About The Author

Kim Hiss, an associate editor at Field & Stream, has hunted ducks, antelope, turkeys, and deer throughout the country, enjoying a number of women's hunts along the way. She lives in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Click here to email Kim.

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April 18, 2008

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Dear Abby

     I don't think I've ever actually read a Dear Abby column -- it just never occurs to me to look for them. But some interesting responses in Massachusetts' Eagle Tribune to a Dear Abby installment sent me to the website of the master advice-giver herself (Abigail Van Burne a.k.a Jeanne Phillips, who took the column over from her mother Pauline) to find the letter that sparked the debate.
     The original letter to Abby was written by a "Concerned Grandpa" and said:

DEAR ABBY, My four-year-old grandson "Teddy" is the apple of my eye. I recently learned that my son-in-law has been taking Teddy hunting for deer and sees no harm in it. At his age, my grandson should be at a petting zoo admiring God's creatures instead of viewing the killing of them....
     At four, my grandson is too immature to understand the killing. I don't believe that this exposure is good for his psychological development at his tender age. How do I approach my son-in-law about this, and at what age do you think it is appropriate to allow the boy to go hunting? -- Concerned Grandpa in Greenville, S.C.

     To which Abby replied:

DEAR GRANDPA, It would be interesting to know how your daughter feels about her son going hunting with his dad. While I am not a fan of killing for sport, many people are avid hunters who consume the birds and animals they shoot.
     While going on those expeditions at age four seems quite young, if your grandson isn't traumatized by the sight of the blood-and-gutting and enjoys the "bonding sessions" with his dad, and his mother has no objection, then I guess he's old enough to go along -- providing he doesn't get in the way and endanger himself.

To which numerous reader letters responded on the Eagle Tribune website, including one that said:   

I was a preschool teacher for several years, and the children who were the biggest bullies and least socialized were always -- and I mean ALWAYS -- the ones graphically exposed to the killing of animals... The gentle, studious, most popular children never spoke of hunting, but the bullies would talk at length about killing, guns and blood. It affected their emotional stability and ideas about death....

     Who knows to what extent the son-in-law actually involved the four-year-old in the sport. And who knows what would compel someone to think that Dear Abby was a resource for hunting-related advice in the first place (though, I will say, aside from the "killing for sport" comment, Abby gave a more even-handed response than I would have expected).
     It's actually the ex-teacher's claims that interest me the most. In addition to the dozens of counter-observations I could name, I just can't imagine that anyone with their eyes and ears open could assert such a black and white generalization. I guess some see what they want to see in order to justify their convictions. -K.H.


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Lou Alexander

I'm guessing that the family of the bully were the type of folks that hyped the gun use and were out for the kill instead of the hunt its self. The kid was just mirroring what he sees at home him self.

NorCal Cazadora

Baffling. I now have experience with two "violent" sports (tae kwon do and hunting) and I can tell you 99 percent of children involved in these are the most level-headed kids you can want because these sports teach patience, discipline and honor.

I'm thinking preschool teacher was predisposed to hate hunting and was blessed with a poster child to validate that predisposition. I could be wrong, but it just doesn't seem logical.


The "Dear Abby" response didn't strike a chord with me as much as the teacher's. Obviously he/she has never been exposed to hunting like so many of our critics. My precious granddaughter is also the "apple of both my and my husband's eye." She will be 7 next month, and although neither her Mom or Dad hunt, we have been taking her since she was 2 yrs. old! (With their blessing!) "She is the most personable, well-rounded 6 yr. old I've ever seen!"....HER teacher's words!!! She loves hunting! Although she hasn't pulled the trigger or loosed the arrow except in practice and training, she has been involved in every aspect of the hunt including the drag, field dressing, etc. She is an "A" student, extremely popular with both her classmates and her teachers. She attends a private Christian school with an excellerated curriculum. She takes gymnastics, karate, and plays on a soccer team. She LOVES animals and has always treated her pets with gentleness and kindness. That pre-school teacher is nuts!

Scott Bestul

Excellent post, Kim. As a former teacher, my opinion is completely at odds with the Dear Abby responder/teacher.

I taught secondary English (grades 7-12) and my experience was that kids who had first-hand knowledge of Nature (either from hunting or growing up on a farm, or both) were the most sensitive and respectful students I had. Growing up near these venues (the woods and fields, the barnyard)exposes kids to life and death that is very real and practical.

For example, by the age of 12, most of my farm kids had seen more births and deaths than my town kids would probably ever see...yet they were not callous about these Life transformations at all. They were simply recognized and accepted as part of existence.

On the contrary, my kids who only saw death through a video/computer game/tv show--fake death, if you will--seemed the most off-balance and cavalier about the topic. I have a lot of theories about why this is so, but most come back to the simple notion that these venues are so far removed from reality; the kid who sees hours and hours of fake death is more desensitized to the concept than one who has actually experienced it.

Handled in an intelligent and sensitive manner, exposing a kid to hunting--whether he/she actually takes up the activity--is one of the best life lessons going, in my opinion.

Laura Bell

I would have to agree some with Scott Bestul's comment. Kids that grow up on a farm or are hunters seem to have more respect for the things around them. Whether it's because they have to work for the things they want, how they're raised and taught, or a simple thing called the "outdoors". Maybe it's a combination of it all.
I know I was raised on a farm and did a share of work on it, I hunted since I wee tall, and overall I think I turned out all right so far. But hey, I'm just a country bumpkin so what do I know? :)


I am mommy to a four and half year old. Our son is our world and so he does everything with us--including hunting. When he was 3 we moved and as our taxidermy was being hung in our new house, he wanted to know/understand who ate each animal. His first meat was venison and he's been participating in hunting his whole life. As an infant I took him in a carrier and we helped bring my husband's bow season harvest back to the house. I cannot imagine closing him out of such an important part of our lives--at any age. He's a great kid and his preschool teachers tell us so. They also notice that he loves the outdoors and that we spend time outside (and inside) with him. Parents who take their kids hunting do that--take time to be with their children and teach them a sport they love. It's the kids who don't hunt that I worry about...

NorCal Cazadora

Check out this blogger's response to the Dear Abby thread - she has some REALLY interesting stats in it: