Youth Hunting | When Is the Right Time to Take Kids Hunting
Doesn’t it seem like each fall disappears in a crazy blur? Between schools starting back up, getting ready for winter, and of course hunting seasons, it’s easy to lose track of time. As a result, we tend to push some things off our plate, resolving to do them in the mythical “later” category. But “later” might not happen. That’s why it’s important to dedicate time now to life-altering things like taking your youth hunting. Think about it; if you go hunting with a child and patiently pass on your outdoors knowledge to them, you will theoretically create another grounded and responsible adult who’s connected to their food source and the world. Hunting teaches ethics, responsibility, patience, and respect. What more could you want for your children?
So it’s obviously important to get your kids in the outdoors when they’re young. How young? That depends entirely on you and your child. Some kids are ready to go afield much younger than others. It can be challenging to teach them everything, but family hunting is also a great way to spend more time with your kids doing something you love. In this post, we’ll look at some common signs your child may be ready for youth hunting, and some tips to help you teach them what they need to know.
Signs They May Be Ready for Youth Hunting
If you notice the following behaviors about your son or daughter, they may well be ready to head to the woods with you. First, if they’re asking to come with you on a hunt, it’s definitely time to start doing some kind of outdoors activity with them. Even if you’re just doing a mock-hunt (discussed below), it’s a great time to get your youth outdoors.
Similarly, if they routinely ask a lot of questions about hunting-related activities, show them in the field instead of simply telling them. Better yet, put them in situations where they can learn the answer on their own without having to explain it. If they are going on make-believe hunts on their own, they’re probably ready too!
If they are intensely curious when you bring a wild game animal home, they may be ready. Encourage them to hold or handle the hide, antlers, feathers, etc. and teach them throughout the butchering/processing task. Some people worry their kids may be too sensitive to see a dead animal. If they seem to be bothered by it, explain the emotions you feel when hunting and that you’re respecting the animal by eating it around the table.
General Rules of Youth Hunting
One of the best and most important things you can do to teach your child about hunting is to be patient. Kids are going to be too loud in the woods, make mistakes, have short attention spans, and do all sorts of other things that will make you think about quitting. Keep your emotions under control and use any mishaps as teachable moments.
You also may want to start them on smaller animals, such as birds, squirrels, or rabbits. These seem to carry less emotional weight for most kids, and are more their size. As they get used to hunting small game animals, start to introduce larger ones like whitetails.
Try to make every hunt or time in the woods as fun and enjoyable as possible for them. It’s not the time for all-day sits or extreme temperatures either. Keep the field adventures short, comfortable, and enjoyable. The more fun they have, the more likely they are to want to go back. From there, you can slowly introduce reality to them without putting them off.
Emotions of Youth Hunting
Think back to your first successful youth hunt. It may have been exhilarating. Or it may have caused some tears to flow. Teaching your kids beforehand about the emotions they might feel is a good approach. Watch hunting shows with them and show them the wild game you have killed. How do they react? When/if they make a marginal shot and are kicking themselves for it, encourage them. Let them know that it happens to everyone. But as long as they do everything they can to find the animal or exhaust all possibilities, they haven’t done anything wrong. Also let them know that killing an animal shouldn’t be done lightly, and that they deserve a lot of respect by hunting ethically.
First Field Trip
If they seem like they’re interested in hunting and you have done a few of the steps above, it’s time for your first hunting trip together. Ask them if they’d like to go hunt with you in a ground blind somewhere. Obviously if you’re hunting with kids, you shouldn’t go on a high-stakes hunt after a hit-list buck or you’ll just get frustrated. Instead, simply set up a ground blind in the backyard where you can watch wildlife, even just squirrels or rabbits. Use the time as an opportunity to teach basic hunting skills (e.g., how to be quiet, how slowly to move, how to listen and look for animals, etc.). If they like sitting with you, you could bring a Gamo® .177 or .22 caliber rifle with and have them shoot their first squirrel or rabbit. This is assuming that they have gone through all the necessary firearm safety courses and are legally able to hunt, of course. If they are interested in bow hunting, consider sending them to bow camps for children where they can learn about archery. If they’re really interested, consider getting a Bear Archery® youth hunting bow.
Moving Up to Larger Game Animals
As they get better about hunting small game animals, it might be time to introduce them to larger ones. If they’re not quite ready for a full day in the woods, take them out after you get an animal to help you track the blood trail. After you shoot a whitetail, for example, follow the trail and check to make sure they are down. Then bring your kid out to “help” you find it. Show them where you shot it, and help them stay on the blood trail. With your helpful nudges, they should eventually lead you to the deer. Explain how grateful you are to them and that you could have never found it without their help. This encouragement and the excitement of finding a deer usually cements their interest in youth hunting. Your passion and enthusiasm is contagious with kids, so let them see it in your actions.
After they’ve helped you in the woods, try a few co-sits together, where you’re both actually in the tree stand or ground blind with the purpose of hunting deer. While there’s not a lot of required hunting gear for kids, make sure that they are dressed in appropriate and comfortable youth hunting clothes like Under Armour® clothing. Stop by Scheels® to load up on any essential hunting gear for them. Offer help or advice to them throughout the trip, but also use it as an opportunity to test their skills and knowledge. If they do really well without your help a few times, they’re probably ready for their first deer hunt all by themselves. If possible, try not to impose too many quality deer management rules on them their first year. Let them take a doe, a spike buck, or a mature buck – anything they want. This will keep them interested and lay the foundation for future hunts.
Get Started Now
Taking kids hunting can be a lot of work, it’s true. But youth hunting is also some of the best quality time you can spend with your child. If you start exposing them to the outdoors and wild game at a young age, they will be much more likely to become confident hunters one day. And you’ll have created one of the best hunting buddies you could ever have.