Here's one way to introduce and encourage youth hunting — one step at a time.
The fall of 2018 will begin my 25th season of deer hunting. Twenty-five years of a glorious lifestyle that would not have become my reality had it not been for my father.
I was 12 years old when he bought me a bow — completely unaware of the obsession it would eventually become.
It's formed my life, defined my career and has literally become the lifestyle my family and I live by day to day.
My father, I owe him. I think of him daily and continually appreciate him sparking the flame that molded my life.
My wife, I owe her. After 15 years of wedded bliss, she has yet to question my drive and need to compete with Mother Nature, season after season. In fact, she's joined me in the pursuit quite regularly, and has amassed trophies of her own we're both very proud of.
I'm also very proud of the two wonderful children she has blessed us with. My son Tommy, now 10, and daughter Taylor, 8 years old, have both killed three turkeys and three deer each.
Not a missed shot between the two of them either. Yet.
I'm going to share with you a few of our methods to create, build and nurture their passion for the outdoors, on an individual level. I must give this disclaimer, however: Not all children and families are the same. What works in our house, may not work in yours.
I ask that you consider our approach as A way to introduce young people to hunting, not THE way to do it.
Not all children are ready to hunt at age 5, although I believe a lot of parents nearly force their kids into it too early — thus burning them out before the passion has taken hold.
My son shot his first turkey at age 6, while my daughter accomplished the same at age 5. Both went through lots of practice and conversation before we took to the field, and both were successful. But it was their decision to go.
Let's start there.
Spring turkey season is a perfect time of year across most of the U.S. to introduce kids to the sport of hunting. The weather is usually comfortable and the action can be exciting.
This is a great time to begin teaching the art of woodsmanship.
As the education continues, I have a few suggestions worth keeping in mind as you introduce your young person to the sport.
- Check your agenda at the truck. It's not about you, it's about them.
- Spend plenty of time scouting and locating birds that will likely present an opportunity at success.
- Let them run the calls some so they feel as though they've contributed to the outcome.
- Teach them that success isn't everything, but it is ultimately why you are out there.
- When they say the hunt is over, it's over. Don't push them when they don't want to stay out there. Keep it fun.
- Do everything in your power to make the experience a positive one. That's all on you.
- Success is paramount early in their "careers" as young hunters. They need to experience why they are out there. A jake, or any legal turkey is a fine bird for the first experience. Never criticize a decision to kill a young bird or deer.
- Celebrate their success as you would your best hunting buddy killing a 200-inch whitetail.
It's not all about the kill — we know that. Yet, if we're honest with ourselves that is the goal every time we go to the woods.
I started my kids off in the living room with an empty shotgun. I'd select images from Google, mirror them from my phone to the TV, and have them practice slow, even trigger pulls.
The TV images also helped us identify ideal body positions for effective kill shots, such as: Quartering to, broadside and quartering away. As we established that, we moved on to taking instruction from the adult when the moment of truth arrives.
- Take a deep breath
- Put your cheek on the stock, and pull tight to your shoulder
- Safety off
- Identify your target through the scope
- Finger on the trigger, but don't shoot
- When you're ready, slowly squeeze the trigger
- Let the shot surprise you
Note: I've found it's easier to teach a child proper shooting form through the use of a red dot scope. As they get older, we'll move to the traditional shooting method.
Both my son and daughter shoot 20 gauges. I picked up a couple boxes of 20-gauge field loads at 3/4 ounces for our practice sessions. They don't kick very much, and outside of headphones they aren't too loud.
Make darn sure the kids are wearing hearing protection and safety glasses when practicing. (Sound, more than anything, teaches a kid to flinch when pulling the trigger.)
Along side a full box of sporting clay jackrabbits, we burned some powder and had a great time.
I set up several of the jackrabbits in the woods at about the head-level of a walking turkey, and with the shotgun resting on a Caldwell Deadshot FieldPod, each would take turns shooting the clay targets. (Seriously, the FieldPod is a fantastic shooting accessory for kids.)
DO NOT have them practice with a full 20-gauge turkey load. It'll hurt, and they won't like it. Practice with lightweight field loads, and when you're actually hunting slip in a No. 5 turkey shot. They'll never know the difference.
Video by Thomas Allen, via Hunting Videos YouTube
I'm confident that our practice sessions in the living room and at the range were instrumental to their confidence and success in the field.
Teach them self-assurance. Teach them safe, unparalleled gun handling from the minute you leave the house to when each gun is placed back into your safe at home.
Teach them to be killers, but with a heightened level of respect for the outdoors. Encourage the development of a life skill they'll never learn in school.
Teach them to be hunters.
Video by Thomas Allen, via Hunting Videos YouTube
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