Building a Big Game Hunter

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Teaching Children to Love the Outdoors

Across the nation, there is a concern about declines in the number of hunters. In addition to a significant drop in license and tax revenues, there are worries that the decline could eventually change the relationship between humans and wildlife.

A report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that the number of hunters 16 and older declined by 10 percent between 1996 and 2006 - from 14 million to about 12.5 million. The losses were most severe in New England, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific states.

Some of the reasons given for declining numbers of youth hunters are competition for recreational time, loss of opportunities and increasing costs.

Certainly hunting today is different than when I fist carried a gun afield nearly 40 years ago. As a youth I could climb the fence in the back of the yard and have hundreds of acres of upland habitat to wander in. Today there are age restrictions and hunter safety requirements that must be met before a young person can even purchase a license.

Like many fathers, after my children were born I wanted to introduce them to the sport that I loved. I wanted them to experience the joy and pleasure I derived from hunting and being in the outdoors.

The three generations participating in this hunt include a youngster with a toy shotgun.

I did not have to teach my oldest son to love hunting. He was born with the gene and by the time he was three, I couldn't leave him home without provoking a serious tantrum. Today he will gladly climb several thousand feet in steep mountain terrain during poor weather for a slight chance of taking a trophy.

My oldest son with a nice high country mule deer buck.

My oldest daughter likes to fish, but has no interest in hunting. She married about five years ago and our family quickly converted her formerly non-hunting husband. He eagerly joins us on upland or big game hunts whenever possible.

My youngest daughter's interest in hunting was sparked by a love of sporting dogs and watching them work on upland game. She passed her hunter safety class at 16. Although she has carried a tag and a rifle on a couple of hunts, she has never killed a big game animal (her choice). Still, she accompanies us on hunting trips when her schedule allows and she enjoys hiking and glassing. Her husband recently expressed interest in taking a hunter safety class and applying for a license.

Except for my first son, a passion for hunting and the outdoors had to be carefully nurtured. Even though my oldest wanted to accompany me as soon as he could walk I had to make certain his experiences were positive. When taking him along, I had to temper my expectations. I vividly remember trying to sneak through oak brush in pursuit of a mule deer buck and wondering how a boy who weighed 45 pounds could make the same volume of noise as a charging rhino.

At an early age he was willing to stay out all day in any kind of weather. I recall a couple of hunts where I virtually had to drag him back to the truck because he was shivering hard and his lips were blue.

Although we invited him to accompany us every time, my younger son showed little interest in hunting until he was 13. He dutifully completed a hunter safety course and said he wanted to hunt big game the next year when he turned 14.

When it came time to apply for permits, I knew that his first hunts needed to be fun with a high chance for success and little pressure. In addition to a general deer tag, we put in an application for an antlerless deer tag and for a two-doe antelope permit in an area close to our home.

My younger son with a doe antelope.

The antlerless deer hunt came first. It was an agricultural area where only shotguns and muzzleloaders were legal. The weather was still mild and the deer would retreat to nearby hills after feeding in alfalfa fields all night. It took a couple of trips and several misses before he bagged a fat doe, his first big game animal. He filled the antelope tags a couple of weeks later. We started hunting late on a Saturday morning after a soccer game. By 3 p.m. we were driving to the processor. He ended his first season with a small buck deer taken on a hillside less than two miles from our home.

My younger son with his very first buck deer.

Four years later, my younger son has killed several antelope, a few deer, and a cow moose. Today he will sometimes wake up long before dawn and join my older son on an above-timberline hunt for big muley bucks. But most of the time he still prefers hunts that don't require camping in the snow or rain or long predawn hikes and I am certainly okay with that.

Both sons work to reposition a cow moose for field dressing.

As a father, it was important for me to recognize the differences in interest levels of my children. If my younger son's first hunt had been a general elk hunt in cold snowy weather where the chance of bagging an animal was slim, I suspect that would also have been his last hunt. Instead, those first hunts were outings where seeing plenty of game was virtually guaranteed and the odds of bagging game were very high.

My son-in-law and younger son with a nice antelope buck.

To offset the declines in recruitment of young hunters, many states are instituting new regulations, special hunts or programs to give youth hunters more opportunities. My home state of Utah recently lowered the age for hunting big game to 12. For many years Utah has allocated 15% of its general season deer tags to youth hunters. For 2009, that was increased to 20%. The state also offers a special youth elk hunt that allows young hunters to hunt bull elk during the rut.

  • Wyoming offers special tags and special pricing to youths under 18.
  • Maine introduced Young Hunter Days to encourage adolescents to try the sport with the help of volunteer guides who accompany them on their first outing.
  • Alabama gives new hunters first access at the start of deer season. That gives novice hunters a chance to hunt when the animals are not as wary. The goal is to attract news hunters to the sport.
  • Illinois offers learn-to-hunt classes for single mothers who want to introduce their children to hunting.
  • Kentucky allows new hunters to hunt for a year with a legal hunter before taking a hunter-safety course.
  • Oregon's Mentored Youth Hunter Program allows unlicensed children 9 to 13 to receive one-on-one hunting experience and training.
  • Arizona implemented an online hunter-safety course that can be completed in three hours, making it much easier for new hunters to qualify for a license.

Of course regulations are changing all the time and if you have young people you want to introduce to hunting it is worth the effort to check and see what your state has to offer.

