got a great education in what certain types of tracks look like.
Eventually, we found some turkey scat and hung a camera by that. Then moved on a bit further through the forest and found a spot with a huge pile of mountain lion dung and some scattered turkey feathers (it's possible those two met in the process of leaving both those treasures), so we hung the second cam there. Even though we were only 0.6 miles from camp, my youngest had already been showing signs of not having much more left in his little legs. So, we decided to make our way back, taking a slightly different route to look for sheds. About half way back, I suddenly halted the boys and dropped to a knee. Here came a single mule deer walking up from the tank we had passed on the way in, and he was about 80 yards from us. Honestly, I think this is the first big game either of my boys have seen in the field with their own eyes, and they were mesmerized. We watched quietly with the boys chins on the floor, and after he was well out of range, we continued back to camp.
All in all, we spent a total of 26 hours together including drive time, so it was hardly an exhaustive expedition by any definition. However, the boys had a blast! I may or may not get anything cool on those cameras that were not nearly as deep into the woods as I would have preferred to hang them. I may end up back in the woods looking for totally different turkey spots as season approaches. But if I remember that the goal of that trip was making memories and instilling a love of the outdoors in my boys, then it was a resounding success!
I haven't yet found the perfect balance when it comes to hunting your hardest and still involving your kids/family...I probably never will. I'm beginning to think each tag and each trip is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. My oldest will be able to hunt for the first time next year, and I'm sure that will start to open up more doors for us to do this together. At the same time, there will still be hunts that are just a little too intense/hard/dangerous for him until he gets much older. There will even be hunts that I just need to take on my own, simply because that's a necessary part of my "mental health regimen," and those times away from my family actually make me a better husband and father in the end.
So, what works for you? Who has found a nice balance in this arena? When and how did you start involving your kids, and what have you learned along the way? We're all just trying to figure out how to juggle all these aspects of life, so let's learn from each other. Comment below!