March 4, 2010

Brothers get life lesson and excused absences from their principals

— Learning is a funny concept.

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Contributed photo Torin O'Connell stands in a field near Eagle Lake last month on the morning he shot his first moose, a 416-pound bull calf during a special controlled hunt aimed at helping broccoli farmers in Aroostook county.

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Contributed photo Torin O'Connell, 14, center, poses with the 416-pound moose he shot during DIF&W's controlled moose hunt in Aroostook County last month. With O'Connell are his mother, Shelley, and younger brother, Ryley.

Most of us are quite content to think that the learning we do comes from schools and textbooks, from memorization and multiplication tables. As far as we're concerned, when we're young we went to school for nine months of ''work'' and then were rewarded with three months of ''play.''

Thankfully, though, there are a few among us who recognize that real life lessons can be more practical, more valuable and, yes, even more lasting than what we learned at school.

Perhaps you remember the story of 14-year-old Torin O'Connell of Waterville.

Torin was given a moose permit for the controlled hunt in Aroostook county last month, a first-time hunt the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife instituted to try to alleviate some of the pressure on farmers' broccoli and cauliflower crops.

Like most of the guides and hunters who went into that hunt, Torin probably thought shooting his first moose was going to be much easier than it actually was. But tight restrictions on where the hunts could take place and summer heat chasing the moose into cover for most of the month made for some tough sledding.

Torin's mother, Shelley O'Connell, believed her son would have his moose long before school started back up, even before his cross-country running commitments became an obstacle. The moose, it seemed, had other ideas.

When it came right down to it, the O'Connells were faced with a difficult decision as Torin failed to harvest his moose after the first two weeks of the special season. The trek to Eagle Lake was almost 240 miles from their home, and the boys -- including Torin's younger brother Ryley -- would have to miss time at school in order to make the trip to be able to hunt.

''The only reason I was able to have both of the kids excused from school (that) Friday, after talking to their principals, was that I was able to convince them it was an 'educational' experience,'' Shelley said. ''I really do think it should be part of the school curriculum, anyway.

''Outdoor recreation and wildlife management practices -- everyone needs to know about conservation, wildlife and the environment, and hunting is such an integral tool of wildlife management and such a success in conservation. People that aren't involved in hunting just don't always realize this.''

Here's what Torin learned on that hunt, in no particular order:

n It's not just about driving to a spot, hopping out of a truck and shooting a gun.

n Hunting animals means learning about their behavior, their habitat and their feeding habits -- all of which can change every couple of weeks.

n Sometimes, you've got to be able to change your plans on the fly to have success.

n Hunting plays an important role in keeping wildlife populations from wreaking havoc on human life and the lives of a number of wildlife species.

n And, of course, the good things sometimes require a little hard work.

''The outdoors is such a good classroom,'' Shelley said. ''I know my kids had quite a lesson in geography, science, math, economics, farming and more on this moose hunt. I just wish everyone else could experience it too.''

It was first thing on a Friday morning, not long after sun-up that my cell phone started buzzing. Shelley was checking in to let me know that there was an update to the original moose hunt story I'd filed about Torin.

He'd found success. A more than 300-yard shot felled a 416-pound bull calf, a young man's reward for lots of miles in a truck, dragging out of bed at an hour when most his age wouldn't dream of it and setting a goal for himself that he was willing to see through until the end.

That's the kind of life lesson that pronouns and past participles cannot replace. Ever.

''I think if other kids see that Torin can do this at only 14 years old that maybe they would get interested in hunting too,'' Shelley said. ''More kids need to be exposed to shooting sports and hunting, conservation, archery and gun safety.

''Now, we've just got to figure out how to get more kids involved.''

Staff writer Travis Barrett can be reached at 621-5648 or:

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