While going through a box of old family photos recently, I came across a photo of my father cutting my hair. I was about 9 years old at the time, making the year 1951. While getting the haircut, I was holding a homemade bow in my hands and a self-designed slingshot between my knees. Why couldn’t a lad of 9 put these things that shoot down long enough to get a haircut? Was my behavior learned, or did I inherit it from my stone-age ancestors who hunted in order to live?
And so I have a question for you. Is man’s appreciation for weapons and desire to hunt learned, or is it something like a primal instinct that is passed on to us by our parents and their club-carrying ancestors? I know that the popular outdoor writers like this primal instinct theory.
Whether something is learned, or it is inherited as a part of our genetic makeup, is a question I’ve pondered since I took Dr. Foreman’s education psychology course at South Dakota State University back in 1963. Les Foreman, of course, talked about intelligence, or the inherited ability to learn, as opposed to the effects of environment. This led to the examination of I.Q. or intelligence tests, and whether or not they measured what they were supposed to measure — also known as validity.
Betsy, my wife, just came by as I worked at the keyboard and asked what I was going to write about this week. When I told her, she looked over what I had written thus far. “No question about it!” she said. “Your interest in guns and hunting was learned from your father!” While she may be correct in her assertion, I suppose it is possible that both genetics and learned behavior may be involved.
The very first hunting related incident I can remember occurred when World War II was winding down. Up until the fall of 1945, my father worked seven days a week in a Chicago war plant turning out tanks. Apparently he got some time off, for dad and some friends headed to Oldham, for a pheasant hunt. When they returned, the back seat of the car was filled with pheasants. I can still picture that scene. Dad once told me how difficult it was for them to get the wartime ammunition.
Related to that, I can remember sitting around a circle with my classmates on the school playground. Everyone bragged about what their dads had done in the war while I kept my mouth shut. It wasn’t until later that I realized that my father’s role was as important as any soldier’s. Anyway, was this one pheasant hunt incident enough to make a gun-toting hunter out of me?
The next episode that stands out in my mind happened when I was around 8 years of age. Dad and my Uncle Roger were going hunting, and they wouldn’t take me along. Later that day when they walked through the back door, they laid two cottontail rabbits on the kitchen floor. I thought those rabbits were the neatest things I’d ever seen, and the pan-fried cottontail was awesome!
By the time I was a fifth-grader, dad had taken my brother and me out to shoot his guns. We started with his Smith & Wesson .22 revolver and worked up to his Colt .38 Special. We wrapped up the afternoon with his Model 12 Winchester 12 gauge which I found a bit intimidating. I was jealous of my little brother John who shot that 12 gauge with no hesitation whatsoever.
The first gun I could call my own was a Crossman .22 cal. air pistol. I’m guessing I was a seventh-grader when I decided to test its power. With one pump of the lever, the .22 pellet didn’t even come out of the barrel. Two pumps netted the same results. At three pumps, I thought I would “catch” the pellet in my hand if it cleared the barrel. Bad decision! I had to dig the pellet out of my hand! As the advertisement says, “Don’t try this at home!”
When I was an eighth-grader, mom and dad gave me a Mossberg Model 185K 20 gauge bolt-action shotgun for Christmas. A January hunt to Great Aunt Mary’s farm near Quincy, Ill., followed. There I killed my first rabbit while missing on quail that were most challenging. By then I was hunting crazy, and as Paul Harvey might have said, “Now you know the rest of the story.” One other thing. During the ‘40s and ‘50s, toy guns were extremely popular as gifts for young boys. This was certainly true for my brother and me.
As any psychologist knows, we can’t come to any conclusions that are based on one isolated example. We need a hypothesis, a control group, and an experimental group. That being said, I’m going to throw the scientific method out the window and say that I learned my interest in guns and hunting from my father. The same is even more true of fishing. Both mom and dad taught me to fish at an early age.
If any of today’s readers are passionate hunters who were not exposed to any hunting stimuli as a youth, I’d like to know about it. Perhaps there is something to inherited primal behavior. However, for the most part, I believe that we make our children what they are by example. Our three daughters are passionate readers. When they were little, they filled the back seat of the car with books when we would go on a trip. Mom and dad were readers, and this was learned behavior. The kids also drove themselves to do well in school. Their parents were educators.
This learned behavior can swing both directions. Abusive people were once abused. With forty years in education, I’ve seen it all.
See you next week.