That's because Eveland, like a growing number of hunters, chose to give up his chance at adding another trophy deer mount to his living room wall. Instead he focused his efforts on helping his 11-year-old-son, Kyle, become an intelligent, responsible hunter.
Joe's efforts paid off, as Kyle killed a pair of bucks last year, and another already this fall, creating memories that both will cherish for the rest of their lives.
"I love to hunt," said Joe, 46, a horticultural salesman who lives south of Grand Haven. "But I enjoy even more going hunting with my kids."
As a youngster growing up in the Troy area, Joe Eveland regularly slipped on his hunting vest, shouldered his loaded .22-caliber rifle, and took off down Main Street before cutting across the high school campus and plinking away at squirrels in the oaks bordering the school's football field.
Joe's activities didn't even warrant a second glance from the town's police officer, who drove by every once in a while. In those days, seeing someone forage for food was considered admirable, if not the norm.
These days, seeing someone walking down the street with a gun would most likely result in multiple calls to 911. Many people consider hunting old fashioned and out of style, cruel and inhumane to the animals targeted by the hunter.
Hunting experts say it is becoming harder and harder to get young people involved in the sport. They cite several reasons: changing cultural acceptances, the continued disappearance of available hunting land, and the overwhelming number of activities that occupy young people's time.
Making it easier
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has taken a few steps to help make it easier for youngsters to get hooked on hunting.
One effort is the youth deer hunt, which began in 1999 and created an early-season hunt for youngsters up to age 16. This hunt allows young kids, paired with a parent or guardian, to safely learn the ropes of hunting at a time when few others are in the field, and at a time when the deer are active.
Previously, kids ages 12 and older could practice archery by shooting deer and small game, and those ages 14 and older could hunt deer with firearms.
A new program called the Mentored Youth Hunt, introduced last year, takes things a step further and allows kids younger than 10 to hunt and fish when accompanied by a mentor.
"The Mentored Youth Hunt is an easy way to introduce children to Michigan's rich outdoor heritage, teach them about the importance of conserving our state's unmatched natural resources, and help ensure that our hunting tradition continues to thrive,” notes the DNR's website. "By eliminating the minimum hunting age in Michigan, the Mentored Youth Hunting program is geared toward parents and other adult mentors who want to teach. … It lets the parents determine if and when their child is ready to hunt."
Joe Eveland's stepson, Adam, turned 12 in 1999, and took advantage of the youth hunt that first year. His daughter and son went on to shoot their first deer during the youth hunt.
"I've taken both Kyle and my daughter, Melissa, since they were 3, just to go back in the woods," Joe said. "When Kyle was real young, I built a couple hunting shacks. I never sit in them myself. I always take my climber way back in the swamp, but I built them so I could bring the kids over there and it would be comfy for them.”
Joe prepared Kyle for his big moment by starting him first on BB and pellet guns, then letting him shoot a muzzle loader with just one pellet of powder in it, greatly reducing the recoil while still offering enough power to slay a deer.
"I'd have them shoot balloons as targets, then little deer cut out of magazines to show them where the heart and lungs are," Joe said. "Then I took them out in the field and shot the muzzle loader with one pellet, and there's nothing to it. We went out hunting. Kyle was wrapped in his sleeping bag to keep him warm and, when the deer walked out, he was able to shoot it. Melissa got her first deer that way, too.”
Joe stressed the importance of getting kids involved with hunting at a young age.
"Get them excited about it, or else you lose them,” he said.
Kyle continues to love hunting — in addition to a nice buck, he also shot his first turkey this fall — while playing hockey and Young Bucs football.
"I like being able to see all the animals, being so close, and really seeing where our food comes from," Kyle said. "I like being with my dad."
Kyle still remembers his first deer, which he shot while sitting in his father's lap when he was 7.
"I remember sitting there and here comes some deer, a whole bunch of them," Kyle recalled. "I was really excited. My dad said the biggest one was right in the middle."
"I reached around and turned off the safety so he could take the shot," Joe added.
"We waited ‘til it was winter, ‘til there was snow on the ground, so we could track it easier," Kyle continued.
It turns out, they didn't need to worry about tracking the big doe — it fell right where it stood.
"I feel lucky that I don't have to wait to hunt," Kyle said.
Another youth hunter
Doug Boeve's father wasn't much of a hunter, so Doug had to learn it all on his own.
His son, Charlie, now 16, has benefited from the knowledge his dad has gathered in the many years he's spent in the woods.
"It took me a lot of years to learn everything, mostly by trial and error," said Doug, who lives in Grand Haven. "Charlie's pretty lucky. I was able to pass a lot of knowledge on to him, to help him get a better start to it. He understands it a little bit more. He doesn't have to figure it out by mistake."
Charlie, a junior at Grand Haven High School, took advantage of the youth deer season at age 12. He shot a spike horn that first year, then killed a four-point and another spike in the ensuing falls.
This year, Charlie vowed he would bag a bigger buck, and was rewarded with a 12-point bruiser, shot on family property along the White River near Hesperia.
"He was determined to wait this year, and he finally had a nice buck come through and he made a real good shot," Doug said.
Doug said he's proud of his son for balancing a busy schedule, which includes school, sports, a job, and dozens of other activities, while still making time to get out in the woods and hunt.
"When I was a kid, it seems I had a little more free time to run around and do stuff," he said. "It seems like Charlie has a busier schedule, and it's hard to find time to get out. He plays lacrosse, he's always doing side jobs, lawn cutting, raking leaves. He's a hard worker."
Joe Eveland has plenty of friends who hunt. They take two-week trips out west, and spend a dozen weekends perched in their tree stands in Michigan.
Joe has enjoyed plenty of hunting trips in his day, but at this point in his life, he’s devoting himself to passing on his knowledge and love of the outdoors to his kids.
"I have a lot of buddies who hunt, and so many of them complain to me that their kids don't hunt, but they don't take the time to take their kids hunting," Joe said.
"Last year, the opening of deer season, I didn't even take a gun," he continued. "We had a nice buck come through, and Kyle couldn't get on it. I could have shot it, but it's not about me. You've got to put that aside. What greater legacy than having your kids participate in what you think is a great activity? It'll become a dying thing if we don't get our kids into it.”
Mentored Youth Hunting Program
— Youth ages 9 and younger may hunt small game (squirrels, grouse, rabbits) as well as waterfowl, turkey and deer with a mentored youth hunting license.
— Youth ages 10-13 may do all of the above, plus hunt bear and elk, if they have completed a hunter safety course. For deer, elk and bear, only archery or crossbow equipment may be used on public land; a firearm is allowed on private land.
— Youth ages 14-16 may do all of the above, without the private land regulations on firearms.