Justin with Hunting Product Guru recently made a video that talked about when he had his first son, he immediately started dreaming of the day he could teach his son to fish. It's something many of us can relate to—a desire to teach our kids the same way of life that our parents and grandparents taught us. But some kiddos aren't so fortunate, and they don't have the gear to hunt, or the person in their life to teach them. That's what Erin Crooks is trying course correct with her nonprofit, Raise Em Outdoors. When you talk to Erin, you can feel her enthusiasm for this lifestyle. She's incredibly passionate about her organization, and what it can do for kids, not only in her state of Virginia, but nationwide. We recently caught up with her to talk about her own hunting and fishing, as well as Raise 'Em Outdoors.
GoWild: I want to chat about you as a hunter and angler, but first, tell us about Raise 'Em Outdoors and how that all got started.
Erin: Raise 'Em Outdoors is a youth program that is geared towards getting the next generation outdoors and into hunting, fishing, and the traditions from the beginning of time. We are outfitting kids and families with outdoor gear they need for hunting, fishing, hiking etc. Hosting free education outdoor youth camps, and finding ways to getting kids outdoors as much as possible.
There were honestly lots of things that lead up to Raise 'Em Outdoors but ultimately the two biggest factors were having my son and then moving to a large military town (nearly 500,000 people ). As I started working locally, I got to know families in the area and I realized two things. One, that many families were not very active in the outdoors and that they wanted to be but didn’t know where to go or what to do as they were all transplants from somewhere else or didn’t grow up in the outdoors themselves but still wanted to get involved. Growing up in the PNW, I was always outdoors and so even though I had moved to such a large urban area I still managed to find a way to get my kid outdoors and I knew I wanted to share that. I wasn’t sure how or what I was going to do, at first, but I knew I wanted to do something to help these families, and not just urban families but all families to get back outdoors.
GoWild: What’s so authentic about your story is that with or without Raise 'Em Outdoors, you’re doing this every day with your own son. What’s your favorite memory with him in the outdoors so far?
Erin: My absolute favorite memory of him was our first hunting trip together. I used to be a pretty selfish hunter, I wanted to go solo. That’s just how I liked to hunt. So I never thought of taking my son who was just 4 at the time. He kept asking and kept asking so I said OK. I changed up the plan, left my bow and took my rifle so that we could sit in the large box blind. To this day, I will never forget the look on his face when we saw deer come out into the field. His eyes lit up and he screamed loudly! “Mommy look deer!” They of course ran for the hills but I didn’t care a bit. We saw turkeys that night and a few more deer later on. He was so pumped at everything he was seeing. It was like I was seeing everything for the first time again through his eyes. After that, I knew I wanted to keep taking him with me, how important it was for both of us and actually was the final inspiration and what launched REO a few weeks later.
GoWild: Your mission really connected with me, because of some of my past volunteer efforts, my lifestyle, and commitment to the outdoors. I’m hoping that GoWild and Raise 'Em Outdoors can partner together overtime, but in the short term, we’re excited to help get the word out. If someone wants to get involved in Raise 'Em Outdoors, where should they start?
Erin: The best place to start is to head to our website Raiseemoutdoors.com, you can read about different ways to get involved and more about our mission statement.
GoWild: And is that the best way for someone to reach out if they’re in need of hunting gear, or interested in Raise 'Em Outdoors’ camps?
Erin: Raiseemoutdoors.com or any of our social media platforms are great ways to reach us.
GoWild: The last time we talked you were telling me about all kinds of plans and expansions for Raise 'Em Outdoors. Can you tell our app’s users and blog readers what’s ahead for 2018 and beyond?
Erin: For 2018 we plan to host Raise 'Em Outdoors Youth camps across the U.S., where kids will learn archery, rifle shooting, fly fishing, fishing, and hunting. We will also be launching an REO membership program to help keep kids involved in the outdoors year round. With the membership program we will also be launching a mentor program for youth in need of one.
Also continuing year round are our efforts to outfit kids with outdoor gear who cannot afford it. We're always looking to expand ways to get kids involved, and we hope to keep improving our resources.
GoWild: Let’s chat about you, Erin, as a hunter and angler. What is your favorite species to hunt, and your favorite to fish?
Erin: Ahhh I have two loves right now, for big game I love sitka blacktail deer, which I do not get to do often anymore since I am living in Virginia Beach. I also love duck hunting. Waterfowl is obviously way different than big game but man is it fun. I love being able get out and hunt with my friends and family when it comes getting on the birds. But that being said I am headed out on my first elk hunt in less than two weeks! So if it’s true what they all say I just may fall in love with it more than chasing deer around Kodiak Island.
GoWild: Have you hunted and fished your whole life?
Erin: I have been fishing since I was probably three. Hunting we always tagged along with my dad, or grandparents as kids but I didn’t actually get into hunting for myself until I was I think 24 or 25. So I have been hunting ten years now.
GoWild: If someone wants to start fishing or hunting but is intimidated by all of the gear, land access and fear of what anti-hunters might think, what would you say to them?
Erin: Don’t be intimidated! There is no reason, even though it seems like a lot to learn. That is part of the process and the fun is learning as you go.
There’s something about the outdoor community and industry that I just love. Almost everyone is so open and willing to help educate others. So when it comes to anti-hunters all I can say is take what they say with a grain of salt. Some will be more extreme than others, and then you will often surprisingly find yourself in a conversation with someone educating them on what hunting means to conservation. That person more than likely had no idea about. I know it’s happened to me more than once. I definitely haven’t turned any anti-hunters into hunters yet, but I know I have hopefully turned them into not being anti at least.
Use the outdoor community in your local areas or social media to learn about public land access or places you can pay to hunt on their land for a day or more if you are not near public land. Reach out to friends or family, if you have any that hunt or maybe used to. You never know they may just get back into it with you! As for gear don’t get crazy right away, it’s not necessary to have the best of everything just to hunt. Borrow friends' gear, I know I loan out even camo all the time when I take friends hunting. But you don’t have to have 300 dollar boots and 1500 dollar bow set up (my first bow was 300 and a great beginner set up). I shot my first deer wearing a pair of boots from Walmart and my favorite rifle that was passed down to me from my grandma. Unless you have the wallet for it, then go ahead and get crazy haha.