The best thing about that cool, yet sunny autumn morning was the shots that weren’t fired.
My then-17-year-old adopted son, Peito, a family friend and I had gone on a dove hunt at the State Game Lands near Mifflinburg, PA. It was an ordinary day in the field ... except that Peito had just passed his hunters safety course and was hunting for the first time.
Taking a youth on his/her first official hunt is nerve-wracking for any parent—but especially for one of an adopted child. Only so much of hunting ethics can be taught in a classroom setting—many more lessons need to be taught in live-action situations, where life-and-death decisions are based on a solid foundation of ethics, common sense and respect for the outdoors, wildlife and other hunters.
That is why the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s mentored hunts are so valuable ... they encourage parents and children to get into the woods and spend quality time together—for children to see their parents making responsible and respectful outdoor decisions while hunting, and to develop those skills early...To make them second-nature well before the child takes his first gun into the woods.
I didn’t have that extra time with Peito. Seventeen years worth of experience and learning had to be condensed into two (he started living with us at age 15).
So, when that first dove rocketed out of a standing corn row and circled between Peito and myself, I was curious on how Peito would respond. I was ready to tell him to keep his gun down until the dove was in a safe shooting range—and if that didn’t happen, to pass up on the shot altogether and wait for the next find.
I didn’t have to say anything. He waited patiently. When the dove was in a safe shooting direction, his 20-gauge shotgun came to life and he bagged the bird with one shot.
Farther down the same corn row, near the edge of Route 104, two more doves sprung out into the crisp autumn air. They were between Peito and the road. Knowing it wasn’t a safe shot, Peito watched the doves circle and fly off into the distance. Not a shot was fired.
Two months later, we were hunting deer with high-powered rifles. I felt much more at ease considering Peito’s track record to that point with responsible hunting. On the first day, when a nice-sized doe stood on the crest of a ridge, he avoided the temptation to shoot since he couldn’t safely tell where his bullet would go.
As I think back to those moments, I can’t help but feel pride in our son for his responsible decision making in what could have been life-and-death situations.
What if we hadn’t adopted him? Would he have those lessons with another, possibly non-hunting, family?
It’s impossible to say. However, there is no doubt that our outdoor resources in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley provide great opportunities to help a young person develop character, responsibility and self-value.
These traits don’t just come from hunting opportunities, but can also be easily taught via a canoeing expedition, family hike, horseback trail ride, or weekend camping trip.
This past Labor Day, my wife and I had twin ten-year-old foster girls in our home. We decided to spend the long weekend on a family camping trip. It turned out to be the first camping experience for the girls, along with their first time setting up a tent, going on a nature hike, and fishing.
Seeing the twins beaming with pride after catching bluegills was a moment I won’t soon forget. However, more importantly, it was a moment that they’ll cherish for a lifetime and can draw upon when faced with new challenges in day-to-day living.
There are currently hundreds of profiles for children on the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption Network (SWAN) Web site. Children of all ages, sizes, colors and backgrounds —all needing the same thing: a family that will love them for who they are and challenge them to become the best, most responsible adults possible.
To be a good adoptive (or foster) parent, you don’t need to catch the biggest fish, run the roughest rapids or hike the farthest with your trail pack. You just need to get involved, get outdoors and spend time with children who are craving love, guidance and opportunities to grow.
For more about adoption in the state of Pennsylvania, go to the SWAN Web site (www.adoptpakids.org ) or contact an independent child care agency, such as Families United Network (570-651-9016 or www.families4kids.org ).