The Chill of the Hunt

Hunting helps children understand life and death.

By Carlin Flora, published on May 1, 2008 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

"Hunting has taught me to be patient. You have to sit there and wait and when something comes, it pays off," says 10-year-old Benjamin Reid, gazing at a picture of himself with his older brother in the background on a goose hunt.

Last winter in Williamson, New York. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, argues that hunting—a strong tradition in many American families—gets kids off the couch to explore the outdoors, lets them grapple with grand themes of life and death, and could even protect them from obesity and depression. "It's fun to go out there instead of sitting in front of the TV," Benjamin says. "We went to corn fields on this hunt, and I saw different kinds of acorns—things I wouldn't find in my backyard."

Benjamin is too young to handle a gun legally, but kept lookout and flew the decoy bird flag during the three-day trip with his father and brothers. Photographer Erika Larsen, who has completed a series of portraits of children hunting with their families, also tagged along.

"I was curious about the peacefulness surrounding hunters," she says. "That might sound funny, because they are killing animals, and nature can be violent. But all the quiet waiting and then watching how the animals behave makes you feel connected to the earth." Larsen learned that many kids who hunt are very interested in conservation. "They grew up in the outdoors, and want to be the next stewards of the forests."

The forest didn't provide the Reids with a bird to cook for dinner this time, though. They went home goose-less. "We were a little disappointed," Benjamin admits. "But at least we got to go home and warm up."