In Michigan, there is a long tradition — some even call it a rite of passage — that many youngsters learn each year. All the modern technology in the world cannot compare to the feeling, the smell, the sound of the crisp outdoors and the rush one gets the moment a deer comes into sight.
Hunting may indeed still be on a downward slide, but for many Michigan families, it is alive and well.
Two local families still embrace the tradition of rising early and heading to the forests and fields with the hope of bagging a buck or waterfowl. Both the Smith family of Lakeview and the MacMillens of Greenville enjoy being out in nature and spending time together as a family.
Traditionally, it is at 10 years old when a member of the Smith family takes his or her rite of passage and experiences hunting deer for the first time. Just as her father, Scott Smith, did when he was 10, Ginnifer braved the cold, fall morning trek into the woods to wait patiently for her chance to earn the family badge of honor.
Scott and Ginnie (as she’s known to her family and friends) share the memories of hunting with their fathers and grandfathers. When young Ginnie expressed interest in hunting, it didn’t come as a surprise to her dad.
“It was just a natural thing and part of our lifestyle,” Scott said. “We bought Ginnie her first BB gun at the age of eight, then a .22 at the age of 10.
“Her grandfather gave her his .244 Remington at age 12,” Scott added. “She took over my bow at age 12, as well.”
The family traditions run deeper than just going into the woods together for the Smith family. It’s also, more importantly, about family bonding.
Before they head out on the first day of rifle season, the Smiths enjoy what they call “opening day breakfast.”
“We always have a big ‘opening day’ breakfast,” Scott said. “When we come in from hunting, we usually enjoy my wife’s homemade white chili after what we hope is a successful hunt. These traditions have always been around.”
Along with homemade white chili is the importance of spending quality family time watching a classic Michigan deer hunting movie, according to Ginnie.
“Growing up, we always — and still do — watch ‘Escanaba in da Moonlight’ on opening day eve,” Ginnie said.
Like the Smiths, hunting runs deep in the MacMillen household. Feasting is also an important element to the McMillen’s hunting tradition.
“We smoke goose, duck, we do a potluck and, in the mornings, we’ll have a breakfast casserole bake and make chili, goulash and sloppy joes,” Becky McMillen said.
Jeff MacMillen, of Greenville, has memories of joining his dad and younger brother on a hunt. It was a passion instilled early and one he has shared with his children, as well.
“Teaching our boys the hunting heritage, they will be sure to pass the family hunting tradition to their children, as well,” Jeff said. “They are the next generation of hunters. By us taking them now, they will be the conservationists of tomorrow to carry on the hunting traditions. It’s important for us to educate the kids about the Second Amendment (right to bear arms).”
With the MacMillens it is an adventure for the entire family, and not just the men.
As a child, Becky would set out to the woods with her father to deer hunt, but when she married Jeff, he introduced her to hunting small game birds, turkey and waterfowl. It was only natural that the MacMillens would introduce their children, Austin and Nolan, to hunting, too.
“The first time I can remember, my dad was carrying me in one arm and my brother in the other and a gun over his shoulder,” Jeff said. “He took us out to the marsh and sat us down on a log.
“I started out with my kids the same way,” he continued. “I took Nolan and Austin in the infant carrier; they were two or three.”
Both Becky and Jeff said hunting for waterfowl is their favorite of all the seasons and game, though Jeff prefers eating the back strap of venison above all, referring to it as the “filet mignon of deer.”
Hunting as a family is what Becky enjoys most of all. Bringing the dogs for bird hunting is also one of her favorite pastimes. She said she enjoys the constant movement and involvement of the dogs while pheasant hunting.
“All hunting is active, but pheasant hunting involves continually walking,” Becky said. “I like being active and the serenity of the outdoors.”
Hunting expeditions may not be as successful or enjoyable if it weren’t for the tradition of prepping for the various hunting seasons the MacMillens enjoy. The month of August involves replacing and repairing decoys from the previous season, as well as scouting and being granted permission to hunt land in the area. Another important step in preparing for hunting season is target shooting to help ensure success.