How to Get Youth Involved in Hunting
It is my ardent belief that the more fishermen and hunters we have, the more potential conservationists we have. Thus, if you provide someone with a proper introduction to the outdoors in such a way that they have a positive experience, then it's very likely that they will want to experience it again and this is especially true when introducing youth to the sport of hunting.
In fact, when I recall my earliest hunting experiences hunting Mourning Doves with my father and his Forest Service buddies, the main thing that I remember about it is that that it was fun! Fortunately, my father was wise enough to take my restless nature into account and thus, he chose afternoon dove hunts to introduce me to the sport of hunting because they did not require that we remain absolutely silent and still for hours on end and, we were only there for a few, short, hours the afternoon. Also, because I was too young to use a shotgun on those early hunts, my father encouraged me to bring my BB gun along which was a nearly constant companion when I was at home. That way, I felt like one of the fellows because I had a gun too and, when the shooting got slow and I got restless, dad would encourage me to go explore on m own to see if I could spook resting birds out to over the field. Another way to make hunting fun for kids is to purchase them an inexpensive, digital, point-and-shoot, camera so that they can create and relive their own memories of the hunt whenever they wish. However, if you decide to take them deer hunting or turkey hunting with you instead, and then try using a ground blind instead of a tree stand because a ground blind will enable children to play games if they get bored or lay down and take a nap if they get tired. Last, don't stay too long! In fact, if you stay much beyond the point where the child starts to get bored, then you detract from the positive experience you are trying to create. On the other hand, if you are trying to introduce a teenager to the sport of hunting, then I am afraid that the only solution is to confiscate their smart phone and video games and then attempt to convince that watching nature is like watching television and that hunting is like a live action video game.
Next, you absolutely must learn to have the patience of Jobe! Even though you may be anxious to get to your stand, remember that kids and teenagers are smaller than adults and thus, they don't walk as fast. So, have some patience, slow down, and pay attention to the terrain so that you can find the easiest path for those who are smaller than you. In fact, I clearly recall just how difficult it was for me as an eight year old to walk across those freshly furrowed corn fields with the stubble sticking up that seemed to somehow magically catch my boots and trip me every single time while my father negotiated them without a problem. Also, instead of being a disciplinarian, you must learn to become a teacher. Thus, you must not scold them when they miss. Instead, try working with them to recall and visualize the shot and then identify why they missed so that they can learn from the experience and recall your patience and kindly help at the same time instead of recalling begin denigrated.
In addition to making hunting fun and learning to have the patience of Jobe, hunter education classes are a prerequisite to purchasing a hunting license in most states. But, by successfully completing one of these classes, you child is taught firearms safety and safe hunting practices as well as conservation practices and is issued a Hunter Education Certificate (usually just a sticker) which in turn, opens the door to the hunting world for them. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, a Hunter Education Certificate issue in one state is valid in all 50 states which enable you to purchase non-resident licenses for them as well. Of course, an even more important reason for your children to take the course is, if they have never hunted before, did not grow up around guns, and are not familiar with basic woodcraft, this course will provide them with a lot of valuable information. In fact, there is anoffered by the International Hunter's Education Association which will get them most of the way toward being certified and it only takes about an hour to complete.
Last, another way to get youth interested in hunting is to take them shooting during the off season. However, let's face it; kids like to destroy things and thus, if you take them out and let them have some fun destroying reactive targets instead of forcing them to punch paper, they will have far more fun and thus, remember it as a positive experience. In fact, a BB gun or pellet gun is an excellent place to start since they are relatively quiet and have little to no recoil. That way, your child can enjoy the elation of successful marksmanship without having to deal with the noise and recoil a real gun produces. Plus, they can practice with a BB gun in the back yard. Then, once they gain some proficiency with the air rifle, then you can upgrade to a .22 LR and from there, to whatever gun they will be hunting with. In fact, that is exactly what my father did for me when he gave me my first BB gun at around age four, a .22 LR at age eight, a single shot 20 gauge shotgun at age ten, and a .30-06 when I was fourteen. Fortunately for me, he was also a reloader and thus, he was able to download my .30-06 ammo until I got older and could handle full power loads.
So, as I mentioned, the number one goal when attempting to get youth interested in the sport of hunting is to make if fun. Then, you must have mountains of patience and be willing to give up at least a bit of your precious hunting time for the sake of your children. Last, take them shooting and let them destroy a few targets such as clay disks, bottles of water, or air balloons: in fact, the more sensational the reaction, the better. When encouraging the younger generation towards the outdoors lifestyle, I find that it is of the utmost importance to make sure that the introduction is as pleasant and interactive as possible. That being said, there are tons of hunting operations and outfitters who cater to family-oriented hunts for beginners found at places such as HuntingLocator.com. Oh yeah, don't forget those Hunter Education courses too!
Bill Bernhardt and
The Hunting Locator Team
Photo Credit: Michael "Ethan" Kelly, my grandson, who is now serving our country in the Air Force and will be deployed to Kuwait in January. I took my three grandsons to get their Hunter Education courses together and hunting in our great wild outdoors. I'm a proud grandmother with a lot of great memories that will last a lifetime for them and for me.