By John Simeone
Winner of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association 2007 Excellence in Craft Award for Electronic Internet Article
“I would rather die a broken piece of jade, than to live a life of clay.”……Bruce Lee
There are bills being attempted by anti hunters in several states to raise the legal hunting age to 16 before a youth may take to the field. It’s only a matter of time before it happens in this state. “ Balderdash,” is the closest word I can get away with here, while my good buddy Ted Nugent would certainly tell it like it is. You see the antis know by age 16, the likely hood of developing a hunting interest will pass by for the more palatable activities recommended by single parent soccer moms, such as golf, and video games. Statistics show we have lost about ten thousand hunters in Louisiana since 2000. I would not pontificate to parents how to raise their children, although many others would. However, should your kid get around me for any length of time, you can be assured they will not be influenced into becoming a loser.
I was introduced to the legacy of the concept of “Pass It On,” when my mother read to me “The Old Man and the Boy,” the classic work of the great outdoor author Robert Ruark. Not long there after, I began to live within the pages, as if my life was adjusted to each chapter as almost everything I did was very much like the “boy” growing up under the tutelage of older gentlemen, wise in the ways of the outdoors. Of course there was my father who taught me how to shoot. Although he was a city boy himself, from New Jersey, he developed quite an interest in hunting and fishing in his later life and I enjoyed many a happy day with him, squirrel hunting, or crappie fishing in Logan County, Arkansas.
When I was a teenager, I was a down right quail hunter, with my own English setter and plenty of land to hunt on. To this day the Remington model 1100, I got for Christmas in 1966 still sees duty. “Old Betsy” was fully restored by my pet gunsmith Matt Wilson of Leesville, and it still brings in the game for generation after generation of youth hunters that I get to mentor from time to time. You would be surprised how many times a youngster will call you sir, when you bring out a classic shotgun, hand it to the kid and say, “Let’s go getem.”
Back in the day, we went to high school, many of us in our own cars and pickup trucks. The shotguns and rifles were on the gun rack of the truck, and when school let out, We, including the teachers, headed for the field to hunt whatever happened to be in season. We learned to make cedar box turkey calls in the Shop Class long before there was ever mention of the National Wild Turkey Federation. I didn’t know that my teacher Ardell Eckleberry, was a PHD, but I did know he was the first “White Man” to ever bag a deer on Mt Magazine, with a bow and arrow. Later I would be the first person to do the same with a modern muzzle loader and be the first person to call in a turkey for a youth Bow Hunter in Louisiana, not that I cared or tried that hard, it was just being in the right place at the right time. But it was all very real, never the less.
Then there was that Vietnam thing, an attempt to go to college for wildlife management, but I got drafted anyway, and 7 days later they stopped the war. Now there is a shock to the system if you please. Evidently the Army and I got along for the next 20 years, giving me the education no college could ever provide, I never regretted the little letter that said “Greetings.”
As a Military Policeman, with a little college in wildlife management, they made me an Army Game Warden. With my new major in criminal investigation, paid for in house by Uncle Sam, I put on a suit and tie for the last 7 years as an Army detective. With this experience, I got to see first hand what happens to our youth if they are not properly raised and motivated. Woods Wise lent into Street Smart, an unbeatable combination.
“When the pupil is ready the master will appear,” I was about 19, when I ran into this Cherokee Indian fellow, named Lou Elison. He was a sergeant in the MP Company I was assigned to at Fort Sill, and being we were both from the same part of the country in Arkansas, he took me under the wing. It was here I learned everything an adventurous young man needs to know. Lou was a phenomenal sharpshooter, a deadly martial artist, a natural professor of the outdoors and possessed this inner strength of spirituality that made him the most trusted of friends. This apprenticeship under a master, right out of the Karate Kid movie, led me in the right direction mentally, physically and spiritually. Ironically, the best lesson was that of humility.
Looking back over the last 30 years or so, every good thing I ever did reflected right back on this mentor, properly called sensei in the martial art world, or “The man who has gone before.” The Cherokee Nation bestowed on him a different title, more applicable to a man of the earth, “Medicine Man.” Notably, a movie about Lou and I would have been much more interesting than the “Karate Kid.” You see, it was real, it was high adventure.
Imagine being taught by such an individual that thousands of students thereafter would be affected. By and by, I became one of those Sensei fellows too. In the Army alone there were many who became proficient martial artists and sharpshooters, some world class. It was fun for some, but others carried their knowledge to the battlefield, and in the streets of law enforcement. I get letters all the time from soldiers who came home after a tour of duty, all in one piece, thanking us for some little thing we taught them they didn’t get in basic training. Now even the Green Berets listen. So go tell the Spartans.
During this time I clearly observed we lost a large part of an entire generation of good men and women to distorted values, the new drug culture, and an “easy life” too commercialized, as somehow they lost the essential basic concepts of readiness, reality, respect and responsibility. Recently I discovered to my dismay, local teenagers lacked the vocabulary and reading skill just to read an outdoor article. The Medicine Man’s vision of the future was grim. We all take different paths in life, but know this. “Once the path has been chosen there is no return.” You may be a big wheel in business, and pack around a pocket full of plastic that use to have a special silver jingle of real money when it hits the table. Like our coins of today, we have a lack luster society. I wonder if that ring is the last echo of the Liberty Bell. When the military gets back from “Over there,” perhaps these people of good character will cause a great reform for the better.
Can we get back the sharp edge of the Bowie Knife forged right here in Louisiana, or did you even know that? Do you hire a guide for your yearly three day deer hunt, never leaving the office, or do you scout for days and plan every move while studying all the concepts that makes the outdoor experience come alive when hunting? Can you sharpen your own pocket knife or properly make the sounds real on a turkey call, or do you have someone do that for you too? Chances are you can’t even sight in your own deer rifle. If you saw grey sky in the morning what would you do? If the wind was out of the East what would this indicate? Do deer move high in morning or move low, and if the moon was a sickle in the sky would this be good or bad? You probably don’t notice such things, and the few that do were put on such pedestals and titled “Pro Staffers,” a commercial fantasy world, unapproachable by most of us, was created around them. Hardly remembered, the great ones died at the Alamo.
Realize there are just some things that money can’t buy, recognize fantasy for what it is and learn something real. It may take some time, but it is worth it in the long run. Then do it yourself, and become a real naturalist, a sharpshooter, and perhaps an outdoor mentor, suddenly you find out there is a little Davy Crockett in all of us. Seek the path that few enter with that special urge to see what’s over the next hill, never really looking for silver and gold, just looking to see what’s out there. Bringing along your son or daughter, you may find out that showing a youngster how to perform basic outdoor skills is far better than spoiling them rotten to get them out of your hair. You see quickly, this reflects on everything else they do. “Fantasy is fun, but reality may become legend.” You might not realize it but you just might become a hero, big medicine to the kids. Call this money in the bank, with a high interest rate.
Does it take a village to raise your youth outdoorsmen? I think not. A little good parenting, some love, a little study and perhaps a trusted expert teacher or two. One suggestion for sure is to keep them away from the ever present, “Village Idiots.”
In the mean time, get yourself some old silver and maybe even a gold coin or two and carry them in your pocket. When your office buddies attempt their silly ideas upon you that you don’t necessarily agree with, recognizing this as hyped up fantasy, or just plain wrong, have them drop their pocket change on the table. The resounding dullness will be apparent. Then drop your coins on the table and let them hear the clear ringing of truth and reality, somewhere there in, is a glint of high adventure …Pass it on.