In a recent issue of American Hunter, Darren LaSorte, NRA-ILA's manager of hunting policy, said, "The NRA has been actively pursuing regulatory and statutory changes that will result in enhanced recruitment of new hunters in order to ensure the future of hunting in America; however, the greatest recruitment results are achieved by the hunters in the fields and woods."

According to one sociology professor, historically there were three variables that determined whether or not a child would become a hunter. Those were whether their father hunted, whether they grew up in a rural area, and whether they were male.

Increasingly, those factors are changing. More children are growing up in urban areas and more are being raised by single mothers. No matter what level of interest our children might have, those of us who love and participate in the sport have an opportunity and responsibility to introduce the next generation to this wonderful pastime.

Flint Stephens pays his mortgage by writing about investment markets, but his real passions are fishing and hunting. Stephens grew up pursuing fish and wildlife in Ohio, but while attending college in Utah, he fell in love with the mountains, deserts and a girl from Moab. After several years as a journalist in Illinois, the draw of mountain adventures brought them back to central Utah in 1986. Stephens enjoys horses, freelance writing and photography. He spends his spare time making certain his children and grandchildren are completely addicted to outdoor pursuits.


I am a pool cleaner in

I am a pool cleaner in Anaheim and I was just talking to my pool client about this the other day.  I feel the use of ipad, xboxes, and phones makes it impossible for kids to go outside these days.  

Those big game hunters are

Those big game hunters are the best. They are definitely going to love it more. - Marla Ahlgrimm

Retired2hunt's picture

  A very great article that


A very great article that time will not ever change.  It is not only a privelidge but a responsibilty of a father or mother to ensure their son or daughter is given the opportunity to participate in the great sport of hunting.


COMeatHunter's picture

Nothing more rewarding than hunting with your kids

I appreciate your houghts and experiences.  I have 2 kids and have had my oldest (who is now 12 and carrying a gun himself) big game hunting with me for the last 3 years.  As a 9 year old, it was definitely "rhino" walking through the woods.  However, after many hunts over the last 3 years, he is now pretty good about how much noise he's making.  

My youngest has expressed some interest in hunting too but has not yet accompanied us on a big game hunt.  If she completes her hunter safety program this winter, I'll know she is ready to start coming along.

One of my best hunting memories will always be watching how thrilled by son was just after bagging his first animal last year--a whitetail doe in Nebraska in cold January.  Right after he made the shot, he looked over at me (I was about 20 yards behind him) and gave me a thumbs up and said in a semi-quiet voice, "Dad, I want to do this forever!"  I will never forget this moment--not an animal in the world could I bag that would make me even half as proud.

Teaching our kids to hunt and respect both the outdoors and the wildlife has got to be one of the highlights of being a dad.  And I hope to be able to do just that...twice.

groovy mike's picture

I had the privilege of introducing my son to hunting.

I had the privilege of introducing my son to hunting.  The age restrictions in New York state made us wait about ten years before I could hunt with my son.  I bought him his lifetime hunting license when he was two years old, but he had to turn twelve to hunt even small game in New York State.  This year (at age fourteen) he’ll be eligible to hunt big game for the first time.  I am glad to say that a passion for hunting and the outdoors is something that we share.  Now I have to recruit my wife into the fold! This article is exactly right about taking smaller children along.  Pretty well forget about bagging game and just try to have fun and let them enjoy the outdoors.  They will sound like a charging rhino!   

It sounds like your younger son had a fantastic his first season!   Those first hunts can make quite a difference in determining whether or not a child will become an avid hunter. Besides whether their father hunts, where they grew up, and gender there are a whole stack of other things that affect the decision whether to take a life of not.  Not the least of which is how they  are introduced to the sport,.  Whether they enjoy the experience, and whether they have some early success and especially the feedback that they receive (positive or negative) on the results of their hunt. Thanks for sharing your experiences and the good advice!

GooseHunter Jr's picture

That is a great article.  I

That is a great article.  I have a great passion for the outdoors I just hope that my son has it as bad as I do.  I will not force it on him I just am hoping.  If not we will find outside to do.  I too find alot of joy in taking adukts out and helping them get that first animal....almost more fun that shooting it myself!

WishIWasHunting's picture

This article is spot on.   As

This article is spot on.   As one of five children, it is interesting to look at the differences between each of the siblings when it comes to hunting.  My two older brothers both took to hunting much more quickly than I did and were much more enthusiastic about it at a younger age.  While I did hunt some growing up, I never got in to it quite as much as they did.  My youngest brother jumped right in to hunting with both feet and enjoys different things in hunting than the rest of us brothers.  My sister is not into hunting just yet, but I believe she will be eventually.  Not only did we each come about hunting differently, but our approaches to hunting and what we each enjoy about hunting has changed over time.  I hope to remember and appreciate each of these differences once I start my family and introduce my kids to hunting. 

gatorfan's picture


Great write-up!  Thanks for sharing your experiences. I have three children myself and all three have completely different interests in hunting.  My oldest son, 13 years old, is more into the easier hunts with less climbing and brush busting.  My middle boy, 10 years old, could care less what the conditions are!  He goes through more brush and hills than my springer spaniel.  My daughter, 6 years old, is, well, a 6 year old girl.  She asks all the questions and likes to hear the stories but I have yet to get her afield.  All three love to go fishing! Big smile

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