As the boys began to arrive that afternoon, the heat of the day had set in. The weeks before we arrived were dry, and it showed as the dust devils swirled. Every plant and fencepost along the ranch road was covered with a fine white dust. The Lone Star flag hung motionless in the August heat from the porch of the bunkhouse. Ah yes, Kids Outdoor Zone summer hunt camp at its finest.
It would be easy for some to see how a week of hunters’ education, ranch management, hunting and outdoor fun would be a wonderful dream come true. Others might ask how it can be fun when it is so hot. For boys, you just need a little water, some firearms and game, dirt, four-wheel vehicles and some other guys to share the adventure with. Boys are made for this stuff.
The first gate sits on the highway and is pretty easy to find. The oil boom in the area has given lots of visual markers to go by; the flaming pipe in the pasture across from the gate is the best one yet. After gate 2 leading onto the ground of camp, you are inspired with a sense of excitement. Exotic and native wildlife roam freely and can be seen at each turn.
There were a lot of first-time KOZ boys that came to camp this year. Our demographic is almost always one that requires help with funding, and we are blessed with generous support to get them there. Society provides KOZ with a lot of boys who don’t have male role models in their home. More than 50 percent of the kids in America go to bed at night without a man in their home. Many of our boys come to us without much to do with the outdoors either. The average kid is spending 40 minutes a week outdoors and 70 hours a week looking into a video screen of some type.
Boys will be boys, and when we start telling them all about the shooting and archery, fishing and big ole camp fire, the instincts of a boy kick in and even the most reluctant boys begin to let their guard down.
We hunted every morning and evening. We ran snare lines along the fences and repaired gaps at the same time. Almost every outing the boys harvested a ram or rabbits. They spent a lot of time at the cleaning station with the older boys teaching them how to properly dress out their game, prepare the skins and skulls and store the meat for eating later.
Everything the boys harvested was cooked and eaten, everything. Rabbit stew was the favorite with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and peas slow cooked all day. Barbecue and baked ram back strap were also top choices. A favorite before-dinner appetizer was the floured and fried ram testicles. Wait, what, huh? Yes, and they are delicious especially if they are dipped in cool ranch dressing. The boys ate them freely even arguing over the last bits and pieces. Ah yes, I love summer hunt camp.
The hunting and outdoor skills training are a key element to the week of course. The hunters’ education card and achievements are important. Learning these time-honored traditions, the adventures boys dream of are crucial. But it is the leadership and the spiritual meaning to it all that binds the boys for long term.
Each camp carries a theme, a purpose beyond the harvest. This year it was the book of Nehemiah from the Old Testament. The boys learned about being committed to a task, being led by God was an incredible gift He offers freely. They learned that through prayer and hard work they could “do hard things.” It was incredible how the older boys shared with the younger ones their life experiences and how God led them through hardships to victories. The nighttime camp fire talks were amazing.
One night as the campfire waned and the boys began to head to the bunkroom, a new boy – fatherless — turned to a veteran of the hunt camps, “Thanks for talking to me and teaching me that stuff. Nobody has ever done that for me.” The older boy answered, “It’s what we do in KOZ; you will do it one day too.” I was moved to tears.
Six days after the boys came through the gate, the parents returned to pick them up. “He did that?” one mom commented. “He learned to shoot, shot that ram, cleaned it, cooked it, all the way, all that?” She was dumbfounded. “Yes, yes he did,” the KOZ camp leader told her. Her son was beaming. He had been taken through an initiation into the world of a true man, a core desire. Inherent traits that were stuffed deep inside his heart, a boy’s true heart. The fatherless wounds exposed and breakthrough.
After the boys had left the older boys, the counselors sat in a half circle talking about the week. The intense moments of the hunts and the high-five victories of the harvest. They talked about the heat and the dust the food and the laughs. They shared conversations that came during still quiet moments with their apprentice, some with tears in their eyes.
Many cultures have always had and still to this day, “rites of passage,” elements to the raising of their children. These include trials and intimate moments with older, seasoned members of their culture. Those are hard to find today in the lives of kids in America. It is a broken link that shows in the degradation and damaged families that are so prevalent in our country.
Jesus spent three years walking, talking, training His disciples to go out and share the news of salvation. Seems He did a pretty good job. He trained His team to counsel, teach and care for others. He gave us tools, text and examples we can reference.
The hunt camp was great. The time at the ranch with the boys is always special. Most of the boys will have grown in some way from the time there. Some maybe more than others but all realized something about themselves they did not know before they arrived. That is the plan for the time there: heat, dust, blood, sweat, tears and all.
The big payoff is those who accept Christ into their hearts and share the things they learned. The young boy who sees something, learns something and makes it his own. Those changes we may never see in our lifetime. Taking their sons hunting, talks around a campfire with a fatherless boy they bring with them because someone brought them. Eternal rewards that change everything.