Continuing a family tradition

Walker Wilson and Nick Small pose with Walker’s impressive bull elk, taken last Thanksgiving on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole. Walker and his brother Ryder both drew and filled tags last year. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Nick Small shares love of hunting with three sons

EVANSTON — Evanston resident Nick Small always knew his love of hunting was something he’d eventually want to pass along to his kids. Some of his favorite memories of his childhood involve the outdoors, and that love for wide open spaces hasn’t diminished over the years.

“Since the time I could walk, I’d be out hunting with my grandfather and father,” Small said. “The outdoors is probably my favorite place to be, and anything associated with it, my favorite hobby, outside of coaching. I take September and October for myself every year, kind of step away from coaching as much as possible — it’s my two months to rejuvenate and enjoy the outdoors. I love taking kids and new hunters out, and showing them what the outdoors has to offer.”

Small — the head coach of the Evanston Outlaws baseball team, as well as a youth wrestling coach — has been able to pass his love of the outdoors and hunting down to his three sons, Walker Wilson, Ryder Wilson and Gunnar Small. Walker — a 2023 graduate of Evanston High School and a freshman at the University of Wyoming, and Ryder, a senior at EHS — had the opportunity of a lifetime last November, a chance to hunt trophy elk on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole.

Created in 1912 to provide sanctuary for one of the largest elk herds, the National Elk Refuge covers nearly 25,000 acres of U.S. Fish and Wildlife land in Teton County. As part of the herd management system, Wyoming Game and Fish holds a three-day youth-only hunt for hunters ages 12-17, with a limited number of tags allocated.

“We were up in Jackson last Thanksgiving, for the National Elk Refuge youth hunt,” Small said. “We’ve been up there one other time — Ryder had a tag the previous year. Walker and Ryder both had a tag last year. It’s a pretty cool opportunity for the youth to go out and hunt a trophy-class bull elk. It’s a pretty special tag to draw — both boys were very excited when they drew the tags. The weather cooperated — which isn’t always the case — and there was an abundance of elk on the refuge.”

As evidenced by the photos, both Walker and Ryder filled their tags with impressive bulls, and with time to spare.

“We actually only hunted two of the three days,” Small said. “Ryder was successful on Thanksgiving afternoon, and Walker was able to fill his tag on Friday.”

“It was awesome, living vicariously through them,” Small added. “Seeing the opportunities these kids had, to see the excitement, the enjoyment — it’s a lifetime memory, and a great way to continue the tradition of hunting with the family.”

Small’s youngest son Gunnar is 8 years old, so he’s a few years away from going after a trophy elk. But he’s been tagging along with his parents and older brothers on hunting trips for years, so when the time comes, he’ll be ready.

“You can start hunting in Wyoming when you’re 12, so he’s got four more years to go,” Small said. “We still go out rabbit hunting, and he’s in my back pocket every time I go out. Even before he could walk, I had him in the backpack carrier. It’s just a huge family tradition that I’m passing on to my boys.”

Asked what he’ll remember most about last year’s hunt on the National Elk Refuge, Small said sharing in the excitement with Walker and Ryder, and the good-natured arguing that occurs when brothers try to one-up each other.

“Probably how excited both boys were is what I’ll always remember,” Small said. “When we got both elk loaded in the truck and got back to the hotel, they’re bickering, ‘Mine’s bigger,’ ‘No, I got the bigger one.’ As much as they won’t admit it, I know they were both very excited — you talk to those two, and they usually don’t have a whole lot to say. But you could see — the next day, Ryder had his elk as his profile picture, and I heard Walker telling stories about the hunt when we got back into the wrestling room. The memories that both of those boys will carry will last a lifetime, and it will be something they’ll tell their own kids about.”

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