By Mark Fike
Many states offer special days for youth to hunt with adult mentors or parents. These days are excellent opportunities for getting youngsters in the field when the focus will be solely on them. Some states even have a youth season such as Iowa.
Having a successful youth hunt is not as simple as waking a kid up and hauling them to the dove field or deer stand. Kids these days are a different breed from when I came up a long time ago. I know because I also teach and work with kids every day.
Just because kids have changed a lot over the years does not mean that they would not take to hunting like a duck to water. The trick is showing them how exciting and interesting hunting can be. The kids have to have a vested interest in the hunt itself. If it turns out to be a boring affair, you have lost them, possibly for good.
Get the youth involved in the planning of the hunt. If the kid gets to have a part in the planning, you will have them invested. Be sure to steer them towards success by helping them make good choices. One of the things you can do is take them scouting. Turn it into an educational walk and talk. Get them to pick out some hunting clothes they will get to use.
Set up some game cameras and then take them back to pull the footage. Kids that see the deer, turkeys or bears that are in the area and note the times the animals come will help them learn that they need to make sound decisions on when to go sit in the stand. Nothing excites a kid for the upcoming hunt much more than seeing the animals they might see on the big day.
If they have not taken hunter education, set a date and go take the class with them. When at the class, they will hear other hunters telling stories. They hopefully will see other youth and find new friends. Of course, they will learn while they are there too. Reinforce topics covered on the way home and share some anecdotes about your time afield with regard to safety lessons presented in the class.
Take them shooting. The youth needs to be able to make a clean shot. Some kids pick up a firearm and are crack shots right out of the gate. Some are not. Regardless, when the moment of truth comes, with it comes a lot of emotion, anxiety, and heart pounding too. All those variables will impact shooting decisions and abilities. Smooth out some of that by getting the youth completely familiar with the firearm. Kids love to shoot and that part will be fun.
Make sure the firearm fits them and you have a decent rest if necessary for a clean shot. If a gun does not fit well, the youth won’t shoot well, and if they don’t shoot well, they might wound and not recover the animal or they may get frustrated with their lack of hits.
Coach them kindly but firmly when shooting and in the field. Keep the kids comfortable and make it a pleasant experience.
Do your best to create success. Take the youth to the best possible spot that you both picked out. Don’t be selfish. I promise you that the smile on the youth’s face will make up for you wishing you had gotten the shot! This is your chance to pass on a tradition that you love so much. Sharing your secret spot with a youth shows how big a person you are.
Also, take them on a hunt where they will definitely see something. I like to start kids on a rabbit or squirrel hunt. There is no shortage of this game or long waits either. The rabbit hunts are action-packed with dogs running the bunnies. The squirrel hunts teach the art of stalking and being quiet. Judge your youth to determine which would be best. Each youth can handle a certain hunt the best.
When it is time to leave, it is time to leave. If the weather gets nasty or the youth gets uncomfortable, beyond what a small bit of encouragement to stick it out longer will do, then you need to pack it up and try again another time. Be positive though and encourage them to try again. Making them stay out when their fingers are numb or during a downpour leaves a sour taste in their mouth.
When a successful harvest is made, use this teachable moment to show them the blessing of giving to others. Have them offer the landowner, an elderly person or a friend some of the meat. The feeling they will get from doing this will add one more reason they want to hunt. I grew up sharing my harvests of game and fish with some elderly people down the road. They welcomed me with open arms each time and wanted to hear the stories of my hunting or fishing trip. I loved it.
Remind them when they get older they need to share with someone else the love of the hunt just like you did with them.
With hunting season rapidly approaching, now is the time to start planning those hunts. If you don’t have a youth of your own, there are plenty of kids out there that definitely would love to go on a hunt. Perhaps your hunt club would do a youth hunt day and the members invite the local youth to come learn to hunt. Follow these tips and make a new hunter this season!