by Shawn Meyer
1. Don't hunt with a kid (too much)
Let me explain: About twenty years ago, I ate a pound of toffee in one afternoon. I found out that too much of a good thing can potentially spoil you for life (to this day, the mere thought of toffee makes me sick). It can be the same with kids and hunting. A friend once told me the story of his brother-in-law, an avid bowhunter. He desperately wanted to interest his son in the sport, so he tried the "total immersion" method. To the father’s dismay, his young son now has no enthusiasm for hunting. In fact, he despises it. Apparently, dad came on too strong in the early years. I’m thankful I heard that story when my oldest son was still an infant. I've been determined not to make the same mistake. In their earliest years, my children are allowed only one or two hunts per season. Do you suppose they look forward to those hunts? For months prior to the hunt I tease them, "Are you sure you want to hunt ducks with Dad?" By the time the big day arrives they are chompingMay 14, 2006tensify their desire to hunt is by limiting their opportunities early on.
2. Equip them adequately
Another thing that can spoil a kid on hunting is not having adequate attire. Don't tell your toddler to tough it out and be a man. He's not a man. I'm not suggesting you pamper him to the point that he never experiences the slightest discomfort in the field. That wouldn't be good for him either. But make sure his boots are warm and waterproof. Invest in a good warm coat, hat, and gloves. I owe this insight to a friend of mine who has a love for hunting and trapping. But as a kid he dreaded hunting with his father because he knew that he would be miserable and would receive no sympathy.
3. Make the duration age-appropriate
Younger kids tend to have short attention spans and less endurance. For a four or five-year-old you might start with an hour-long hunt (try to pick the time when the action is likely to be best). I was recently surprised when one of my sons announced that he wanted to go home after we'd been dove hunting for less than an hour. This was out of character for him and though I was tempted to make him tough it out, we packed up. He already wants to go again but had I not listened when he cried uncle his enthusiasm might not be as great.
4. Exercise patience and understanding
All parents are aware that kids drop things, break things, and lose things. They are loud and they fidget (usually at the worst possible time). A red squirrel can sit still longer than my middle son. It can drive us crazy, especially if we are on a mission to shoot a deer. But shooting a deer is of secondary importance. So, if you get irritated easily, grin and pray for patience. Hunting with your child is a gift you are giving him or her. Make it special.
5. Start small
Small game, that is. I don’t think I know any deer fanatics who didn’t start out on rabbits, squirrel, or some other small game. There are several reasons why deer hunting is not ideal for very young kids. For one, he might be unable to appreciate a hunt that ends without something being harvested. Five-year-olds and under will get more out of an outing if it’s plinking squirrels, catching bluegills, gigging frogs, or blowing a box of shells on doves than if it's sitting motionless for hours on end. Try to put them in the action.
6. Educate your kid
Do some research together before you hunt to allow your child to learn more about their quarry. This will increase both their anticipation for the hunt and their respect for the animal. Also, discuss how you intend to hunt the animal and what must be done to improve your chances for success. During the hunt itself, use every chance you get to teach and instruct. Kids are curious by nature, so take advantage of it.
7. Allow your child to participate
Your seven-year-old is probably not going to carry his own bow or gun into the field. But he can blow a grunt tube, tickle some tines, or operate a can call. If you allow your child to feel like he is more than just a spectator, the hunt becomes more memorable to him. My four-year-old still talks about the time he called in a duck over a year ago. If nothing else, let junior carry the binoculars. Tell him that he has an important job and must be ready when the binoculars are needed. Of course, the older the kid, the more patronizing that sort of comment sounds. Regardless of your child’s age, let this principle guide you: Look at the hunt through their eyes.
8. Keep them well-concealed
The better concealed a child is, the more likely he or she will see game. The more game they see, the more fun it is for them. I took my oldest son goose hunting in a picked corn field when he was three. He was camouflaged and lying next to me on the ground. We had rehearsed what to do when the geese appeared: He would move his eyes but nothing else. My adrenaline was pumping as a flock of honkers rose above the tree line. They were heading straight to us and would soon settle into our spread. As fate would have it, Titus laid eyes on them just as they started to cup. He leapt to his feet, ran in circles, and yelled, “Geese dad!” Had I put him inside a blind things might have turned out differently. On the bright side, I didn’t have to clean any geese that morning. Rehearse all you want but, believe me, it is just plain unrealistic to expect a five-year-old to move his head slowly when he detects movement in his periphery. Regardless of what you are hunting, good concealment not only improves your chance of shooting something, it keeps the animals you don’t intend to shoot around long enough to allow your son or daughter to observe and enjoy them. You’ve seen a thousand deer but you must relive the excitement of seeing your first one to appreciate the value of maximizing that same possibility for your kid. So spend a few bucks when those ground blinds go on clearance in January.
9. Plan an overnight trip
A day hunt is great but there’s something really special about an overnight hunting trip with Dad. You can bet your bottom dollar that your kid will never forget the excitement of traveling, exploring a new place, sleeping in a tent, the smell of the campfire, the fellowship, and (of course) the hunt. Consider making such an overnight trip an annual tradition.
10. Don’t leave out your daughter
It's a fact that most hunters were once boys (some of us still are). But, we have to be careful what we conclude from this. It doesn't mean that your daughter wouldn't absolutely cherish the chance to go out with Dad and kick a ditch for rabbits. In fact, she probably would. And she might just pick up the habit herself. Any benefit that comes to sons from hunting with Dad applies equally to daughters. By all means, take her along if she wants to go.
11. Safety first
Safety should always be the number one concern for hunters. However, when hunting with a kid safety should occupy an even more prominent place in our minds than usual. Risk often increases with inexperience. You are laying a foundation. So slow down to teach and practice good safety.
12. Practice sound ethics
A while back I found myself in an online discussion on hunting ethics. One individual--I hesitate to call him a hunter--commented that if an action results in a dead animal then it was ethical. Frankly, that was the dumbest thing I'd read in a long time. I hope that guy doesn't get within a mile of an impressionable child. Ethics are not determined by the results of an action. Rather, they are the standards that guide us before we decide to take an action. We should always observe the game laws whether kids are present or not. Any good you do by taking a kid hunting will be undone if you set a sloppy example. And don't be so foolish as to think your offenses will go unnoticed. So if you can’t bring yourself to practice good ethics because it is right, at least do it because small eyes are on you.
You are reading this because you have at least some interest in hunting with kids. For that we are happy and we hope this article has been a help to you. Perhaps you have some tips of your own? We'd like to hear about them. E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 24, 2006