A Place For Family and Friends: The Outdoors

By Steve Webner

As a young man growing up in the Loess Hills of western Iowa, I was too busy pursuing teenage interests to realize the beauty the hills had to offer. It wasn’t until I was older and a college student at Mankato State University that I found myself trying to figure out what was important to me and who I was to become. As a young person who had just set out on his own, I found myself with no hobbies or interests that would contribute to a happy, healthy, or fulfilling lifestyle.

All of that changed on a cold, crisp December morning in 1991. On this particular day I was visiting my girlfriend at her parent’s rural farmhouse near Oto, Iowa, when a group of men walked through the door excitedly talking, laughing, and thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. I could see the head-to-toe orange clothing these men were sporting placed them in a “club” that promoted such happy and exuberant experiences. They were deer hunters. These men were long-time friends and members of my girlfriend’s family who came together once yearly for Iowa’s shotgun deer season – a religious ritual for this group of guys who came from all walks of life, near and far. As the men sat down to a hot bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, the laughter and excitement continued as they told animated stories of shots missed, the excitement they felt when seeing a big buck, comparing the shotguns they used, planning strategy for the afternoon hunt, and a little friendly teasing; conversations that appeared to bring the bond between them even closer. As a young man in college, I had not witnessed such a boisterous fraternity since my cherished high school locker room days. The personal connections, excitement, and purity of the moment were extremely contagious. I wanted it, and little did I realize at the moment, I needed it.

That same girlfriend, who is now my wife (undoubtedly due in part to her wisdom and understanding of what makes me tick), was very observant that morning; sensing my desire to experience and become a part of the deer hunter club. In order to push me out of the nest, she convinced her father to let me join the group the following year, and bought me a Fred Bear Whitetail II bow to try out the next archery season as well. The stage was set.

It didn’t take long for the outdoor lifestyle’s benefits to come to fruition. Time in the field hunting, fishing, and camping helped me to develop new friendships, strengthen and rejuvenate old relationships with friends and family, and provided a lifestyle that was pure and wholesome. It also brought me some of the most adrenaline-rushed, exciting, and often peaceful times I have ever experienced.

Thinking back, I remember childhood experiences with my own family in the outdoors. Everything from nature walks with my mom, my first tag-along pheasant hunt with my dad on a fall morning in 1977, camping and fishing with my beloved grandparents, to my first turkey hunt with my uncle near the Yellow River State Forest area. It wasn’t the birds that were harvested or the fish that were caught that were the source of cherished memories, it was the hours I spent with family and friends that left a deep and wonderful mark on my soul.

The most profound impact of this outdoor lifestyle came upon the birth of my first child. When your children are born there is no playbook telling you how to raise them right; many follow examples from their parents and do the best they can. My wife and I realized that time spent with our children would impact who they would become and the lifestyle they would enjoy. As parents, we never wanted to have regrets of not spending enough time with our boys. As an educator, I had witnessed too many students who did not have a strong bond with a positive adult role model. It was during this “how do I raise my kids” time that I heard the legendary rocker and outspoken proponent for the outdoors, Ted Nugent, say something that has been engrained in my mind ever since — “Take our kids hunting so you don’t have to go hunting for your kids.” This quote helped me realize what needed to be done – to develop a disciplined, fun, and healthy lifestyle for my children with the outdoors as our backdrop.

I must confess that I also had selfish reasons for choosing outdoor experiences as a portion of my playbook for raising my children. I knew, even as a young father, that there would be a time when family and friends would not come around as much anymore and much of what I would have left were the sweet memories. Although our sons are now grown and living on their own, my wife and I continue traditions that take place in the outdoors with our children. Fortunately, since the joy of the outdoors excites them, they are more inclined to take part in such activities with the old folks. Everything from hunting and fishing trips, to boating, site seeing, and snowmobiling. These traditions still bond us closer as a family as we all grow older, with hopes that their future families may one day also take part.

It is exciting to witness how the outdoor lifestyle continues to impact our children’s lives as they seek their own life paths. It is a reinforcement that your children learn what they live. It makes us proud to have had the opportunity to teach them the importance of family, being a good person, and respect for our world. Outdoor experiences continue to enrich their lives. The cycle continues.

If you have not done so, consider starting traditions in which your family connects in the outdoors. It is never too late to start. It refreshes the soul and puts back into perspective what is really important in life.