Erin Crooks - Raise 'Em Outdoors
I am so excited to start off this series with one of my favorite women, Erin Crooks. Erin is the founder of Raise ‘Em Outdoors and she is a huge inspiration to me. I think when you read through her questionnaire, you will see what I see. She dedicates so much of her time, talents, and energy to the next generation and it’s my hope that others will see her passion and feel inspired. Let’s read what Erin has to say!
What age did you start hunting?
As young as I can remember I was tagging along on hunting trips with my dad and grandparents, but I didn’t go out on my first solo hunting trip until I was 23. My first hunting trip, for myself, was for blacktail deer on the Oregon Coast. I still love hunting blacktail, but hunting Sitka blacktail in Kodiak, AK may be my favorite big game animal to hunt.
Who introduced you to the outdoors?
I grew up on the Oregon Coast, about an hour from town. Because the Elliott State Forest was our backyard, from as little as I can remember, my parents let us kids roam free in the woods. We had a river below our house and if we weren’t swimming in the summer we’d be fishing. Every fall, my dad had us tagging along for blacktail hunts close to home. We also spent a few weeks a year in eastern Oregon, chasing mule deer at a big deer camp filled with friends. I miss that the most!
What does hunting mean to you?
This might sound cheesy, but for me hunting is about connecting to the outdoors and disconnecting from my the every day work on my laptop. It’s watching the sunrise and the earth wake up around me. It’s about challenging myself. I’m always learning something new, whether it’s about myself, the ground I’m hunting on or what I am hunting. I honestly enjoy the hardest hunting trips. It’s like the more it sucks the better time I have – ha! Also, one of the reasons I enjoy hunting so much is that it makes me feel connected to my family. All of my family hunts, including my grandparents and my great grandparents. It’s a tradition that has been passed down for many years. No matter how far away I live, when I go home it’s something we talk about around the dinner table – past hunts, dream hunts, you name it. It connects us in a big way. As a bonus, I get to fill my freezer with organic meat!
It’s about the kids…
What are you favorite ways to get kids involved in the outdoors?
When kids are really young, my favorite thing to do is take them out scouting or hiking. This gives them a chance to get outdoors, glass for animals and learn what hunting is all about. Also, there is more leeway if they get bored or just want to explore without the pressure of having to be quiet. This is a big challenge for my son, even now.
Why are you passionate about passing on the hunting heritage and why do you feel it’s important?
There are many reasons why I believe passing on the hunting heritage is important. One that is pretty obvious, is that hunters are the leaders in wildlife conservation. If we continue on the declining number of hunters that we have been on, looking ahead, what will be left and who will be responsible for conservation? We need to pass on these traditions to the next generation so they can do the same when it’s their turn.
Second, I believe hunting teaches valuable life lessons that also seem to be getting lost in the world. Hunting teaches kids respect for wildlife, patience, ethics, responsibility, confidence, and what it feels like to work hard and reap rewards from your hard work. These are some of life’s most important lessons, in my opinion.
What is your all-time, favorite memory while taking a child hunting?
The very first hunting trip I ever took my son on is my favorite hunting trip of all time. I took him on a whitetail hunt where we sat in a box blind, which gave him more freedom to move around. We saw turkeys and a lot of deer that night. It was his first time seeing them so close. His eyes lit up when a buck walked out and he practically yelled, “Mom! A big deer! Mom! Moooommm!” Needless to say, anything with a pulse hightailed it into the woods as fast as it could. I remember the look on his face – he was so excited! The feeling I had watching him fall in love with what I love, was one of the best feelings in the world. Then, I remember him looking at me and asking me why I didn’t shoot the big buck. Kids…
What advice do you have for other hunters, who are about to take a child hunting for the first time?
Remember to have patience! Enjoy the trip and use it as a time to teach, instead of just trying to get something on the ground. Kids are little sponges and they are paying attention to everything you say, even when it seems like they aren’t. Kids are also very aware of your mood. If you are having a good time and really just enjoying being outdoors together, they will too.
Are you a part of any groups/events that promote youth in the outdoors?
I recently started a program called Raise ‘Em Outdoors. In short, our mission is to help kids from any background, get outdoors to experience hunting and fishing, and helping them break past any barriers that they may have in order to do so. We plan to accomplish this with a strong membership program for kids, family outdoor camps, and our gear program that outfits kids in need. So far, we have outfitted over 200 kids across the nation with hunting gear and hosted our first family camp in Oregon, this past summer. Next year, we will have at least 6 camps in 5 different states!
I also volunteer at a local kids outdoor day called Saving Kids’ Dreams. It’s an annual event that hosts well over 600 kids. If you are in the Virginia Beach area, this is a really amazing event you don’t want to miss!
Is there anything else you want to share about raising the next generation of hunters?
It’s up to our generation to pass along this heritage! Even if you aren’t a parent, if you can dedicate a little time to mentor at least one kid a year out hunting, you would find it’s just as rewarding for you as it is for them. It really is worth the time you put in. I think it would have a huge impact if everyone who really loves to hunt, would commit to taking at least one kid out hunting or fishing next year.