Forest for the trees


“It’s not all about the shooting. It’s about time together.”

— Gary Nichols, bow hunter, on hunting with his 8-year-old daughter

Eight-year-old Tiana Nichols had an early introduction to hunting.

Very early.

“Four days after she was born, I took her up to where my tree stand was,” father Gary Nichols says. “That kind of gives you an idea.”

Gary, 56, is a deputy sheriff with the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office. He hunts exclusively with a recurve bow and has been hunting in the area since 1989. He’s involved his daughter in hunts as much as possible since her birth in September 2002.

“The experiences and lessons a child is subjected to in the outdoors helps them develop confidence in themselves that can last a lifetime,” he says.

Those lessons, he adds, began in earnest when Tiana was a toddler.

“I got her started shooting a recurve bow when she was 3 years old,” he says. “And she’s been going hunting with me since she was 3 years old.”

Since then, Tiana has joined her father on turkey, elk and antelope hunts.

“She’s spent a lot of hours in ground blinds and tree stands,” he says.

Gary says his daughter has learned skills like identifying animal tracks and perfecting an elk call. However, she hasn’t yet taken a shot at game. For that privilege, she’ll have to wait a few years until she’s 12 and can get a hunting tag. When that day comes, her objective is clear.

“To shoot my own elk or deer,” Tiana says.

In the meantime, Tiana serves as a good partner.

“She’s real quiet,” Gary says.

“You have to be patient and quiet,” Tiana adds.

Gary says hunting teaches children patience. And the parents who take their children hunting learn the same lesson.

“When you take your children hunting, you have to be more patient yourself,” he says. “You have to put them first and not yourself first. That teaches you patience. And it makes me a better parent just being outdoors with my children.”

Gary says the experience of hunting with his daughter has changed his perspective on the sport.

“I think when you go hunting with children, you see things through children’s eyes,” he says. “You slow down a bit and see things that, as an adult, a lot of times you don’t see. It’s not all about the shooting — it’s about time together.”

Gary’s new outlook is evident in his approach to the 2011 hunting season. “I drew a tag this year — a coveted tag to Unit 2 at Douglass Mountain — for archery elk,” he says. “There’s only eight tags in the whole unit. I’ve been putting in 17 years for that tag. When I first started putting in for it, in my mind, it was all about killing a 350 bull.

“Everybody tells me, ‘Now that you have that tag, you have to kill a big bull.’ I say, ‘I’m going out there, I’m going to camp, relax, have a good time, and I’m not going to put pressure on myself to get a big bull. If I get a nice bull, that’d be great. If I don’t — even if I don’t even fill the tag — I’m still going to have a good time.’ It drives guys crazy.”

Tiana, on the other hand, has a different notion of what her father should get.

“A big bull,” she says. “A big fat one.”

Tiana, who is in third grade, says one boy in her class hunts with his parents, but none of the girls do. And some of those girls think it’s weird that Tiana enjoys hunting.

When someone questions her interest in the sport, Tiana has a quick response. “‘It might not be your favorite thing, but it’s mine,’” she says.

Gary says fewer children are getting involved in the sport year after year.

“I think it’s declined — the number of young people involved in hunting — across the nation,” he says. “It’s important to introduce our children to the outdoors and hunting and fishing. They’re the future for us. We could lose it.”

In addition to learning a way of life, Gary says spending time with children teaches them something even more valuable. “It makes them feel more important,” he says. “When you take time to listen to what they say… and to take time to answer their questions about what they see, it makes them feel special.”