HARRISVILLE, W.Va. – Plenty of folks know about native Ritchie Countian Josh Compton’s hunting forays, as well as his guiding gig in Alaska. From the Brooks Range in the northern part of the state to the Chugach Mountains in the southeast strip to the Alaska Peninsula in the far southwest, one can easily spend hours talking to him about his adventures.
Even the scary stuff like the time he was charged by a wounded brown bear.
Yet, what most may not know is that his son, Aiden, is becoming quite the hunter himself. This spring, Aiden limited out on gobblers and in deer season killed some quality whitetails alongside Josh. All of this has caught the attention of sponsors and a local online show.
“He recently joined the pro staff for Brothers of the Woods Outdoors,” Josh said. “I’m going to be filming him and is going to start getting aired on the TV show. It’s pretty exciting.”
Thus, at just 12, Aiden is on the pro staff for Brothers of the Woods, and, through his dad, ScentLok and Black Widow Deer Lures. Yet, according to Josh, Aiden hasn’t always been someone who wanted to be in the spotlight.
“He shot his first deer when he was 5, and he was always kind of shy, not very outgoing, but he was always interested in hunting and things like that,” Josh recalled. “For the most part, I urged him to get into hunting, and once he started doing it he liked it, wanted to do it more, and now is a passion for him like it is to me. Aiden got a better head start than I did, but, yeah, very similar.”
But with pro staff deals and time in the spotlight comes the realization of how thick the outdoor industry’s commercialization is. This has always been the case, as “influencers” were writing newspaper columns and advertorials when that was the most popular medium, while nowadays social media feeds and TV or online shows are inundated with product placement or advertisements. And while some of this is necessary for media entities to continue to create content, Josh has and is witnessing an imbalance. Because of that, he wants to keep it away from Aiden as much as possible and just let him enjoy being a young, successful hunter.
“Hunting is getting commercialized and the heritage of it is worth more to me to take him out and show him that experience. It’s passing the torch, and if you don’t pass that torch ultimately the sport dies and the industry dies,” Josh said. “Aiden knows he’s ScentLok pro staff and Black Widow Deer Lures pro staff; he knows we get discounts and free stuff by promoting their product. And that’s all fine and dandy, but only do it for a product you believe in and works. If it doesn’t work, it’s all in vain and you’re only about the money. So all the products I use is stuff I know works and makes me comfortable in knowing what I’m doing.
“So I just tell him, ‘Make sure whatever product you promote in the future works, and don’t be married to a product.’ But to him, he just thinks it's cool because he’s 12 years old and is on a pro staff. As far as the red tape of everything, I try to keep that away from him – I don’t want him to know about all the bullcrap, jealousy, and stuff behind it. I just want him to have fun.”
And fun he’s having. After a few birds busted him and Josh this past season, he finally was able to connect with a bird. In one instance early in the season, Aiden learned a great lesson about both sides of movement when a bird is close.
“We had one of the camera guys come down from Brothers of the Woods on the second day of youth season, called a big tom in toward the decoys and Aiden moved – he couldn’t sit still long enough – and the turkey spooked. I told him, ‘I don’t care how many times you’ve been turkey hunting, things like that happen. Turkeys are really sneaky.’ And I told him ahead of time, ‘Dude, if you move this hunts over.’ I was a little bit disappointed and a little bit harsh with him, to be honest with you. And then, the irony of that, the very next setup we walked into 200 yards out the ridge, we got another bird fired up. The turkeys came in and hung up at about 100 yards, and I thought I could move on it, so I got up and moved and the turkey saw me. So that taught him a good lesson that it’s OK and you just come out to have fun.
“I want to be serious about it, but not so serious that it ruins it for him. But there’s a fine line there: you want to be successful, too, and success is ultimately what makes your happy hunts. And to be successful, you have to be hard on yourself sometimes.”
Then, the day came that Aiden punched his first tag. With great weather, Josh and Aiden went out early to a roost. After they flew down, Josh called them in, but once again the birds caught sight of the two and flushed – “I called it right to us, and I told Aiden, ‘Don’t swing until he goes behind the tree.’ Well, he didn’t hear the don’t part, he heard ‘swing’ and the turkey saw him and spooked.” – but after a quick move to a blind, two bearded hens came into shooting distance.
“We made one call and it wasn’t five minutes we were in the blind that two hens come out around the hill to me,” Josh said. “The thing of it was, the two hens had beards. Aiden was cocked back, just about ready to squeeze the trigger but they kept getting behind one another and I didn’t want him to shoot two birds at the same time. So, all of a sudden I saw the big tom come over and said, ‘Wait, wait, don’t shoot! There’s a huge gobbler coming right behind them.’”
After waiting on the big tom to come within striking distance, Aiden took a 40-yard shot and dropped the bird in its tracks.
“He was jumping around, throwing his fists up in the air saying, ‘Thank you, Lord, this is awesome,’ and just seeing that out of him would have made it worth to me if I had shot 10 turkeys. Having him do that is more worth it than going out and doing it myself.”
The second bird came a week later. After dozing off on his dad’s shoulder, a bird came in looking for the source of the call. A quick nudge awake and a 30-yard shot limited Aiden out. And while both were impressive birds, the first was a trophy.
“The first one was the biggest I’ve ever seen, had 1 5/8-inch spurs, almost 24 pounds and 11-inch beard. It’s a trophy, so I’m getting it mounted for him,” Josh said. "Seeing him do that stuff, it warms my heart.”
Despite all this success, Josh hopes Aiden sticks with it into adulthood. As things change – college, finding a girlfriend, etc. – hunting can take a backseat. Yet, he believes a strong, positive influence on youth helps them keep at it, despite all those changes. Plus, he thinks an upcoming, highly-coveted and month-long moose hunting trip on Alaska's Yukon River will seal the deal for Aiden.
“He’s not of the age where he can grasp what he’s about to do – there are people that I’ve talked to that, that’s a dream hunt of theirs,” Josh said. “It’s just the norm for him – he’s so used to me going up there and doing that stuff. I don’t think he’ll fully understand it until he’s a little older. If this was me in high school, I’d be going around parading, ‘Hey, I’m going to hunt moose. It’s going to be so cool; I’m going to spend a month up there.’ But once we get on that boat in remote Alaska, he’s going to know what he’s doing. It’s going to hit him fast. I think after this trip he’s going to really blossom and start being passionate about it.”
Aiden was just one of 30 hunters to draw a tag, and while he’s on that trip, he’ll still need to do schoolwork.
“When he’s up there he has to interview the guy we’re going up with, an Athabaskan Indian. He’s one of the only men alive to race the first 10 Ididarods in a row,” Josh said. “He has to do a report on the Athabaskan Indians, the way of life in Alaska. I think it’s good.”
And although it will be an experience for the father and son duo, Josh has long concluded that, while his Alaskan adventures are life-changing, being anywhere with his son tops them.
“When I’m up there working with clients, it’s hunting and an adventure but it’s more on a professional level. And it is with Aiden, too, but he’s my son,” Josh said. “The quality time I’m spending with him, that’s time you don’t get back. I’d much rather be here with him in a blind turkey hunting than guiding a brown bear hunt.
“As much as I like to get my clients an animal in Alaska, I get it 10-fold out of Aiden.”
When he's old enough, Josh hopes Aiden will be able to join him on guided hunts helping in camp or packing out meat. He further hopes that, if he does join him, he'll continue the Compton legacy of guiding America's last frontier.