Unlike most of my Elite Series competitors, I didn’t grow up hunting. I spent vast amounts of time outdoors, but my dad was a fisherman and that’s what we focused on almost exclusively. In my teen years I hunted with friends on occasion, and I did a few guide trips for ducks, but I never really got into hunting as much as fishing.
My two boys certainly like to fish, but recently they’ve become obsessed with hunting, too. Laker turned 13 in August and he’s had BB guns for a couple of years. He got a pellet gun for Christmas last year and spent lots of time practicing before he headed out into the woods behind our house for a little squirrel hunting. He’s a good shot because he brings a squirrel home and cooks him on the grill every time he goes. I haven’t gotten THAT hungry yet! I guess he’s wild at heart and I think that’s great.
Oakley is 9, and of course he wants to do everything that Laker does, so the hunting bug has bit him, too.
One of the many great things about winning the Classic is the number of people who’ve extended all types of kindness and opportunities to us. There’s a gentleman who lives not far away who has traveled the world hunting for trophies and after I won the Classic I filmed a photo shoot on his private lake. We got to talking and he mentioned that he also has a firing range and said we could use it to practice whenever we needed it. When we got an invitation to hunt another friend’s private land, we took him up on that and worked until the boys were not only exceptionally safe with firearms, but also confident and calm when using them.
Even though you don’t need to take a Hunter Safety course in Alabama until you’re 16, Laker still went through the process online. Every day for about two weeks, he’d sit down at the computer after he finished his schoolwork and knock out one or two more units. I was really proud that he took it so seriously.
Last weekend was the big opportunity. We were hunting land in Tennessee that has some true trophies on it. Very few young kids ever get such a great opportunity. Of course, being a professional fisherman I brought the bad weather with me. It rained for about the first three hours we were there on Friday. As soon as it cleared up, a few small bucks stepped out in front of us. It happened so fast I couldn’t even get my video camera ready to go. Then, out of nowhere, a big 10-pointer stepped in between them. Laker was calmer than I was. He did things exactly the way he was taught, breathing and taking his time before he took a shot. When he fired, the deer flinched, then took off, and went down 25 yards away. It was just an amazing feeling, like watching your son catch a 10 pound bass.
Since we were only permitted to take one big buck, Oakley was primed to take a non-trophy. After that brief clearing on Friday, it got cold and windy the rest of the weekend and even if we’d been allowed to take another buck the opportunity never presented itself. He did have a doe come his way, though. It came in at an awkward angle and he had to shoot from a non-optimal position, but just like Laker he handled it like a champ. I didn’t know what to expect, but he took one shot, the deer ran off maybe 40 yards down a ravine and we didn’t know if he had hit it or not. As we walked into the woods looking for it, I spotted it 30 yards away. He’d hit it in exactly the right spot. Again, I was one very proud father.
The boys were on cloud nine the rest of the trip and the whole ride home. They’d set goals and achieved them through hard work. I had a lot of time to think about it and the more I thought, the more excited I was. For all of the years I’ve been on tour, I’ve heard that fishing and hunting have a lot in common. Brent Chapman, who hunts so much he practically lives in the woods, has mentioned it again and again, but until this weekend I didn’t fully see the parallels. It’s all about timing, having the right equipment and going through the process.
Sometimes as pro anglers we get set in our ways and try to do things “the way we’ve always done them.” The boys kept an open mind, listened to people with more experience than them, and followed the playbook. You’re never too old to learn, but sometimes it pays to think like a kid. Having a teachable spirit as an angler and in life in general, is an important part of getting better as you get older. I try to learn something from someone everyday. Pride gets in the way of growth and I think having the faith and attitude of a child would do us all good.
Good luck and God bless!