I have accumulated a lot of special memories over the course of my twenty years of hunting. I can still vividly remember the details of my first successful deer hunt, my first turkey, and my first good buck with a bow. But all of these events pale in comparison to watching my eight year-old son squeeze the trigger on his very first deer - a big, mature doe; or watching him harvest his first gobbler this past spring.
The author with his son after their first successful deer hunt together.
These are the memories that will last a lifetime for all those involved.
Like most fathers who love to hunt, my hope has always been to raise my two children to share my passion for hunting and enjoying the great outdoors. That dream became clearly evident to my wife when I brought our first-born son home from the hospital in little Mossy Oak bib overalls. I know too many hunters, however, whose kids have grown up with little or no interest in following in their father's footsteps when it comes to pursuing shooting sports, and I have often wondered what is it that separates those kids who develop the passion and those that don't. While there's no guaranteed formula for getting and keeping our kids involved in hunting, there are certainly things that we can do as a parent or mentor to increase the odds of them developing that lifelong passion. Let's take a look at five of those things.
GET THEM INVOLVED AT AN EARLY AGE
From my experience, and the experience of others that I have talked with, kids generally take a very early interest in their parent's passion for the outdoors. For me, that was when they were around two years old. It started with questions about where I was going and what daddy was doing. Then, when I actually brought home some type of critter, they were out there watching me cut it up, looking it over closely, and of course, poking and prodding on it in amazement. All of this youthful curiosity builds over time until the question is finally asked, "When can I go hunting with you?"
Before he was old enough to go hunting with a firearm, the author got
his son involved in other outdoor activities, like fishing and frog gigging.
Initially, this was a very tough question for me, because I have a tendency to take hunting very serious - often too serious. I wanted to get them involved but the selfish side of me knew that taking them would require me to change the way I hunt and to get past the usual expectations and just plan on having a good time together. I soon realized that hunting with a young child means making the trips short, being ready to answer lots of questions, lowering my hopes of actually harvesting anything, and most of all, keeping it fun.
MAKE IT FUN
Regardless of the child's age, these early days afield with you are probably the most critical in determining whether or not he/she maintains an interest in hunting. These first hunts, like any first impression, are where the child is going to form their opinion about hunting. They are either going to decide that hunting is fun and enjoyable, or that it is boring. So, it is your job to make sure that its fun!
The author's daughter on their first hunt together. The first step to getting your kids
involved in the outdoors is to simply let them tag along, and to make sure they enjoy themselves.
Probably the first step to ensuring that a child's first hunt is not there last is to keep the initial outings brief. As a parent, you've probably already witnessed just how short of an attention span most kids have these days, and the last thing they want to do is go sit in a blind or a treestand for hours on end, not being able to move around or talk. In most cases, you'll have a pretty good idea when it's time to head back, as most kids won't hesitate to let you know when they start to get bored. I would get questions like, "How long are we going to stay out here?" or "Are we going to sit in this spot the whole time?" When my son was trying to be a little more subtle about things, he would simply ask what time it was.
Regardless of how they let you know, as soon as you detect boredom, either head to the house, or change things up a bit to keep them entertained.
Hunting from a blind allowed the author and his son to call this bird to within 15 yards.
Not only does a blind help in getting game closer, but it also allows a kid the freedom to
move around more and to bring some games or reading material with them to keep from getting bored.
Hunting from a ground blind is a great way to introduce a youngster to hunting, because they have a little more freedom of movement, and you can pack along some toys, games, books, etc to keep them occupied. For some of you, that may seem to defeat the purpose of bringing them with you in the first place. However, they are still outdoors with you and you now have the opportunity to teach them valuable lessons about hunting and the great outdoors. The difference is that if you are not seeing any wildlife and they start to get a little bored, they now have something to occupy their time.
The author and good friend Billie Crider after a successful youth hunt with the kids.
Getting to share these moments with friends makes it all the more special for the kids.
