April 01, 2020

Hunting safety offers lessons for a lifetime

As shock and outrage continue to resonate over the recent senseless shootings of two horses in Pittsfield by two 16-year-old boys, it might be a good time to evaluate your community and search for a Bobby Boutaugh.

Bobby lives in Millinocket, where I grew up with an early interest in rifles and hunting. My father did a lot with and for me and my brothers and sister, but he was not a hunter. However, he had many friends who were hunters, such as Bobby, who did not hesitate to pass his years of accumulated knowledge on to an eager youth.

We first made trips to gravel pits for target shooting along with early lessons on how to properly handle a weapon when it was loaded and unloaded. In the subsequent fall seasons, trips to hunt partridge and deer followed.

In our sojourns, Bobby was always patient and willing to answer questions, no matter how simple they must have seemed to him. He stressed safety and preparedness when entering Maine’s woods. He taught me how to read a compass and the importance of being equipped with food, dry matches and a sharp hunting knife.

I was welcomed into the hunting camp of another family friend, Chet Dewley as he and Bobby made it feel like home while outlining each hunter’s responsibilities.

Not much escaped Bobby’s attention and it was through his careful observation during one hunting trip that may have saved my toes from a case of frostbite. When packing for the trip, I didn’t heed my father’s advice of taking my heavy insulated boots that were mostly used for snowmobiling. Instead, I grabbed some older lightweight work boots my brother had discarded. They were “cool.” I indiscreetly rationalized that they looked better and wouldn’t crunch as heavily on the snow, thus alerting the deer.

They did crunch right through the snow and a couple of hours into the hunt, my toes were numb and I was moving gingerly. The boots were literally cool. The deer must have thought so, too, because we didn’t’ see any.

I was embarrassed over my “cool” boots and although just a young teen, still was beleaguered by a bit of machismo. I didn’t want to admit that my feet were cold, especially since I had assured Bobby that my boots were of high quality when he had quizzed me on whether the boots “leaked” when we started out that morning.

Bobby didn’t need me to say anything. He could tell by my actions that something was wrong. He looked at me in a stern, but not harsh way, and asked me if my feet were cold. I admitted that they were and in just several minutes, despite the snow-covered ground, he had a fire going and my toes thawed out.

A lecture on the importance of good boots didn’t follow. That wasn’t Bobby’s way. He didn’t lecture.

One thing he would always emphasize, however, whether during target shooting or on a hunt, was “if it’s not something you’re going to eat, then don’t shoot it.”

When Bobby spoke of hunting, his words were always like that, simple and true. He made it easy for a youth to understand. He taught mostly by example and when he gave advice, you knew it was something he had already done or firmly believed.

One subtle, but powerful message throughout this was the importance of respect. Because of it, the careless use of a firearm was never a consideration. It truly never entered my mind.

Today, people like Bobby Boutaugh are even more important to our communities as families continue to struggle to stay together. Young people need help and good role models to follow.

There are men and women like Bobby Boutaugh in your community. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help.

Joe McLaughlin is the NEWS sports editor.

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