If you haven’t noticed, I’m a strong advocate for introducing young people to the outdoors, and have been blessed with the opportunity to do just that, not only through this column but throughout my time as an Indiana Conservation Officer.

I had an outdoor club at Silver Creek High School called the Deerstalkers. Ken Trinkle, a math teacher at Silver Creek, was the sponsor. We also started an outdoor club at Parkview Middle School, which they later incorporated into the health and physical education curriculum. Mike Brading, then Roger Bagshaw, both now deceased, were instructors, followed by Jason Hawkins. Following that, I was fortunate enough to receive a phone call from Toby Cheatam asking if I would be interested in helping with Borden’s outdoor club. We took our club pheasant hunting at Lost River, canoeing in the Blue River, and trap shooting. I was happy that he asked because it’s what I love to do. Since then, Toby and I have become extremely close, like family. Nothing is more rewarding than educating our youth through sports, teaching, or clubs. Seeing a young person’s eyes light up is worth its weight in gold.

I wouldn’t be in position to pass on my passion without having been fortunate to be introduced to the outdoors by my father.

How it got started

Many of you know my Dad. Some call him Marv, some call him Big Mac. For me, he’s simply Dad. This is really making me sound old when I say my first gun was bought by my Mom and Dad 48 years ago. I was 10 years old. Who would have known that buying me that gun would give me a lifetime of joy?! On that Christmas morning, when I opened my gift, and there lay my 20 gauge Harrington & Richardson single barrel shotgun, I was ready to go hunting. Unfortunately, squirrel season was over for that year. The season was different than it is now. My Dad told me that before I could carry my gun into the woods, I was going to have to learn the Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety. He may not have worded it exactly like that, but what I knew for certain, was that I wasn’t going to be allowed to do anything with that gun until I knew how to handle it.

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Mac and Merv Spainhour 

So there I was, learning these important rules about carrying a firearm.

1. Treat every gun as if it were loaded.

2. Control the muzzle

3. Be sure that the barrel and action are clear of obstructions

4. Be sure of your target before you pull the trigger

5. Unload guns when not in use

6. Never point a gun at anything that you do not want to shoot

7. Never climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch with a loaded gun

8. Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface or water

9. Store guns and ammunition separately

10. Avoid alcoholic beverages before or after shooting

I believe Dad was shocked when I recited the commandments in less than two hours. I truly believe he thought it would take me a long time to memorize them. When the next season rolled around he made me carry a BB gun the few times we went out into the woods. All the while, teaching me muzzle control and safety. He taught me the small things like how to walk softly in the woods, how to trick a squirrel into coming to the side of the tree you want him to. We hunted with my cousins, Pat and Eddie Spainhour and Stevie Harris. Being with family and listening to stories was very educational.

Little did I know, all those lessons would play such an important role and be such a huge part of my life.

The following year my dad felt I was ready to take my shotgun. As I would walk behind him through the woods, he would remind me to keep my finger off the hammer and out of the trigger guard. During our hunts, Dad taught me what trees to look in for squirrels. I learned they like Shagbark Hickory, Pignut Hickory, White Oak, Poplar, and Dogwood trees. He wouldn’t let me shoot a squirrel that was cutting on pine cones. He said they wouldn’t taste good. I never did shoot one, so I can’t tell you how they taste. So if you have, let me know!

When it came time to harvest my first squirrel the lessons didn’t stop. I had to learn to skin the squirrel, then gut it. Once home, we needed to rinse it off, cut it up, and soak it overnight in salt water. My Mom would fry the squirrels for my dad and I. Sometimes, we would clean the squirrels and give them to the land owner, thanking him for allowing us to hunt his land.

I am so thankful for my dad introducing me to the outdoors through squirrel hunting. Who would have thought that Christmas morning when I was 10 years old and got my H&R shotgun that my life’s compass was set? From those father/son hunts, and lessons learned, I had a 27-year, nine-month career in the outdoors as an Indiana Conservation Officer. I owe a big thanks to my dad. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have done those same things with my children, and now grandchildren.

