By Aaron Farley

I will probably never forget that summer evening standing on a dock on Lake Nottely. The weather was perfect; and the brim were buzzing around the dock like teenage girls waiting to get into a Justin Bieber concert. You could not ask for better conditions to help someone go fishing for the first time. I showed him how to hook worms where they would last as long as possible. There was a quick lesson on how to work an open face reel, and when to flip the bell. I tied a sinker on a few inches up the line from the hook, and he was ready.

From the look in his eyes, you might have guessed he was getting ready to walk out to the half-court line for his once-in-a-lifetime shot for a million dollars at an NBA championship game. To say that he was a ball of nervous excitement would be an understatement. He rolled the reel open and hooked his finger across the string just like I’d shown him, looking at me for the go ahead nod. With a gentle flick of the wrist, he flipped the wormy hook a few feet away from the dock and dropped it to the bottom. He began to tug gently on the line every few seconds, bumping the sinker across the bottom of the lake like a natural.

WHAM! The rod tip began to jerk up and down, and he quickly shifted into a sort of panic. The reel was spinning so fast, he had the little brim firmly plunged into the eye on the rod tip before I could slow him down. After a moment of touchdown style celebration and chest bumps, we let out some line, and he began to take his prized beast off the hook. I let him jerk his hand back from the fish like it was an open flame as many times as I could stand, and then slid the fins down for him and removed the hook with my pliers. Holding the fish in his hand, and trying to hold a massive grin with his face, he proudly posed for me to take a pic with his phone so he could text his mother. He had just caught his first fish, ever.

When I started getting into hunting, I was surprised at how difficult it was to get into “the club” in some respects. Guys tend to guard their spots, secrets, advantages, and resources in fear of losing them. If a guy does not have a father or grandfather to teach him, it can be difficult to learn. Because of the vast amounts of information available today, that wall is quickly getting lower – but it can still be intimidating looking in from the outside. Thankfully, I had a friend who was willing to give away what he had learned. A couple hunting trips in his shadow were extremely helpful to me as a budding woodsman, and still to this day we draw from each other’s experiences and I ask him for advice.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to refuse to be one of the tight lipped. If I could help someone learn about the outdoors that now mean so much to me – I was going to do it. That decision ultimately led me back across the path of a former co-worker who started an outdoors ministry to single parent teenage boys. His organization, Truth In Nature (www.truthinnature.org), takes boys hunting, fishing, camping, canoeing, and much more outdoors. He arranges for them to learn gun safety, archery, survival skills, and to get their hunter’s safety certificate for their state hunting license. Those of us who volunteer are able to work with the teens on these programs and often share these experiences with them for their first time.

I have been able to help teens catch their first fish, kill their first squirrel, hunt for the first time, shoot a gun and bow for the first time, and even make a s’more for the first time. Along the way we build relationships with the guys. We are able to help them make wise decisions and talk about the spiritual, emotional, and social issues the young men are facing. I am always amazed at how applicable the disciplines of a hunter/outdoorsman are to life. More than once I have been able to demonstrate patience and stewardship in the woods, only to have a conversation about those same qualities in the cabin that weekend.

Taking someone into the outdoors who is learning definitely has a price. Deer will not usually tolerate the fidgeting and noise that accompany a new hunter. Shot opportunities are lower, and fish hooks buzz by uncomfortably close when there are beginners around. There may be days when I am not seeing deer that I would have seen otherwise, or when the fishing is slower because of the noise. Yet, I find that the more I invest myself into others, the more I get back in return. I have built relationships with people I now consider good friends, and I have been able to talk young men without fathers through issues of being a young man in today’s world. Maybe I have lost a few opportunities here and there, but I have gained back so much more. It seems that while I am trying to give back to the next generation of the hunting community, I am getting more than I can ever give.

Author’s Note: I would encourage you to ask yourself what you may be able to give back to the hunting community. If we don’t build up the future, who will? I try to ask myself, “Am I consuming information and resources without putting anything back in for someone else?” You know what they say about a sponge: If it only absorbs, and is never wrung out – it becomes sour and rotten. Besides, I’ll bet when you find yourself giving back, you’ll actually be getting more too.

– Aaron Farley, RusticMan.com