Fall is here, your kids are back in school, and many of you are getting ready to hunt, and while you might enjoy that quiet time in the woods by yourself, I’m going to suggest that you shake things up a bit this year and let the kids come along to hunting camp.
That’s right, kids want to hunt! Don’t take my word for it, just give any young person a chance to hunt and you’ll see firsthand their curiosity, desire to explore the great outdoors and sense of self-reliance kick into high gear! When they understand they can use firearms in a responsible and ethical manner to put food on the table, it’s not only fun and adventurous but also empowering.
- The Basics
- Competitive Shooting
- Older kids
- Tactical Kids
What Age Should Kids Start Hunting?
I started when I was 10 or 11 years old, but would suggest you let your kids go even younger. Bring them on drives while you deer hunt, let them walk along on a pheasant hunt, allow them to sit in the duck blind. Being outside and experiencing the world, free from computers, the boob tube, incessant commercialism and pop culture is good for kids!
Let them learn geography, topography, and science in the outdoors. For example, if they hunt deer, they will learn anatomy when they help field dress the animal: the muscle groups, fascia, ligaments, tendons and how they attach to bones, which is more dissection than they will ever get to do in school biology class!
Many states now have Youth Hunting seasons. For us here in Wisconsin, it is a weekend in October where the kids can go out on a mentored hunt (meaning an adult with their Hunter Safety certification). The kids do not need to have sat through the entire hunter safety class just to get their feet wet in the field. Call it clever marketing or just a reason to let the kids hunt with their grandparent, dad, or mom, but it’s an easy way for kids to begin and see what hunting is really like.
You can also enroll your kids in hunter safety courses. Some states have lower minimum ages that make it simple for siblings to go take the class together. Some, like Wisconsin, offer online courses, and then the kids attend a field day that includes shooting. No matter how you start the journey to get your kids to tackle hunter safety, the biggest step is just making up your mind to go and then putting it on your schedule.
Here’s a web page with links to states that offer Hunter Education online.
Things to Bring
Always make sure your kids wear appropriate eye and ear protection, and the right color of clothing, especially during deer season or others that require blaze orange. Use early Fall as a time to prepare a blind, or tree stand. Our boys rake a path to the deer stand before opening day so they can get into the stand in the dark without making noise. They even helped my dad build a nice blind elevated off the ground, and maintain it so they can be warm during our late November deer season.
Time in the blind with grandpa or another hunter is educational too. Our pace in life is often too fast, too focused on things outside of family and nature. A few days, or better yet, many days spent soaking up the woods is great for kids.
Kids often don’t fit into adult hunting gear, but there are so many options that make finding clothes their size pretty simple. For example, your local Walmart carries Realtree clothing in kids’ sizes. Make sure to dress for the weather. Invest in hand warmers (I buy these by the dozen), and neck gators or balaclavas. The last two items alone can make the experience much more enjoyable for a youngster.
You don’t need to spend a fortune. We hunt in Wisconsin, and my youngest has a yard sale pair of Kamik snowmobile boots, and hand-me-down snow pants to wear when we are in the tree stand. So dress warmly, and with plenty of layers. Remember, you can always peel some off or unzip to vent body heat while moving in the field. However, if you don’t have enough layers, well, you and your youngster can get uncomfortable real fast.
We also have a propane heater that we bring out to our elevated deer stand, and we make a sort of tent over our laps with a sleeping bag to keep us and our hands warm underneath. My husband blames it on his years in the Marine Corps and sleeping outside and being miserably cold. It is a much better way to combat the cold when you have a youth hunter who might not enjoy 6:30 a.m. frost.
Besides warm gear, some rain gear is a good idea, and water, and hearing protection. There are so many options in electronic hearing that it just makes sense to get something so that everyone’s hearing is protected. But if you really want to listen for animals coming, then having a pair of ear muff style hear pro is probably fastest. I’ll admit my boys hunt squirrels with a .22 and don’t take ears, but when deer hunting with the .308 we definitely make them bring ear protection.
Big Rules to Know
Know your state hunting laws, whose land you are on, and practice responsible habits, like bringing any trash out of the woods with you, and asking permission to track animals if the trail leads you onto someone else’s land. And when you take photographs or share your hunting story, honor that animal that will feed you by making sure you don’t show gory or blood-filled photos. Everyone knows you have to field dress an animal, but you don’t need pictures on Facebook. Even if it’s your previously grossed out girlfriend or princess of a daughter who now realizes this is where food comes from. People who do not understand hunting need to see that hunters respect our natural resources and use them properly.
If you’re planning to hunt in wilder areas, let your kids take an orienteering class, or check out the NRA Youth Adventure Camp at NRA Whittington Center. But if nothing else, make sure you have a map and basic understanding of where you are going before you head into the woods.
While I might tell you to take your little one out to kill animals, I will still think like a mom and tell you to know where you are and have a phone. Basic First Aid isn’t a bad plan either. I’ve heard more stories than I’d like to about older men having heart attacks or people getting cut on fences or twisting an ankle or knee on rocks. If you’re hunting in the back 40, that’s not all that big a deal. But if you are miles from your car or miles from other humans, you need to be able to get back to help.
I’ve only been lost twice in my life: once after I tracked a deer I shot and the sun went behind clouds and I got turned around, the other in Bologna, Italy, when the sun came out after rain and I got lost too. The sun is a great orienting tool, but it can also leave you in a pinch when it hides.
There are some tertiary payoffs to time spent immersed in the woods. I started deer hunting with my dad and getting dropped at a stand an hour before daylight, then sitting until mid-morning. He quickly realized that my sisters and I did not like this, and so we started hunting with family friends.
The hours spent walking the woods with friends, making drives over hills and through ravines, and time spent walking out of the woods each night are memories I’ll have forever. We could have upwards of 20 people involved in a big drive, and it was a great way to fill the mid-day hours. But time spent sharing experiences that are real and tangible is something often missing from our day-to-day life. We’re so caught up in the “have to” we miss chances to share what’s right in front of us. Sitting in a tree stand or duck blind offers real time with people who matter to you. And maybe that’s one of the biggest secrets about hunting and why guys like it so much. Men aren’t really touchy-feely creatures, but perhaps being able to hang out with their friends and enjoy sharing the peace and quiet or a few laughs is what it’s all about. And teaching your kids that there is a time to step back from all the busy things to just enjoy the people in our lives is always a positive!
Hunting also instills a sense of stewardship in kids; stewardship of the wilderness and the creatures in it. It teaches kids about the food chain, the responsible and ethical treatment of animals, and why they should care about their environment along with a plethora of other things some would call, very “green.”
While some attempt to paint hunting in a negative light, the real story behind this sport and pastime is humans working hand-in-hand with nature. On an individual level, the responsible hunter never takes more than what is necessary and always gives back to nature, whether that’s through being a good steward of the land or helping to balance the local wildlife population.
In the aggregate, hunters are a huge force for conservation. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, via state licensing fees, donations, taxes on firearm and ammunition sales, hunters generate $1.6 billion annually for conservation efforts. Without all these contributions from hunters, it’s safe to say, public lands and wildlife populations would not be as vibrant and as healthy as they are today. What the critics fail to realize is that hunters are the real engine behind resource management and conservation in the U.S.
So, the next time your vegan or PETA-loving friend gives you guff about hunting, you can share with them the real facts about the positive difference hunters make toward preserving and protecting the environment. Given those facts, you can also see why passing the tradition on to our children is so vital. If we love nature and wildlife, we need a new generation of hunters to carry the load of conservation.