Every parent knows that involving children in sports is great for them. It builds character, responsibility, and sportsmanship. It’s also a great opportunity to bond and share experiences with your child.
Hunting is no exception. In fact, the very lessons that we hope our children, gain on the athletic field are learned many times over “in the field” while hunting.
Hunting more than any other sport instills a sense of responsibility. Hunting teaches kids about ethics, biodiversity, conservation, and a love for the outdoors. Not to mention firearms and gun safety. Hunting builds family tradition and cements family values.
The first thing to realize when hunting with your kids is that you must go out with the understanding that you probably will not come back with a kill, especially the first time you take your boy or girl with you. This is something you especially need to get straight if you are a regular hunter who has gone out without the little ones.
Kids are noisy, ask a lot of questions, are distracted easy, have very little patience and have to go to the bathroom a lot. Not usually the best mix for hours in a tree stand or duck blind. However, if you go out with the idea that hunting with your kids is less about what you bring back to mount on the wall and more about what you bring back in memories, then you can be in for one of the best hunts of your life.
Spending time in the outdoors on a hunt is not only a great physical activity for a child. It is an amazing opportunity for them to grow on many levels, even spiritually. A child on a hunt learns about patience, about perseverance, about planning and preparation.
What to Hunt For
Many people do have a tradition of hunting “Big Game” with their families. There are those that have family traditions of a son (or daughter) bagging their first deer or elk as a kind of rite of passage into adulthood. That is all well and good. But if you are not such an avid game hunter yourself, start your family out on something smaller like foul and rabbits.
A rabbit hunt offers all of the skill-building, the gaining of values, and wilderness experiences for a child without all of the rigor of a big game hunt. You have a great opportunity to teach your child about rabbits and their habits. A pre-season scouting trip prior to the rabbit hunt is another great opportunity to spend some quality time in the outdoors with your child.
It also provides an opportunity to get your kid used to being outdoors for a while, before an all-day hunt. You can start out by making smaller 2-3 hour sojourns to scout the areas. On the pre-hunt scout, you can make a great game out of it, as you hunt for clues – tracks, spoor, dens and the like. Each new clue gathered is a learning opportunity for your kid.
Of course tantamount to taking any child on a hunting trip is keeping themselves and all members of the hunting party safe. The International Hunter Education Foundation suggests these following safety tips when hunting with children. As a hunter, these are mostly common sense tips you are no doubt already aware of, but they need to be especially attended to when out there with kids. It is by no means a complete list.
- Take a firearm safety and hunting class, and have your children take it with you, and make sure they pass.
- Know what the laws are, and follow them. Do not hunt with people who do not obey the rules or do not hunt safely
- Never hunt when it’s too dark to see clearly.
- Understand the limits of your child’s abilities and knowledge
- Never leave your children alone while you hunt or scout
- Always treat your gun as though it’s loaded. Never play around with it, and never point it at anything you don’t plan to shoot
- Never use mind-altering substances, including prescription medications before or while hunting
- Be absolutely certain of what your target is, and also what is beyond it. If you aren’t sure, don’t shoot. If you’re conflicted, don’t shoot. If you can’t see clearly, don’t shoot
- Wear appropriate clothing to alert others to your presence. Make sure your children do, too
Other Tips for Making A Good Hunt with Kids
If you can remember these two things, that your kids are smaller than you, and see things very differently than you do, then you will undoubtedly have a richer experience when out hunting with them. You know that favorite hunting spot you have been to time and time again with ankle-high grass and weeds?
Remember, to your kid, that’s knee or waist high brambles. The same is true for streams and any other ground you have to cover, little feet and legs take at least 2- 3 times the effort to cover the same distance as you. Keep that in mind as you pick your hunting spot.
A kid’s perspective is very different than yours, especially during their first time out. Every hoot, every tree, and every branch is bound to hold a certain fascination – let them experience it. Allow them to stop as many times as they want – so what if you get to your stand that much later and miss a great shot.
Take along your kids favorite foods, and lots of it. Kids get hungry and a first hunting trip is no time to spring your old granddad’s recipe for trail mix on them. Bring along the foods you know they will enjoy. Nothing can end a happy hunting trip quicker than a whiney hungry child.
Despite all the splendor of the great outdoors, the deep woods can hold the attention of a young child for only so long, so take along some “auxiliary” activities for them. We are trying to foster a love for the wilderness, so leave behind the iPods and iPhones, but a few activity books, coloring books, or better yet – age appropriate field guides are a good idea.
Make sure they are dressed properly. Keeping kids warm and dry will result in far fewer complaints and longer hunts.
The simple truth is, if you want to have the most rewarding experience on a hunt with your son or daughter, remember it’s not about you, or the game, it is all about them. See the hunt through their little eyes and ears, and you will not only develop a hunting buddy for the rest of your life, but you’ll also likely return home with your best hunting trophies ever – the memories.