Getting the next generation of hunters into the field should be a top priority this season for each and every license buying sportsmen. If you’re not already taking a child with you then please consider it for at least a few hunts this fall. It’s not only an investment in the future of our outdoor pursuits, but you’ll come to find out it’s even more rewarding than you can imagine. The experience can literally change the way you and that child approach the outdoors. Here are 10 tips to keep in mind when you’re planning to take a youth hunting.
- Safety. This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Safety is first and foremost above everything else. My children have been taught from an early age there are three rules to everything we do outdoors and we discuss them while we’re riding in the truck before each outing. Our entire outing is filled with teaching moments focused on safety. As long as we follow the first two rules then rule three is always automatic.
- Rule #1 – Safety first!
- Rule #2 – Listen to Dad.
- Rule #3 – Have fun.
- Make it fun. Establish the mindset that when you’re taking a youth into the field it is about them and not about you. Don’t push them to hunt as hard as you normally would, or pressure them into situations because of your own drive. Step back and see the big picture from the child’s perspective. Let them progress at their own pace and they’ll take ownership of the situation.
- Weather. Some of the best hunting can be in tough weather, but since we’re making this all about the child, optimize the experience by taking them out in pleasant conditions. Early season bow hunts from a ground blind overlooking a field or mid-October walks through the squirrel woods are perfect ways to get youth outdoors.
- Patience. Don’t lose it. Children are going to make noise and squirm in their chairs. Find ways to guide their energy while creating teaching moments. Bring along a bird ID book and see how many types of birds you can find together. Collect leaves, acorns and pine cones to match them up to pictures in a tree ID book. If necessary you can even break out an iPod and let them play games for a while.
- Snacks. This item could easily be listed as #2 because it is almost as important as safety. Bring along some snacks and drinks to share with the child when you can see their attention starting to fade. Let them pick out the snacks at home or even better yet, support your local economy by giving the child a few bucks then stopping at the convenience store. Find a way to make it special or maybe start a pre-hunt tradition here.
- Exposure. The outdoors can easily be a year-round activity to involve children in. Take them out to help train your duck dog. Involve them in the training by having them give the dog commands or throw out bumpers for the dog to fetch. Invite them to hike into the woods to monitor trail cameras or establish mineral sites. Let them be the first to look through the trail camera pictures when you get them uploaded, and if you’re into naming target deer then let the child pick the names this season.
- Not for everyone. Don’t put any pressure on a child to take up hunting. Let them come along at their own pace and develop through their own curiosity. When a child sees their parent involved in an activity they will be naturally inclined to want to learn more about that activity. Embrace and encourage that but only at the appropriate pace for that individual child. Pushing them too fast can ruin the experience. Ultimately they may still choose not to hunt anyway, but allow them the opportunity to make that decision. Taking this approach will still leave them with a favorable impression of hunting and our role in conservation.
- Discuss. One of the things I love most about hunting is that it is an endless learning process. You’ll never know everything there is to know about monster bucks, for example. Quite frankly, even though I’m always thirsty for knowledge, I don’t want to know everything. That just adds to the allure. Hunting creates an infinite amount of teaching moments as you’re introducing children to the outdoors. They’re naturally inquisitive so this opens up a fantastic set-up for you to talk through the what, where, when, why and how’s of hunting.
- Participate. A big component of a successful youth hunt is letting them actually play a role in the experience. Let them help get decoys out of the bag, pack their own backpack to carry into the woods or follow deer tracks to where they think a good spot to hunt might be. This not only helps make them feel like they’re part of the team but also promotes active learning through your careful guidance.
- Timing. From late October to mid November I’m happily perched in a tree stand from before the sun comes until after it has gone down (as long as I have my snacks). However, there is absolutely no way I’d expect my children to be able to endure the same bowhunting marathon. Keep your youth hunts short in duration, maximized with activity and custom tailored to the individual. Just like training a good retriever you always want to finish on a high note. Find that happy medium of just before they’re too tired and bored yet still left wanting more!
This is a subject near and dear to me with two hunting up-and-comers in the family. While there could easily be a list of 100 items to keep in mind, my hope is that these 10 tips touch on some of the main points of introducing our hunting heritage to today’s youth. Above and beyond everything else, just make sure to keep the experience fun for them. The days spent afield have a special way of creating some of the strongest bonds we will experience in life. When put into that perspective, who better to introduce to our hunting heritage than your own children, relatives or family friends.