DON'T PUSH THEM
I can still recall the events following my son harvesting his first deer. After the initial excitement of the harvest, I could see that he was a little upset. The remorse over taking the life of a living creature had set in and he was questioning what he had done. It was a sobering moment for the both of us. I told him that day, and have told him numerous times since, that my love for him is unconditional and regardless of whether or not he hunts, that's not going to change. Fortunately, he made his own decision to continue hunting and has since taken another deer and his first turkey. I have had the joy of watching his interest and passion grow considerably over the last two years.
Had I chosen to push him early on and make him go with me when he didn't want to, or had I belittled him for feeling remorse over his first deer, things could have turned out quite different. I've watched numerous kids lose interest in hunting (and lots of other sports for that matter), because a parent pushed them so hard to keep them involved. We, as sportsmen, all want our kids to share our love for hunting and the outdoors. However, we can't force them to share that love and any attempt to do so is only going to risk driving them further away. If they don't show as much interest as you would like, then give them their space. Always keep the invitation open, but never force them to be an unwilling participant.
PROVIDE THEM WITH THE RIGHT GEAR
Going hand-in-hand with keeping hunting fun for the kids, is keeping it comfortable; and that means providing your kid(s) with the proper clothing and equipment. Even for a diehard hunter, there is nothing worse than sitting in a deer stand freezing your butt off while trying to stay out there as long as possible. If it is miserable for us, imagine how much more miserable it is for a kid that is accustomed to a steady 72 degrees indoors. I still remember how completely unprepared I was when my son first started going afield with me. We layered him up in a bunch of mismatched layers, baseball socks that pulled up over his knees (all his other socks were footies!), one of my oversized hats and a pair of big snow boots. He reminded me of the kid from the movie "A Christmas Story" that was so bundled up that he fell down and couldn't get back on his feet. I quickly realized that if I was going to continue taking him with me, I was going to have to get him some clothes that not only fit him properly, but that would also make him look the part of a hunter. Let's face it - kids want to be like dad (at least until they hit the teenage years).
Just as important as the clothes they wear, is the weapon that they carry - whether that be a gun or bow. Proper fitting is crucial to both the safety and enjoyment of your child. For a gun, that means making sure that your child can properly shoulder and aim the firearm and that the recoil isn't more than they can handle. For a bow, it means finding one with the proper draw length for a good anchor point and the right draw weight so that the child doesn't have to strain to pull the bow back. If a kid doesn't feel comfortable shooting the weapon, then chances are, they won't be able to shoot it accurately or consistently. This will quickly lead to frustration and disappointment. If you are truly serious about getting your child involved, make sure you equip them properly, just as you would for yourself.
HELP THEM BE SUCCESSFUL EARLY ON
Finally, to keep a kid interested in hunting, sooner or later they are going to have to taste some success. While you and I may be able to sit in a treestand for hours on end, day after day, and never draw our bow back or click the rifle off of safety, a youngster is going to quickly deem that as boring! This may mean starting them out on something like squirrels or dove where there is no shortage of shooting opportunities. Or, in my son's case, taking him deer hunting in areas where I knew there were plenty of does to thin out. Sure, I would love to see him shoot a nice buck, but first I wanted him to experience the excitement of having an animal come in and present a shot opportunity. Now that he has experienced that first taste of success with both deer and turkey, I think it is safe to say that he is hooked. He no longer minds spending a little time waiting because he knows that sooner or later an opportunity will present itself, and he knows the rush he gets when it does.
There is nothing more rewarding than watching your child harvest his/her first game animal. To see the excitement in their eyes and to feel the pride of knowing that you played a big part in their success, is a feeling like no other. Most of all, it is the bond that develops between you and your child that makes it so special. It is a closeness that could only come from time shared afield. A bond that if properly nurtured, will last a lifetime.
Take some time to get your child (or nephew, neighbor, etc) out in the field. I can guarantee you that you will be glad you did!
Brian Grossman is a wildlife biologist, freelance writer and avid outdoorsman from Mt. Washington, Kentucky. You can visit his web site at www.PoorBoysOutdoors.com .