Tyler Tiller and his 10-year-old daughter, Taylor, sit perched on a log overlooking a fog-encased forest below. They’re just off a mountainous dirt road in western Oregon. The sun is setting and with it, their last chance to shoot a doe this season.
Neither seems to care much. Their excursions aren’t really about hunting.
Far more important Tyler says is “just spending that time with each other in the outdoors and just really being able to have an opportunity away from everything to bond on a different level.”
While the loudest voices in the gun debate argue about background checks and high-capacity magazines, for many of the 11.5 million hunters in the United States, guns and hunting represent something different: a family tradition and a tool to teach young people about responsibility, the environment and self-confidence.
And for the Tillers, it’s working.
Today, before making the hour-long drive to the swathe of Bureau of Land Management land where they have permits, the father-daughter duo spend time at home doing some target practice and reviewing gun safety.
The younger Tiller beams with pride after hitting a small metal target from 300 yards, her first time.
“That’s a huge thing that I want her to learn,” Tyler Tiller said. “If she wants to go do something she can do it and there’s nothing that’s going to stop her except herself.”
She is participating in an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife program called Mentored Youth. It allows licensed hunters over 21 like Tyler to take younger people between the ages of 9 and 16 out hunting.
Today, they spend five hours driving along dirt roads, walking through the brush, and sitting. Waiting. They see animal droppings and deer tracks. But no deer.
Except for some brief fog, it’s a perfectly clear day. Tiller explains to his daughter that the deer don’t like sunny weather.
But neither is disappointed. After the last bit of light disappears, Tyler picks up the rifle, Taylor grabs the bipod and they head back to the truck.
“Well, at least it was fun just coming out,” she whispers to her dad.
“It was fun,” he replies. “I always have fun coming out with you.”
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.