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There are more hunters retiring than joining the ranks each year. It’s a sad truth that the next generation of hunters will have to deal with. There will be fewer in the following generation too if the trend keeps up. The best thing to do to combat this? Take a kid hunting.
For kids who grow up in the woods, the anticipation of opening day is just as good, if not better than Christmas morning. There’s an excitement that can’t be beat. These kids know that the day could bring a new trophy and a freezer full of meat. Getting today’s youth to that level of excitement starts with the basics.
Though not all will agree, I happen to be a strong advocate for putting a gun in the hands of a kid at an early age. Teaching them proper gun handling and safety is the key in making a responsible hunter. I’m not saying hand a kid a .243 and let them go wild, but rather get a bull-barrel .22 (or even an air gun) and sit them at a bench with a marked target or a tin can.
Giving them plenty of time with a rimfire will not only teach trigger control and aiming, but will help them build confidence and learn that above all, safety comes first.
Once they have mastered the art of hitting the bull’s-eye, increasing the distance and eventually the caliber of the gun they’re handling is the next step. Of course there are the safety courses (when they’re old enough) that will help them be better sportsmen (or women), but proper firearm handling can’t be taught in 16 hours with a test at the end.
Getting these kids to put down the screens and watch nature is a big next step.
Short trips into the woods ahead of season will give you and the kid at your side a feel for being together out there. Patience usually isn’t a trait found in young children often, so scouting and sitting for short periods help teach basic skills without putting the big hunt on the line.
Keeping these trips fun is important. To encourage a kid to want to do it again, help them find tracks, spot animals and enjoy themselves. Do they want camo face paint to try and sneak around? Make it happen. Sure, they might look like a cheap knock-off army toy, but if they like it, why not let them?
Are they making tons of noise? Try handing them a call or some rattling antlers to make that noise worth it. One of the first things I mastered in the woods was a mouth call for turkeys. It kept me from talking, and provided some interesting views when I actually called something in.
Sure, the main goal might be to help them bag a 12-point buck, but in reality, there’s much more to hunt. Take them out for squirrel, pheasant, turkey and more. There are tons of small game opportunities to put that learned marksmanship to the test. Once they’ve done a few smaller hunts and their confidence is up, they’ll have a much better chance at actually seeing and shooting that buck.
Do your homework
Sure, you can take a kid out, sit and wait for that deer to come along, but you’ll have a better time of it if you have an idea what time the deer will wander past your stand. Teaching a kid to use a trail camera and to set up a spot that takes advantage of deer behavior and patterns means you’ll be sitting less and might not have to hear the dreaded, “I’m bored.” If you know the deer go through at 2 p.m., a trip into the woods to watch them walk by (and of course shoot them in season) is a great way to minimize the wait and promote the fun.
Even with all this, let’s face it: a kid in the woods is not going to sit for hours, quietly, doing nothing but waiting. I always made sure to have something to distract them with. I usually carry a small camera for them to take pictures of things that interest them. Obviously, most cell phones have that option now and can also be a distraction for them, but when that battery charge runs out (and it will), a puzzle book or some paper for tic-tac-toe is a great backup.
Weather & Comfort
It’s 20° degrees and snowing… You may be up for the hunt, but is your little buddy going to be able to take that weather? Get a thermos and make sure it’s filled with a warm drink: hot chocolate, apple cider, tea, or even coffee, if they like it. Nothing heats you up in the woods like a warm belly. A few snacks to go along with it and you might have a sleeping kid in the stand. Dressing in layers and having a set of hand heaters (heck, even ones for in the boots) go a long way. If it’s really cold (or wet), a small portable heater in the stand can help too. Obviously not all stands can accommodate a heater, but when they can they’re a great asset.
Remember, hunting is something a kid will either like, or not. They may not like it when they’re young, or they may even grow out of it. Making a child hunt when they don’t want to is a major don’t. This isn’t like household chores, but when you force them to do it, that’s how a kid will see it.
As a side note: These tips aren’t just for kids. They can be used on anyone of any age who has never been hunting (or even fishing if you get creative).