DRAYTON, N.D. — Randy Schuster was in the deer stand with his 5-year-old grandson, Rylan Nord, early one afternoon during North Dakota’s recent deer gun season when a dandy buck walked into view about 100 yards away.
Problem was, Grandpa was helping his grandson look for hidden pictures in one of those Highlight activity books.
“I looked up, and there’s a nice buck,” Schuster, 56, of Drayton, N.D., said. “I have to get a round in the chamber, I have to get the window in the deer stand open; he said, ‘Grandpa shoot him.’”
You can probably guess where this is going.
“Oh yeah — Grandpa got buck fever and missed,” Schuster said. “The buck was standing broadside.”
The 5-year-old wasn’t the only one disappointed by that turn of events, but luck was on their side about 2½ hours later, when the buck reappeared in hot pursuit of a doe. This time, the buck was about 250 yards away.
“Rylan said, ‘OK, there he is, we got to get him,’” Schuster recalls. “I took a shot, and down he went. That little boy had the biggest smile in the world.”
Then came the hard part — waiting to make sure the buck was dead. That can seem like forever to a 5-year-old.
“We waited about 10 minutes, and I said, he’s not getting up,” Schuster said. “The whole time, (Rylan) is just glued on that buck with the binoculars.”
They climbed down from the enclosed stand, and Rylan made a beeline for the deer.
“He said, ‘Grandpa, I know where he is — I’ll go first,’” Schuster said. “We go into the woods, and he says, ‘I see something, I think it’s a horn.’”
There lay the big buck 10 yards into the woods.
The look on Rylan’s face as he posed with the deer while Grandpa snapped a photo pretty much says it all.
“That was worth a million bucks to me, to have my grandson with me and enjoy that,” Schuster said.
Passing the torch
Schuster’s time in the stand with his grandson is just one example of an adult “paying it forward” and sharing the experience with a kid in an effort to pass on the hunting tradition and an appreciation for the natural world.
Taking a kid hunting requires patience and divvying the time into smaller doses, Schuster says, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.
Kids, after all, are the future of hunting and fishing and the funding outdoor recreation generates for conservation.
“It’s a good thing to get kids hunting,” Schuster said. “There’s more to life than laptops and computer games. Be prepared to answer 52 questions an hour on why you’re doing this and why you do that. Little kids slow you down, they don’t walk as fast, but they want to know everything about it.
“You’ve got to figure out ways to keep them interested” and feel like they’re part of things, Schuster said. “It just takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s all worth it.”
Darrin Werre of Grand Forks has two hunting partners in sons Tristan, 14, and Bryar, 10. Tristan started tagging along on hunting trips as a 2-year-old, Werre says.
“He claims he remembered being hoisted up into the tree stand when he was 3, but what I remember is him talking the whole time,” Werre, 43, said.
Feeding the boy a steady diet of Goldfish snack crackers didn’t stem the talking, but like good investments usually do, taking his sons hunting has paid dividends, Werre said.
“You reach a point where you have harvested enough game in your life to put it to rest and dedicate the resource to the kids,” he said.
Bryar is a fourth-grader at J Nelson Kelly Elementary School in Grand Forks, and Tristan is in ninth grade at Red River.
Tristan drew an elk tag last year in Wyoming, but they cut the trip short because of grizzly bears, Werre says. He said bringing his son into mountainous grizzly territory in a year with a poor berry crop was the hardest thing he’s done as a parent and hunting mentor.
“That is usually where you can gets tags, though, because everyone has the same fear,” Werre said.
The kicker was when a male grizzly took off with Werre’s mule deer and buried it in the rocks. That was enough excitement for one hunting trip.
“We couldn’t find it, and amazingly enough, a sheep hunter we helped out in the mountains found it for us, got a transfer tag and sent the rack back a month later,” Werre said.
Those are the stories father and son will remember the rest of their lives.
This past fall, Bryar and his older brother both accompanied their dad to Wyoming, where Tristan shot an antelope. They also visited the mountain ghost town of Kirwin, Wyo., and met a western cowgirl who lived in the mountains and shared stories about run-ins with grizzly bears.
The adventures didn’t stop there. Tristan drew a hard-to-get North Dakota mule deer buck tag this fall and shot a 5×4 buck on the fourth day of the hunt.
“Seeing the smile on Tristan’s face when he knew the buck was down was priceless,” Werre said.
Learn by doing
Ask a parent, grandparent or other mentor about the experience of watching a young hunter have success, and they inevitably will talk about the special bond that occurs.
It’s also important to let the kids learn by doing, whether it’s helping to field-dress and process a deer or just getting out and discovering nature.
“Try to teach them the right way of doing things,” Schuster said. “Everybody learns by their mistakes, but if you get them out there — and kids, they just like being out there in the outdoors — there’s a million things to see walking through the woods.
“My grandson finds a stick that looks like a gun, and that baby comes home with us.”
Schuster has four grandkids — in addition to Rylan, there’s Jemma Nord, 1, of Drayton; Jackson Hartje, 8; and his sister Sophia, 6, of Fargo. Schuster says all of the grandkids get BB guns when they turn 7.
“They’ll all be fishing and hunting if I have anything to say about it,” he said.
More fun watching
Greg Mattson of Grand Forks still has a couple of weeks to fill his North Dakota archery deer tag, but if he doesn’t, he has the experience of watching daughters Bethany and Michelle shoot deer with a crossbow.
The girls both have disabilities that allow them to qualify for permits to hunt with a crossbow.
Mattson’s grandson, Wyatt, 5, of Fargo, also got in on the fun and the opportunity for a photo op with the doe Michelle shot earlier this fall.
That was his first “over the shoulder” deer hunt. Mattson, 57, says his little “Wy guy” doesn’t miss much when he’s outside with Grandpa.
“Michelle shot a doe, and he actually found it for us as he stuck his head out of the blind window,” Mattson said.
“It’s down, it’s down,” the boy hollered.
Wyatt waited for the grown-ups to get ready and step out of the blind, slipped on his camo face mask and ran over to the deer for a photo.
“He slid in behind that deer and held that deer’s head up so proud because he felt like he was part of it,” Mattson said. “That was his first experience.”
Experiences like that will fuel the passion for the outdoors and the hunting tradition when his grandson and kids like him are old enough to hunt themselves, Mattson says.
“That’s really what it’s about,” Mattson said. “If our generation doesn’t bring that next generation with us because we’re too busy, this will go away.
“Grandparents are especially concerned about teaching younger generations hunting ethics,” he added. “Good things happen when you take a grandpa and a grandson or granddaughter and put them in a hunting blind together. The bond you get when you’re hunting with your kids and grandkids, I can’t explain it. It’s priceless.”
Mattson, Schuster and Werre all say they remember how much fun it was to tag along when they were kids, sharing in time outdoors, making decoys or listening to stories such as the tale of an uncle who was chased by a bear.
The experiences their kids and grandkids have today are the traditions and hunting stories of tomorrow.
Savor the moments, Werre says, because they go by fast.
“Recognizing the fact that you have a very short time to experience these moments is the most important,” he said. “You won’t regret going on the hunt even if you don’t get what you’re after, but you will most likely regret sitting in front of the TV all season with no good reason not to go.
“They grow up too quick.”