By DJ Randolph | Mossy Oak Regional ProStaff
I have been very fortunate to get to take many young hunters to the field. It is a very rewarding experience, but it requires a whole other level of preparation and patience. Their attention span, patience and tolerances of weather can be very different from that of an experienced hunter. Here are a few things to keep in mind when taking kids afield.
Make sure they know their equipment. It’s very easy to do some shooting in the backyard or at a range. Whether with a bow or gun, we usually practice in very controlled conditions. It’s important to remember that the new hunter lacks experience and younger hunters don’t go through those “what ifs” in their head like we do. So once the weapon is sighted in it’s important to setup some real world conditions. Have them shoot from a blind, from their knees, from a treestand, etc. I like to use pictures and play “what if” games. What if the animal is facing you, broadside, quartering towards you?
Recently I had my 14 year-old daughter out hunting to fill her first youth deer tag. We ended up in a blind that she had never been in before. At last light we had two very big bucks come through about 80 yards away. She tried and tried but could not find them in the scope, so we had to let them walk. After looking over the setup, I realized that her rest was much lower than what she had practiced with so she had to lean over and was uncomfortable. The next time we went to that blind we adjusted the rest and practiced aiming at everything that came through. This was a learning experience for her and me both.
Make sure they are comfortable. Kids just don’t think things through the way that we do. I can’t count how many times we have started to leave the house in the afternoon when it’s 60 degrees out and the kids have on t-shirts and little ankle socks. They don’t think that it might be 40 degrees by sundown. So take a few minutes and make sure that they have the clothing that they will need and explain to them how the temperature and weather can change and the importance of being prepared.
Seeing animals is usually more important than getting a trophy. A lot of us die hard hunters are willing to sit in an uncomfortable tree, overlooking a nasty swamp, for days on end just to get a chance at a trophy. Kids usually need a little more action. I try to find easily accessible areas that hold a variety of game. We might be deer hunting but watching turkeys, squirrels, raccoons, whatever, keeps the kids entertained. It’s also an opportunity to teach them about the other species. I also give the kids their own pair of binoculars, because they love watching animals through binos.
Bring snacks. I have a soft-sided backpack cooler that we always have some jerky, cookies, sunflower seeds and drinks in. If you aren’t seeing animals, it helps kill the time and prevents that “I’m hungry!” about the time things should start getting good.
Remember to offer potty breaks. Ask often because they don’t always tell you. It’s never good to hear “I have to go!” about the time turkeys fly down from the roost.
Give them some responsibility; they like it. I like for each kid to have a backpack to put gloves, flashlight, snacks, binos and other needs in. It makes them feel important and it teaches them responsibility.
Time spent in the field with young hunters is priceless. It’s a chance to talk with them without the interruptions of everyday life. Without the TV and the phone wonderful conversations take place. It’s a chance to teach them about nature and the species we do and do not hunt. It’s also an opportunity for us to get to know them better. It’s those bonds that help us be better role models and help them grow into better adults.