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I grew up in the late '60s and early '70s in a time when a kid could walk through the neighbor’s woods with a .22 rifle or shotgun and was allowed to shoot all the squirrels and rabbits he could find. Times have changed.

'Too fast, too far, too bad'

Unfortunately, many kids today don’t seem as interested in hanging out with friends in the woods as they might be. The neighbors may not want you on their land and kids aren’t taught or encouraged to handle firearms freely as when I was a kid. We should think about getting more kids into the woods to walk and talk while hunting.

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My cousin Danny, a couple of my friends, including Don, Johnny and I, walked many a day shaking vines that went into squirrel nests hoping to startle a squirrel up the tree. Two or more of us would surround the tree while one jerked on vines to see what scurried out. Squirrels are funny in that they will circle the tree to stay out of sight if they can. But with three or so of us there, they never had a chance.

We had hedgerows that separated fields on and around our farm. These areas weren’t planted hedges but were grown over barriers with briars, bushes and small sapling trees. The hedgerows were perfect bedding areas for rabbits.

My dad taught me early on that if you kick a rabbit out of its bed, mark that area and wait a while. That rabbit will likely head right back to the same bed. Dad was right.

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I often flushed a rabbit and even if I missed on a shot, I could return later and look in the brush and see exactly where it had returned. A .22 was all it took to carry one home.

Most if not all the neighboring landowners knew who I was. If I ran into a landowner, about the most quizzing I would get is, “You’re Rubin’s boy ain’t you?” and “How many did you get?”

Things are different now. Some of it started changing with landowners no longer knowing people in the neighborhood. Kids of neighbors have moved away, more and more land has been sold to people from outside the community and there doesn’t seem to be as much closeness or interdependence among landowners as there once was.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but whatever the reasons, most landowners just don’t want lots of people, including locals, hunting their land.

Hunting rights are now a money maker. Deer and turkey hunting has become more popular over the last quarter century. With this increase in popularity, the value of land leases has risen greatly. Landowners are less likely to just give hunting rights away. Once a landowner is leasing out hunting rights, he or she is no longer in a position to allow just anyone to hunt, and that includes neighbors.

I believe things have also changed in that young people have so many things competing for their time. Boys and girls are not isolated in the country or on farms with few options for stuff to keep them occupied. Most homes have 120 television channels. We had four when I was a kid. There were no computers, no satellite reception and no video games.

Today there are more video games available than you can shake a stick at, and every kid seems to have a game console. Computers are an everyday part of life and with the advent of satellite TV, there’s something on the tube to watch 24/7.

My friends and I wandered through the woods mostly for something to do. It was fun to walk and talk. Walking and talking is when we said things we didn’t say in front of our parents and told stories, some true, some not.

For young people today, talking and communicating are done on a cell phone and seem constant. I find that most kids know all the news there is to know and get messages or chat updates by the minute. By the time they get together, what is there left to say?

Then there’s the move nationally to demonize firearms. I don’t want to fight that fight here, but we all have to admit that movement has had a profound impact on how we introduce kids to handling rifles and shotguns and on what having one means.

The days of rifle racks in the back of truck windows and proudly showing your friends in public the shotgun your dad gave you that your grandad gave him are gone.

Whatever the reasons for the change in kids not getting out to wander the woods to hunt, we ought to encourage them to go. We should reach out and break down some of the barriers that keep them from wanting to go. We should introduce them to walking and talking and teach them well the value of owning a good firearm.

Landowners can do a lot by taking the time to invite young people to hunt with them on their land. Show them how cool it is to shake that squirrel’s nest or kick up that rabbit. I bet you will see the fascination in their eyes when they discover the rabbit will come back to the same bed. Let them know if they are respectful and ask to hunt that you’ll find a place for them.

Parents, teach firearms safety if you can. If you can’t teach or aren’t qualified, pair your kids with someone who can help. There’s always the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources “Take One, Make One” program that’s designed exactly to help get young people in the woods. You can learn more at the SCDNR website http://www.dnr.sc.gov/education/tomo/

Not everyone has a connection to the outdoors and hunting. Fortunately there are plenty of us here that can make a difference. Let’s reach out and take some kids walking and talking in the woods.

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Glen Hutto lives in Orangeburg, is an avid outdoorsman, a certified firearms and S.C. Department of Natural Resources hunter safety education instructor.

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