One of the greatest examples of the Southern tradition is a love of the great outdoors. When I was a kid in the 4th Grade, I loved reading about Confederate heroes, but I was also fascinated by the stories about famous pioneers and mountain men like Jim Bridger, Davy Crocket and Daniel Boone, the latter of whom I proudly count among my ancestors.
Being raised by my Grandmother in a suburb, it was a challenge to actually get out into the woods and do any real hunting. So, I played in the “woods” (usually about a one acre, undeveloped lot) around our house. It was just awesome to a 10 year old boy when my Dad would take me hunting for birds or squirrels.
Even while still a youngster I had it in my mind that, when I grew up, I’d live a rural lifestyle and make sure my boys grew up in the tradition I longed for when I was a kid. I’m not a psychologist, so I cannot but assume what it was that drew me to daydream (often during school) about being outdoors, shooting guns, setting traps, killing deer or catching fish, but I had those daydreams often. My report cards reflected this. I would suggest that it is something in the blood, or the tradition, of people who descended from folks for whom this was a way of life. It just never quite worked its way out of our DNA.
My boys are ages 10 and 13. In addition to playing football, my boys and I invest a lot of time outdoors. Whether it is actually hunting or just practicing marksmanship in the back yard in preparation for hunting, both of my boys to varied degrees get a lot of enjoyment out of having the freedom that a rural, agrarian lifestyle affords. My youngest son is comfortable shooting pistols from .22 caliber to .44 Magnum, and rifles from .22 to 30-06. And I might add, he is proficient beyond his years with all of the above.
There are those who don’t agree with such things. “Why kill animals when you can go to the grocery store and buy meat? That is much more humane,” they quip. Pardon my ignorance, but weren’t those animals killed also?
These folks miss the point. Hunting is in many ways less about hunting than it is about all of the things that go with hunting. It is the total experience that spans the spectrum from camaraderie and fellowship with others of like mind, to marksmanship, to giving thanks for a successful hunt or from just having a fun time in the outdoors. Hunting is about rugged individualism. There’s a satisfaction that you simply cannot explain from spending hours cleaning your rifle, honing your skills, trying to predict the prey’s habits and, in our case, even reloading your own ammunition to hunt with. Have you ever killed an animal with a cartridge that you made yourself? In the modern day, it doesn’t get a lot more individualistic than that.
There are numerous teaching moments for young boys involved as well. These include patience, shooting, enduring cold weather, the satisfaction of a successful hunt…or the satisfaction of having a good time even though the hunt was not successful. A bad day hunting is still better than a good day doing most anything else.
I have often used hunting as a way to instill in my boys an appreciation for self-reliance. Of course, some things do not always need to be taught. A few years ago, we pulled up at my home and there was a rather large jack rabbit in the yard. My oldest son said “Hey, let’s kill that rabbit and cook it.” I informed him it wasn’t rabbit season, to which he replied in all seriousness, “This is our land; we make the rules.” The Southern spirit, as I said, is in the DNA.