I was 12 years old when my father and uncles introduced me to hunting, first allowing me to follow and watch attentively and eventually carry a rifle of my own.
It undoubtedly was the single most positive influence on my young life - becoming even more so during my formative years. A stabilizing force that grounded me when things went awry.
It taught me responsibility - taught me respect for the environment and admiration for the animals that call it home.
From it I have memories I will forever cherish. The camaraderie of hunting camp. The bonding with family and friends. The solace of the woods.
I was 16 when I shot my first buck - a seven-pointer. I remember that rainy afternoon like it was yesterday, even though it was ... ahem ... 25 years ago.
It was a defining moment that shaped my life.
On Saturday, I had the opportunity of reliving that moment when my girlfriend's 14-year-old son, Cooper Sayward, shot his first buck.
I'm not sure who was more proud, he or I.
What made it all the better is the fact that Cooper's grandmother, Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, fought long and hard to lower the big game hunting age from 16 to 14.
After being held up for years by inner-city lawmakers, the legislation finally passed this year, just in time for Cooper's 14th birthday.
Teresa called Cooper from the floor of the Assembly after the vote and gave him the good news.
"Sweet," he said and immediately began plotting for the 2008 deer season.
I truly wish she could have seen the look of pride on his face last weekend. But it is a look I'm sure she's seen before because Teresa comes from a hunting family.
She's seen firsthand the positive influence it can have on our youth, especially in this age of computers, video games, text messaging, endless television and soaring childhood obesity rates.
My father, who has a combined 50 years of experience as a teacher, administrator and educator, understands it too.
When I spoke to him Sunday evening upon returning from hunting camp and told him about Cooper getting his first buck, he said one word.
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Speaking of first bucks, Brian Smith phoned to tell me that his 16-year-old brother Shane downed a nice seven-pointer in Lewis Nov. 9 - his first.
The deer traveled only about 50 yards after a single, well-placed shot from Shane's .243.
"It was awesome," Brian said.
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at email@example.com.