John Jefferson writes a weekly outdoors column for the Victoria Advocate.

John Jefferson: Make it fun! photo

The Y.O. Ranch, west of Kerrville, was one of the first three ranches in Texas permitted to obtain non-native wildlife. The animals adapted to Texas and the ranch’s stock grew to include critters from five continents. The ranch became famous for its hunting and as a tourist attraction due to its wildlife. Pictured is an axis buck deer, originally from India and Ceylon, making eyes at its girlfriend. Daily tours of the ranch are offered on weekends, by appointment. Photo by John Jefferson.

As summer drags on toward the opening of school, have you and your kids had enough fun time together in the outdoors?

Was it quality bonding time teaching them about nature and how to respect it? More importantly, was it fun for them?

“Fun” has to be defined through the eyes of the kids. One friend who seldom saw his daughter since she lived with her mother told me he was disappointed that his 13-year-old daughter didn’t enjoy going to a U.T. football game. Duh.

My 10-year old stepdaughter rebelled over going to the creek one Sunday afternoon, saying, “I don’t want to go fishing!” But going to the creek meant a lot more than that. We ended up rescuing a baby cottontail from a rock in the middle of the creek where a thunderstorm had washed it during a short flashflood the night before. In this situation, it appeared best for little guy marooned on a rock in swift water in coyote country.

We cared for the bunny for several days. He really liked carrots and lettuce. When we deemed it strong enough to release, it wandered away during the first night’s freedom, but came back to its safehouse-box sometime around daylight. It finally left for good.

The point is, build fun into whatever activity you plan. That reluctant ten-year-old now directs environmental stewardship at a prestigious university. And hunts and fishes.

Once, on the Y.O. Ranch, I was hired to accompany a man and his son and take pictures on a rabbit hunt. I learned that the man was a northern salesman whose wife had encouraged him to take his eight-year-old son on his next business trip so the two could spend some time together. The kid had never hunted or fired a gun and seemed uninterested.

He wounded a cottontail that limped into brush. His father said, “Just leave it; we’ll find a closer one.” I took the .22 from the boy and made a lucky shot as the injured rabbit tried to hop away. As I brought it back, I detected a slight smile on the guide’s face as he turned away.

Later, we spotted several axis deer, and the guide said the lad could take one. The father helped the reluctant youngster shoulder the guide’s .243. When he pulled the trigger, the muzzle blast was equaled by an agonizing scream. The unexpected recoil knocked him backwards, scaring him into tears. I doubt if he ever shot another firearm. The trip could have ended better had they stopped at Six Flags. Or spent the afternoon splashing in the Y.O.’s beautiful pool.

My kids enjoyed chasing armadillos on September afternoons at our deer lease. Just wandering down the creek and building a rock dam seemed more fun to them than my ideas. They once caught a rat snake and didn’t tell us they had it until halfway home. Let them help decide what’s fun. Their creativity might surprise you – as it did us. But they had fun.

John Jefferson, “Woods, Waters and Wildlife” columnist, may be reached at 512-219-1199 or on his website,

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