Taking grandkids on their first hunt

On Aug. 18, my son Bo and I took his two daughters Brynlee (6), and Hadley (5) squirrel hunting. Their first hunting trip. We called our good friend Kendall Greene from Henryville to see if we could take them hunting on his property. Kendall has a flat woods that are easy to move around in without making a lot of noise. With two girls who don’t have a stitch of camo clothing, and haven’t mastered whispering, it was a blast to say the least.

Brynlee was wearing a light blue shirt with bold white letters that said “Girl Pack.” Hadley had a purple top with a butterfly design on it and a hunter orange hat. Their mom, Brittany, dressed them. Bo had a .22-caliber rifle and I had a 22 pistol. At one point, Bo and Hadley were about 20 feet away from Bryn and me, looking up into the trees for squirrels. The squirrels were tearing the hickory nuts up. I started watching up in the trees, and I told Brynlee to look up where she could see the sky through the trees. I was teaching her what to look for and I was explaining to her to watch for leaves moving. There was no wind that morning, so I told her if we see leaves moving, it was either a squirrel or a bird.

As we’re scanning the tree tops, we see some leaves move pretty far from us. I was a little shocked when Brynlee said she saw those same leaves moving. Then, as pretty as you please, a squirrel ran across a limb and Brynlee excitedly said, “Poppy I see a squirrel!” I was happy that she saw the squirrel, and I was hoping that Bo and Hadley had seen it too. As I was standing there, a proud Poppy, thinking how impressive that was of Brynlee, to see that squirrel, she proceeds to start to yell “hoo-hoo-hoo!” I turned and said, “what are you doing!?” She looked at me with a straight face and said, “I was calling the squirrel to come to us!”

“You sound like an owl!” I said.

It was so hard to keep from laughing. We moved on down the path and as we do she is collecting items of importance to her. She is our nature girl. She filled one of my cargo pockets with hickory nuts, leaves, and acorn caps for her collection. We kept hunting and Bo harvested three squirrels. That’s not bad with two first time little girls hunting with us. During the hunt, we climbed a ladder deer stand to let them see what that was like. Hunting with two of my granddaughters brought back many wonderful memories of hunting trips with Bo and my daughter, Alex, when they were young. There is nothing better than teaching young people about the outdoors. Even though I’m sure Bo and I had more fun than the girls, we’re planning another trip to our Hardinsburg farm. This time, we’re going to add camping out and s’mores the night before. This should be another memory-making adventure and I can say that without my dad doing the things that he did for me, I may not be having near as much fun outside in the woods with my babies and grandbabies. So with that being said, don’t forget to take a kid hunting! And also, thanks, Dad.

Squirrel season runs from Aug. 15 until Jan. 31 with a limit of five per day.

A good friend of mine, Andy Guernsey of Henryville, contacted me Aug. 2 about some deer he found dead. Andy was worried about Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease.(EHD) His suspicions were confirmed. He called a conservation officer to have the deer tested. The deer that Andy found were in the Henryville area. This disease is transmitted by flies commonly known as biting midges, sand gnats, or no-see-ums. It should be noted that humans are not at risk for contracting the hemorrhagic disease. So hunters and outdoor enthusiasts be on the look out for dead or sick deer, and report them to a conservation officer. We will keep you posted.

Dove season coming up — The three segments of dove hunting season are coming up. They will be Sept. 1 through Oct. 20; Nov. 1 through Nov. 17; and Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, 2020.

The daily bag limit is 15 with shooting hours a 1/2 hour before sunrise to sunset. HIP registration and game bird habitat stamp required. You can register for HIP on line or by calling 1-888-4ASKHIP (1-888-427-5447).

Mac Spainhour can be reached via email at mspainhour@nafcs.k12.in.us.

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