MANVEL, N.D. — Hunting trips for Chris and Susan Felege are a bit more complicated than they used to be, and the two wouldn’t have it any other way.
Along with camouflage gear, guns and ammunition, they’re packing pacifiers, snacks, baby toys and diapers.
The couple from rural Manvel has brought daughter Kaylee along for every outdoor adventure they’ve had since her birth in late January.
The now 9-month-old was introduced to ice fishing at just 6 weeks of age, and has since been on hunts for turkey, deer and waterfowl.
Some friends tell them they’re crazy to bring Kaylee hunting. Others might think it’s actually dangerous to do so.
Not the case, her dad said, because they practice the same firearm safety around her that they do any other time. “If anything, it’s probably less dangerous, because we’re even more cognizant than we would be,” Chris Felege said.
When one parent is shooting or using a bow and arrow, the other has Kaylee in a backpack. The baby wears earmuffs to protect her hearing.
Her parents think spending time outdoors is not only fun, but important for their child’s cognitive development.
“This is what we know, how we grew up, so why not?” Susan Felege said.
Quick, messy lessons
Both Chris, 37, and Susan, 35, were raised in outdoor-focused families in western Pennsylvania and have been hunting, fishing, hiking and camping their entire lives.
The two met as undergraduate biology students at Penn State University and went on to do graduate work at the University of Georgia.
They were thrilled when jobs brought them this direction eight years ago to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where he’s a biology instructor and she’s an associate professor of biology. “This is the Prairie Pothole Region. This is the duck factory. It’s where it’s at,” she said.
After their daughter was born, they were eager to begin sharing their passion with her.
Chris Felege said spending time outdoors helps them decompress and is central to their relationship, “so bringing her into that is just what was going to happen.”
Having another person along, a pint-sized one at that, has forced some quick lessons.
On the first turkey hunt, they learned they should pack extra clothing for the baby after she had a “diaper explosion.”
“She was not happy, and I’m fairly certain every turkey in the county could hear us,” Susan Felege said, with a laugh.
Chris Felege said some couples they know stop going out and doing things they enjoy after they have children. With a few adjustments, he and his wife can keep chasing their passion for outdoor adventures, and share it with their daughter.
The couple used to hunt all day, but now go out in much shorter increments. They keep expectations in check, realizing it’s not a big deal to come home empty-handed.
“It’s not necessarily that you bagged something, it’s that we went out as a family,” Susan Felege said.
The deer gun season opened in North Dakota on Friday, Nov. 9. The couple doesn't have gun tags for deer, but Chris will try for a deer this weekend with his bow, while Susan and Kaylee help scout.
In her first year of life, their daughter has already had more outdoor adventures than some kids have over the course of their entire childhood.
Whether she carries her own gun, bow or fishing rod later in life doesn’t matter to them. They simply want her to enjoy nature and all it has to offer.
Her dad believes outdoor activities like hunting and fishing teach resilience and critical thinking.
“That’s what I want my daughter to have, ultimately,” he said.