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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Generations Continuing Traditions on National Wildlife Refuges

Bonnie Campisi, of Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Dayton, Texas, tells us about a few of the hunters we are honored to host at national wildlife refuges across the nation. These hunters share their traditions and their love of the outdoors with their friends and families.  They truly care about public lands. 

Nick, Raylan and David, 2017.     Nick and Raylan Messersmith and David Stevens, 2017. Three generations of hunters. Photos courtesy David Stevens

David Stevens is one of the first hunters I met while working the waterfowl hunt check-station at Trinity River Refuge.  One of our conversations was about how, “People just don’t take care of the outdoors for future generations.”  He said this in dismay as he unloaded the ducks he had just harvested and the trash he collected to and from the boat ramp.  To him, taking his sons, Eric and Hunter, then 16 and 12, hunting was a tradition passed down from father to sons.  His favorite stories came from hunting with his boys, like the time Hunter received a new shotgun for waterfowl hunting. 

  2 boys in knee-deep swamp with shotguns Eric (left) and Hunter, Christmas Eve 2006. Hunter holding his new Christmas present.

On Christmas Eve, like a good father, David snuck the shotgun out of the box in the garage and handed it to Hunter giggling, “We’ll just ‘try it out.’  Don’t let mom find out.”  But then Hunter dropped it in the water while hunting at Trinity River Refuge that morning.  He was absolutely mortified when he arrived at the boat ramp with a swamped gun, Dad laughing hysterically and Eric looking on shaking his head, but they snuck it back in the box and Hunter opened it with great surprise on Christmas morning.  They may have pulled a fast one on Mom, but big brother Eric snickered in the background when he saw mud still caked on the barrel.  A year later, wouldn’t you know it, Hunter dropped his gun in the water, again, this time in the Sabine River near Sabine National Wildlife Refuge.  He dove for hours but never found it.  Poor kid, he just wasn’t meant to have that gun.

David’s other son, Eric, is now happily married.  He still hunts deer on Trinity River Refuge, but now hunts waterfowl from a blind about 10 feet from the bank of the Sabine River near his home.  No doubt reminiscing, with every blow of his duck call, stories of his childhood hunting with family and friends.

 Man in camo with harvest  Hunter, 2017.

Speaking of friends, last year, Hunter brought a few new friends to hunt waterfowl, Nick Messersmith and his 3-year-old son, Raylan. Nick was so excited to share the outdoors and hunting with Raylan.  Raylan loved using the little paddle Hunter used to oar with as a kid.  This season, Nick pulled out a photograph from his phone.  It was a photo of him, Raylan and David, three generations of hunters.  Traditions have to start somewhere, and here is where it comes full circle.

man and son in boat   Nick and Raylan (left) paddling in 2017. Raylan with his inherited paddle.

“You see,” Nick explained, “my family and Hunter’s family were friends from church.  My family didn’t hunt, but I had heard many great stories from my buddy, Hunter, I wanted to learn too.  I was 12 years old.  It was David, Hunter’s father, who taught me everything I know about hunting.  Now I want to teach my son, Raylan, everything David taught me about hunting.”

child with face painted

As an Administrative Officer/Check-station Operator, I admire young fathers showing their sons a love of the outdoors at such young ages.  David and Nick with their sleepy-headed boys, Hunter, Eric and Raylan. The boys mumble about how it is too early for this but then are always the first ones out of the truck getting the boat ready to go.  There they are, the same stories, repeating themselves with each generation of hunters at 4:30 in the morning on boat ramps to lakes, rivers and coastal marshes on public lands.  When they return, ole seasoned, whiskered hunters wink and tell the same tall tales of the ducks that got away and young hunters come in laughing with bright eyes and big smiles holding up their limited-out harvest. The best part of my morning is giving those kids a big high-five. 

My job allows me to hear those same ole stories, and somehow, those stories get even better with each season.

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