When it comes to hitting the woods with a young hunter, don’t kid around. Your job is to concentrate on them and manage the experience, so that they have fun and want to come back for more. Deer hunting’s future depends on it … and you.
Here are six ways to get a young hunter on the path to a lifetime love of hunting.
1. Schedule the Hunt Early
With kids’ intense schedules these days, it’s important to look at the family’s autumn calendar as early as possible and block off the necessary days or weekends for deer hunting. Late summer is a great time to do this. As the school year approaches, schedules crystallize, and hunting season dates are published. One trick is to block off more days than you need and back off later: Don’t end up short-changed.
2. Generate Excitement
It’s important to talk about the hunt before it happens. Half the adventure is the anticipation, especially for young and new hunters. You don’t want to whip them into such a froth that they can’t sleep at night, but do let them know how important the hunting experience is to you, and could be to them. Then they will want to be involved in the planning and preparation.
3. Involve the Young Hunter in Planning and Preparation
It’s human nature to try and “do it all” for the young hunter, and just let them experience the fun of the hunt itself. But it’s important to involve them in the hunt’s preparations – making lists, going on shopping trips, helping make catalog orders, packing, scouting, opening camp and other activities that are part of the anticipation and adventure.
4. Look for Special Youth Opportunities
Some of the best hunts for kids are the special youth hunt opportunities that so many game departments offer these days. These include regional or statewide seasons for youth only, as well as special park or refuge hunts. Low hunting pressure often makes for a high-quality experience and a good chance to get a deer. Scenarios like these are perfect for a first hunt.
5. Offer Plenty of Shooting Practice
Shooting well is critical to any hunter, especially the young one. The best way to ensure success is to get them out on the rifle or archery range – a lot – before the season. Of course, you can sling more arrows than bullets. But every young firearm hunter should have at least one good shooting session, and preferably two to three, under their belt. Be positive, and get them confident that they can place an arrow or bullet where it needs to go. That confidence will work wonders as you walk them through a shot.
6. Outfit Them Properly
It’s easy to start young hunters out with hand-me-down hunting clothes. That’s usually not a problem with jackets, but make sure they can get around in their pants. More importantly, pay attention to the comfort in their extremities. This means boots that fit (for easy walking) and are warm for those toes. It means quality gloves, mitts or other handwear that will keep their fingers nimble; invest in good chemical handwarmers too. Get a hat that fits and that fights the expected weather. Warm head, toes and fingers go a long way toward a happy hunt.
All of these are important, but there’s one golden rule to remember above all else:
Make the Hunt About Them
One reason special youth hunts are good is that they force you, the mentor, to concentrate on the kid. This is the best way to make a first or early-in-their-career hunt work. Young hunters need attention, and lots of it – tutoring, ideas and instruction on everything from firearm, bow and treestand safety, to how to wait silently, minimize movement, prepare for a shot and identify other wildlife and birds you see. You’ve shot deer, and will shoot plenty more; make this time about them.
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— by Tom Carpenter, D&DH contributor