Take a Kid Hunting
Key Tips for Making a Young Hunter’s Experience a Good One
article by Dan Chason
I am either getting old or soft as this year is the first time I have shared a deer stand on opening weekend. However, the company I had for the weekend brought back old memories and made some new ones, as I spent my hunting time with two of my seven grandchildren. The youngest, Chance, at age 7 is a “ring tailed tooter” as we call him. I called my daughter and asked if the two oldest could come over for a hunt. Chance and his brother, Elijah, who is 12 arrived, and we started prepping for our big hunt the next morning. Chance was so excited that he woke up at midnight and stayed awake all night, so he would not miss the wake up call. I have had deer cameras out for a few weeks and was pretty confident that we would see some four-legged friends. I had pictures of deer, hogs and even bear on two of my stands. I told them that we would most likely not shoot anything, as I never want to start a kid out in the wrong path. What I am referring to is the number one mistake parents or guardians make when hunting with a kid: Measuring the hunt by what is harvested. I rarely gauge a hunt by any other barometer, even when hunting alone, by the amount of game seen or taken. This message spoils young hunters into thinking that this measure determines the joy of being outdoors. The second biggest mistake made is letting the youngster tag along and not making it THEIR hunt. I remembered two years ago, when I invited Elijah over for a deer hunt. The stand I picked was one of my prime areas, and I was confident that we would see lots of deer. I intentionally got to the stand early, and we sat down for a quiet evening. Right about 4:45, I looked over and the look on Elijah’s face told it all. He was not enjoying himself. In the age of video games and stimuli that engages kid’s brains, sitting in a deer stand and trying to be quiet and still is hard for them to do. I knew right then, he was a little young for this type of hunt. Right at prime time, I asked him if he wanted to leave. The look on his face was priceless. He was surprised I would ask and could not agree that he was bored quite quick enough. So, we climbed down and spent the rest of the evening on the UTV in the mud holes. Now I don’t recommend this if you share your hunting area with other hunters. Young hunters need to understand that respecting others’ rights is paramount in the outdoors. But if the opportunity is there, don’t wear out a young person with your desire to stay with it when they are obviously not having fun.
The third mistake we make with our kids is when we don’t prepare. This past weekend, I had two gallon sized Ziploc bags packed full of goodies. Bring them plenty to eat and plenty to drink. Another mistake is thinking a youngster can sit still. They can’t. No amount of fussing, evil looks or chastising can overcome the “ants in the pants” of young hunters. Utilize a box stand where their movements are concealed. Also don’t forget cough drops. Snotty nosed kids cough. A lot. In the winter, it is normal for a child to have a dripping nose and accompanying cough. To make the hunt fun for them, make it a learning experience. From identifying the noises of a barking squirrel or the hammering of a woodpecker, teach that child to identify what they are hearing and what it can mean. That squirrel is the best deer alarm made. Help them learn how to key in on the little things. This weekend, we identified tracks of hogs, deer, bear and coons. We learned the safe way to carry a weapon. What I do with my grandkids is to bring an UNLOADED BB gun for them to carry. It is a great tool to learn muzzle control and responsibility. That first time they shoot or carry a gun should not be when they are aiming at an animal, anticipating the recoil. Which brings me to my pet peeve with kids: Never ever let a child shoot a gun that is going to knock them on the ground. Too many hunters hand a shotgun or rifle to a child to “learn to shoot.” It doesn’t take but one mishap of recoil, and you have bred a lifelong flincher. Flinching is a learned behavior. As a shooting instructor, it is the hardest mistake to correct. Start out with a BB or pellet rifle and graduate to a .22 rifle. Move up from there according to their size. Make sure the gun fits them and that they have ear and eye protection. You don’t want to imprint a negative experience with firearms.
We didn’t see anything all weekend due to the full moon and other unnatural sounds that emitted from our stand. However, my time with the boys was well spent. I answered ten thousand questions, served enough potato chips to have stock in Frito Lay and will now have to buy some more propane canisters for our next trip. But to see their faces of anticipation and to see them grow up doing the things I was taught to do by my father made it a trip to remember.
I encourage you with a simple slogan that I will borrow from the late Sheriff Bob Buckley: Kids that hunt and fish don’t steal and deal. Or my favorite, “Take your kids hunting, and you won’t have to hunt your kids.” Share the gift of the great outdoors this holiday season. Make it all about them, and don’t gauge the trip by what hits the ground. Gauge it by the memories you create with that beloved child.