Passing on tradition


Editor's note: To accompany Deer Camp '09, we've asked athletes, prominent figures and outdoorsmen to relate their first deer kill.

"Somewhere, Grandpa is smiling, " Doug Jeannerett, Vice President of Marketing for the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, said with a smile. "My dad died in 1977, but I know that he is proud."

The reason for the smiles is that the week before Thanksgiving, Doug took his 16 year-old son, Will, out deer hunting near Columbus, Ohio, and Will bagged his first deer, with one shot from his 20-gauge Beretta. That makes three generations of smiling Jeanerett's.

Doug grew up in Ohio and has been a hunter, trapper and fisherman for over 40 years, thanks to his dad's early instruction.

"I still remember my first hunt with my dad," Doug said. "In the 60s in Ohio, pheasants were the most sought after, and possibly the most abundant game. Whitetails were still a rarity in our neck of the woods.

"My dad presented me with an old Steven's 410, passed down from an earlier generation — quite a thrill for a nine year-old. I couldn't quit smiling, thinking of that old single shot being mine. I shot a limit of two pheasants the first time out ... dad and my brother allowing me to take shots easily made by either of them.

"Just thinking of this and the many, many other pheasant, duck, and rabbit hunting trips as well as running a trapline with my long departed dad, brings a tear to my eye and a smile to my face. Taking my son Will out last week in search of his first whitetail made me understand how my dad, Will's grandpa, felt all those years ago."

Unlike Will, Doug did not go hunting deer in Ohio when he was growing up because there were very few deer in Ohio in the 1960s. He waited until he was 19 and went to Pennsylvania, where he bagged his first deer with a bow. Later that year, he got another one, this time in Michigan. An auspicious start.

"The game has changed. Whitetail are now king in Ohio, being easily the most hunted species by the most hunters," Doug said, "because our deer population has exploded."

Today there are about half a million hunters in Ohio, and most of them hunt deer, bagging almost a quarter of million deer.

"It was deer youth season that set the stage for my son and I to pursue the biggest of all Ohio game," Doug said proudly. "Will began hunting when he was 10, being one of the younger boys in the Hunter's Ed classes. He was already an accomplished shot — no blackbird was safe when it landed near him.

"His love of bird hunting led to his first game hunting experience in a dove field. It was love at first sight, or shot, so to speak. He loved everything about dove hunting — lots of action, lots of shooting, lots of game. It is the essence of why dove hunting is so great to use to introduce newcomers to hunting."

A friend offered to allow Doug and Will to hunt his property — 200 acres in the heart of good whitetail country in eastern Ohio.

"We made our way to a spot in a mature woods, bordered by a hay field and a food plot. Arriving at midday, we made our way to a double ladder stand set up to allow us a shot in the wooded ravines below us while still having a good view of the fields above us. The day was windy but pretty warm for late November in Ohio.

"Will and I sat for a couple hours, searching the woods and talking quietly in the swaying stand. He had his Beretta .20-gauge at the ready, loaded with the latest and greatest slugs from a friend at Lightfield Ammunition. As we strained to hear the rustle of leaves or see deer meandering through the bottoms, Will whispered excitingly to me 'Dad, look ... deer!'

"About 60 yards away, three deer silently were making their way through brush, heading to the fields above us. The lead deer, a doe, was already by us as my boy shouldered his shotgun. The second deer was a fork horn buck but the third looked to be a young doe. 'Take the last one,' I whispered, barely able to conceal the emotion running from my head to my toes.

"All I had to say was 'take him when you have the shot' and the gun fired. The young deer jumped straight in the air and moved slowly back down the hill, it's momentum taking it less than 20 yards before going down. The fork horn, unaware of what was going on, stood still for a moment. He then ran right toward us, stopping under our stand and looking around to figure things out. It just added to our excitement as he stood for a few moments before continuing his journey to the fields.

Now, my 16 year-old isn't into hugs anymore, but I had him cornered in the stand and he had no choice. After the hug and handshake, we sat and relived the moment ... how we didn't see or hear them until they were upon us ... and how this first deer for him was a long time coming. I'm sure he'll never forget his first deer and I know, I'll never forget experiencing it with him, much as I remember his sister a decade before when she took her first deer at 10."

Jeanerett has some words of advice about introducing kids to hunting. If the kid is hooked into the electronic world of video games, cell phones, Blackberries and iPods, maybe they should start out with a form of hunting that is faster paced, which is closer to the high information world they have been living in.

"The excitement of dove hunting is exactly what Will didn't like about deer hunting ... lots of hours, sitting in a stand or blind being as quiet as possible and moving very little," he said. "Dove hunting can be just like his video games ... nonstop excitement whereas deer hunting is akin to sitting in a classroom ... taking in all of the sights and sounds. This is the essence of the uphill battle facing hunting and other outdoor activities today. It's tough to compete many times with the fast pace excitement of games, sports, etc. That is why it was so important to me to expand my son's hunting horizons, so to speak, and get him in a deer stand. I felt like if he could experience taking a deer one time, he would be hooked for life."

As we enter the holiday season, lots of families are serving wild game, which is a meal filled with meaning, as well as good, healthy food.

"I know that every time we enjoy some of this bounty at the dinner table, I'll wander back to that tree stand, reliving a moment that truly lasts forever," Jeanerette said. "I only hope that those of you reading this story will take the time to make this type of memory with their children. I guarantee that every second you spend doing this will reward you with years of joy."

Jeanneret is Vice President of Marketing for the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a national non-profit association with the sole purpose and mission to protect and defend hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting in all 50 states and in Washington D.C. He has been a hunter, trapper and fisherman for over 40 years. He and his spouse of 26 years Sharon, daughter Alexandria, and William live in southern Ohio.

Will Jeanneret is now a sophomore in high school and plays baseball and soccer. He has spent countless hours hunting doves and earlier this year, at 15, shot his first black bear.

In addition to his own family, Doug and USSA feel very strongly about introducing kids and families into the outdoors, which translates into the "Trailblazer Adventure Program", which has introduced more than 800,000 families to the thrill of outdoor sports since 2001.

Through this exciting program, seasoned sportsmen and wildlife professionals provide hands-on firearm safety lessons, fishing instruction, archery programs, trapping demonstrations and much, much, more.