It’s Not About the Deer: 3 Reasons to Take Your Son Hunting

December 16, 2014

It’s not about the deer, or birds, or rabbits. It’s about our sons, and what they need from us, their fathers.

My youngest child, a boy of 3 years, has been begging to go hunting with me this year. It gives me occasion to reflect on the challenge of raising sons, especially today. Having taught at the college level now for over twenty years, I have ample occasion to observe the travails of boys facing the transition to manhood.

We wonder about boys’ seemingly endless energy, or their lack of it, the temptations they feel, and fall prey to; and why so many seem angry, lazy, self-indulgent, or sullen. I’m not a psychologist, and I do not purport to know all the causes. But I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that we focus on one thing in particular. Dad.

The human person who can best show boys who they are and how to live is for whatever reason often not around to do it. The result seems to be, among other things, palpable unhappiness of epidemic proportions. Mom can’t fill the hole; sisters can’t fill the hole; brothers and friends can’t fill the hole.

It needs to be Dad. Our sons are experiencing even if unconsciously an urgent need for more meaningful contact with us their fathers.

It goes without saying that fathers and sons do not need to hunt together. There are certainly other great father/son activities. The key is that we do need to do more of something together. And some somethings are better than others. From time immemorial certain activities seem custom designed to fit the bill, to fit the forest-sized hole in our sons’ experience.  Hunting—like fishing, gardening, and carpentry—is an archetype of the kind of activity that fathers need to do with their sons. A few things about hunting then are worth noting.

It is time for the child to be alone with Dad.

How easy it is for us to feel like we’re giving enough time to our children—even when we’re not. We compare ourselves to absentee-fathers, workaholics, etc. But often we ourselves can and should be doing more. And those of us blessed with a number of children have the special challenge to do things with each individually.

Time—especially time alone with the child—is the most direct way to communicate the one thing he most needs to hear, and to feel:

It is important to me—your father—that you exist.”

It has been suggested that this is the single most important thing that empowers a child to feel at home in the world. That he has a place. That he is someone: someone who can hold his head high. Just because.

Others may say or think what they will; I know what my Daddy thinks of me.

It is an activity that is at once challenging and useful.

Lesser actions can be worthwhile, just for the sake of doing something together. But when the actions are more intrinsically meaningful then they are likewise better ways of being-together. Experience bears this out. When a boy is able to perform some evidently ‘manly’ action well, under the tutelage and in the company of his father, there is profound satisfaction and enjoyment.

And this is in part due to the unique sense of accomplishment and self-worth engendered by such actions. Little can compare with bringing home the fruit of his labor and presenting it to the woman he and his father love most. “Look Mommy at what I have done for you.” Here the very “I’ is one conceived and born in a unique way through the shared experience with his father. I do like my Daddy does.

It is an opportunity for mentoring in stewardship, and appreciating the natural order.

Boys are always observing what their fathers hold dear, and what principles they live by. Deeply held convictions of what is true, or what needs to be done—these have a defining power for the child when they are enshrined in the father’s actions.

Hunting embodies many life lessons, and many principles to live by, all of which are shared from father to son primarily by doing them; little needs be said.

“Only take a shot that you know will reach its mark.” “Only harvest what will be eaten.” “Always minimize pain for the animal, even at inconvenience to yourself.” “All animals are a gift to be received with gratitude.” “Hunting should foster the good of the species hunted.” “The safety of others is always the top priority.” “Harvest with respect; eat with gratitude.”

Hunting is also laden with seriousness, if not excitement, from beginning to end. Every action has real consequences. There is no pushing a ‘new game’ button here. A boy feels this; and it keeps him close to reality—to the real world around him. It also will tend to keep him close to his father.

Perhaps the most obvious reason to do such activities with a son is the simple fact: he will not forget it; even long after Daddy is gone.

John A. Cuddeback is a chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is He and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children—and a few pigs and sundry—in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah.

John Cuddeback


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Reader Interactions


    • John Cuddeback says

      Carlos, It certainly can! I think that what we fathers should be thinking about is finding GOOD CONTEXTS for being-with our children. Often these contexts are more simple than we think–perhaps involving not much more than ourselves, the natural world, and some simple gear or tools. A characteristic of good contexts is that they somehow bring us together precisely IN and through what we are doing. This of course is not to say that we never do lesser things together–such as watching a movie, which can also be a nice shared activity. But I think we need to realize that the richer contexts of which I am speaking are becoming more rare, and we might need to make a special effort to make them happen.

  1. Brian Fox says

    Very well said. This rings true in my experience with my own father and is something I hope to be able to do with my sons.

  2. Gabriella Federico says

    Once again, Dr. Cuddeback, you are wonderful and inspirational and literally amazing. Keep at it, pleaseeeee

  3. Kennedy says

    Interesting article that rang very true in my experience. However, a somewhat pedantic point is that most of the hunting in my youth was carried out with dogs and horses and a crowd of other hunters. A very different experience to the American one. My equivalent experience would be mountain climbing – that worked for my relationship with my son.

    • John Cuddeback says

      Kennedy, It is interesting how different kinds of activities can be the context for quality one-on-one time. Of course those communal events, such as hunting was in your experience, have their own importance place too, as they can likewise give our youth a great sense of belonging. Thanks for sharing.

  4. echarles1 says

    40 years on I remember going fishing with my dad, though we did not fish often or well. And I remember going to his job to work on our Pine Wood Derby cars. And I remember camping for Indian Guides, and that he coached my Little League teams. And on and on. I never realized how lucky I had it that he was around often doing stuff with us kids.

  5. Robert E. says

    What to do if one is a dyed-in-the-wool city-slicker? Seriously, its something of a divide in traditionalist-Catholic circles which affects the cohesion of (and could one day split) the community: the hunters/rusticists vs. the urbanists. I admit we are in the minority, however…

    • John Cuddeback says

      Robert E., You raise a great issue that needs to be addressed. While there is something of a divide between the two groups you mention, I don’t think this need negatively affect the cohesion of the community. Urban and rural life done rightly should be truly complementary. While I am convinced that a general return to living closer to the rhythms of the natural world is important for all of us, this does not mean that we all need to live in the country and raise our own food, etc. There is an urban way of living that respects the order of the natural world and remains connected to the people and other living things in rural areas. This of course bears more discussing.
      As regards the more specific issue of the article, I suggested that there are a variety of activities that are very fitting for father and son. They need not be rural-centered activities; carpentry for one is not. At the same time I would suggest that certain forays along the lines of hunting or fishing, or simply hiking, are good ways for even dyed-in-the-wool city slickers to cultivate that ‘other side’ of their own selves.
      I appreciate your comment.

  6. Duane Breaux says

    Could not agree with you more. My dad has been gone almost 10 years. When I am in the woods in my deer stand or walking looking at the tree tops for squirrels, I think about the hunts I spent learning from my father. As I have no children, I pass on what he taught me to my nephews.


  1. […] Many of our sons are suffering, in more ways than we realize. And what they need is more time with us, their fathers. Here is a reflection I posted at The Catholic Gentleman: “It’s Not About the Deer: Three Reasons to Take Your Son Hunting.” […]

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