You can't treat "teach son hunting ethics" as another item on your Saturday to-do list. Helping a child develop a healthy respect for the wild and a hunter's place in it is a matter of character, and that is not created overnight. Raising an ethical child is a long process, like building a rock dam across a creek. You have to thoughtfully choose and place the stones, a single one at a time.
ASSIGNMENT NO. 1: SHOW INTEREST IN YOUR KID'S OPINIONS
Sincere parental attention makes a son or daughter feel loved, important, and powerful. So listen when yours talks to you about hunting, but not the way you do when your wife talks about how the grass out front is so long she can no longer find her car. This calls for active listening. Make eye contact, put yourself in your child's shoes, and acknowledge the points your young hunter is making. If you want to go for the Gold Star Listening Award, wait until your kid has finished, restate your understanding of what you've heard, ask if you've got it right, then keep the conversation going. If you aren't really interested, fake it; then go get your head examined because you have no business being a parent.
ASSIGNMENT NO. 2: TEACH THEM THAT THIS IS NO GAME
Tell your young partner that nonhunters may think of hunting as a sport or recreation, but to you there is something sacred about it. Tell her that not so very long ago, families like yours prayed for success in the hunt because their survival hung in the balance. Explain that, even though your lives don't depend upon getting game now, you do feel that hunting feeds the spirit. This mindful act—the stalking, killing, dressing, and eating of the meat of an animal that has never known a cage or pen—has a mysterious way of creating a greater awareness of the miracle of your own existence. And that's why you want to share it.
ASSIGNMENT NO. 3: MAKE UP A RITUAL
After you've killed an animal, ask your son or daughter how the two of you could give thanks for it. You may pray to the Lord for having let you have a successful day hunting with your child. Or, like the Indians, you may acknowledge the animal's spirit, saying that you took its flesh not in anger or pride, but to feed your family so they may grow strong as it was strong. You may simply stroke its flank and say, "Thank you."
ASSIGNMENT NO. 4: DONATE VENISON TO SOMEBODY WHO NEEDS IT
Mention to your kids that there are about 13 million children just like them in the United States who either go to bed hungry some nights or worry about not having enough to eat. Ask if you think it would be a good idea to give some of the meat from a hunt to such a family. Your state hunting guidebook will list organizations. If your child says yes, tell him how proud you are. If the answer is no, let him know that is a perfectly legitimate choice, too. You have to respect his right to make the decision.
ASSIGNMENT NO. 5: PRAISE YOUR HUNTER
Every time you go afield, find something to praise about your kid's behavior—how she handled a firearm safely, helped dress the deer, remained quiet while on stand. Praise is a miracle drug for young people: It makes them stand up straighter, behave more responsibly, and act with more confidence. I'm not talking about flattery, which kids see through. Ethics is about respect, and the best way to teach it is to give it to them. Remember: In the long haul, your children aren't "yours" any more than the wild game is. They belong to themselves. Your job as a parent is to protect, love, and teach them as best you can until they are ready to leave you behind and go out into the world.