Passing down hunting wisdom

Doug Goodnough

Bob Wolverton is pleased to see his three grandsons all wearing T-shirts of his favorite team, Michigan State University.

The Onsted resident and retired police detective knows how important sharing common family bonds can be, especially over multiple generations. So when the Michigan Department of Natural Resources started a youth hunting program a few years ago, it was a chance for Wolverton to share another one of his passions: hunting.

For the first time this year, he was able to take all three grandsons, Eric, Garrett and Brent Burnor of Deerfield, on a hunting weekend. The Department of Natural Resources and Environment youth hunt in late September allowed children ages 12 to 17 an early chance to harvest whitetail deer. For Wolverton, it is an opportunity to share his decades of hunting wisdom and experience as well as spend some quiet time away with his grandsons.

“I think (hunting) is an activity that is good for them,” said Wolverton, who began hunting small game as a youth in the Blissfield area and went on his first deer hunt at age 14. “Frankly, the youth hunt opportunity that the DNR came up with is long, long overdue. It gives you a nice time of the year to have kids out. The weather is generally reasonable, if not downright pleasant. And when you have somebody, particularly kids, the first experience isn’t that they are freezing to death.”

It was the third year for Eric, 16, the second for 14-year-old Garrett and the first for 12-year-old Brent. The three joined their grandfather and grandmother on a weekend trip to a remote cabin near Ludington, in Mason County. The term “remote” is not an understatement; the cabin has no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing.

“Not only that,” Wolverton said, “the area we are in at best has a very marginal cell phone signal, which I enjoy, to be honest with you.”

What the area does have, however, is some near ideal terrain and conditions for whitetail deer. Wolverton said that environment, as well as the early season, makes for a more interesting and engaging hunting experience for his grandsons.

“The game at this time of the year is in its most relaxed state,” he said. “It’s the most predictable pattern in their behavior. So the percentage of success is higher than it would be otherwise.”

Eric, Garrett and Brent each completed hunter safety courses and hunted under the state’s apprentice license program. However, the lessons are only beginning, according to grandpa.

“They need to know how to handle weapons they are going to be using,” Wolverton said. “And they also need to know a little bit about the anatomy of an animal. And how to make an effective kill shot, where to place the bullet so it efficiently kills so we can harvest the animal.”

The learning experience also includes what to do after the kill.

“I am very particular about how the animal is treated, how the carcass is field dressed and handled properly,” Wolverton said. “They all actually participate and help me with the body cavity and legs and those kinds of things. And the nice thing, of course, with teenage boys, is the recovery is much, much easier than if you are by yourself.”

He said the main lesson of hunting is having patience, which is a lesson even Wolverton is still learning.

“(Hunting) reinforces my patience, with which I can be short of with them,” Wolverton said. “And they don’t have as much patience as I would like them to have. That is a virtue for a hunter, as well as for most of us in our daily lives. It’s a learning process.”

Garrett received a very good lesson in patience during his most recent trip. After his brothers each recorded a successful kill on Saturday, he was the only grandson without a deer. He also took a shot and missed, which further fueled his frustration.

“He made a common mistake,” Wolverton said. “At the last instant, he lifted his head to see if he hit it… and missed it.”

But on Sunday, Grandma Mary Ann, a hunter in her own right who also accompanied the group on the trip, took Garrett out to hunt on another part of the property. And this time, he remembered his grandfather’s advice.

“That deer was about to turn around and leave, so I had to realize I had to take my shot kind of in a hurry,“ Garrett said. “I was quite nervous because I never shot one before. I was excited. My heart was pounding, a little shaky. … But once I did get mine, it was kind of like ‘hurrah!’”

“He did what I’ve been teaching him to do,” Wolverton said. “There’s a quote attributed to one of the Old West gunfighters: ‘In a gunfight, you take your time quickly.’ When you hunt, you should be able to do the same thing. You don’t take a wild shot; you make sure it’s a good shot. But that moment of opportunity may be fleeting. And you need to act in that window of opportunity. And he did.”

Garrett finished with the largest deer, a 150-plus-pound doe, while Eric shot a 120-pound doe and Brent a 130-pound, 3-point buck. All three deer will supply the family with plenty of meat during the winter months.

“For us, hunting is a food-gathering activity as well as recreational,” Wolverton said.

So, how did his grandsons enjoy the technology-free weekend?

“I like being outdoors. It’s pretty fun hanging out with my grandpa,” said Eric, who added that having his two brothers along makes the experience even better. “I like to hunt. It’s a hobby I like to do. I play a lot of basketball, and you have to have a lot of focus out there. In hunting, when a deer comes around, you have to focus. You don’t want to lose it.”

“It was kind of what I expected,” said Brent, who was the only grandson to record a kill in his first year. “I really didn’t expect that I was going to get (a deer). When I got one, I was pretty shocked. … But I really didn’t expect (not having) electricity.”

Wolverton said introducing youth to the outdoors is an important life lesson that needs to be learned.

“You ought to think about the type of outdoor activity, whether it’s hunting or fishing,” he said, “and one which is likely to have some degree of success. You should have at least a reasonably good chance of at least seeing (game), and potentially having the opportunity to do it. Interest is sustained by the activity and not stifled by the lack of activity.”

And what other lessons did the grandsons learn from their grandfather?

“That you shouldn’t hesitate when you are hunting out there, and it’s God’s gift that you got the deer,” Eric said.

“I just like the quiet,” Garrett said, “as long as it’s only for a weekend.”

“To keep my patience,” added Brent. “That I should keep working at it. Don’t quit.”

“They need to understand respect for the web of life, and clearly you need to give the respect to the animal that you harvest,” Wolverton said. “I think it’s a time that I would hope they would treasure all of their lives, long after our generation is gone. They say that people remain alive as long as someone remembers them. It might give me a few more years.”