By Josh Boyd
We can all remember our earliest trials afield. For most, our initial trips to the woods were in the accompaniment of our fathers, grandfathers, or a close family friend. Not only did these outings teach us how to be efficient in our pursuits but shaped us into the hunters we are today. To say the least, the efforts of those who mentored us were of immense value.
In time, we all grow into adulthood and carry a natural inclination to pass our love for hunting down to our children and grandchildren. For many, these efforts will lead us to take a child on a first deer hunt of their own. As such, we serve as a guide for these young hunters, and have the ability to directly influence their experience.
It is our responsibility, as mentors, to avoid any missteps in the midst of our efforts that have the potential to create a negative experience for a young hunter or lead to any misgivings as to what one would consider safe or ethical.
The following are 5 missteps that every hunter should remain vigilant against when taking youth on their first deer hunt.
Not Specifying Points of Safety
Children often have short attention spans, making it imperative that you gain their full and undivided attention before discussing any matter of extreme importance. This is never more vital than when speaking on matters of safety.
While checking to ensure that a gun’s safety has been set might come as second nature to an experienced hunter, this is seldom the case in regards to a child. Rather than simply checking that a firearm’s safety is set as intended, explain the importance of such a matter to a child, and make a point of showing them how this can be checked.
This same principle applies to all matters of safety, from ensuring that all firearms are pointed in a safe direction, to wearing hunter orange clothing. Reiterate the importance of these principles at every available opportunity. Doing so could potentially save a life at a later date.
Not Practicing With a Firearm in Advance
Nothing spells heartache for a youth hunter like missing when a long-awaited shot opportunity presents itself. When this occurs, a young hunter can be left feeling discouraged, disappointed, and embarrassed. While “buck fever” accounts for some such occurrences, just as many misses come as a result of inadequate range time prior to the hunt.
It is of immense importance to ensure that a youth hunter is familiar with the firearm that they will be hunting with, and can shoot this firearm to a high enough degree of accuracy to make an ethical shot at reasonable distances. Doing so will not only put your mind at ease, but bolster your young protege’s confidence in the process.
To prevent a young shooter from developing any issues with apprehension toward the shot, it can be helpful to employ the use of a stable shooting rest, such as a Caldwell Lead Sled. This not only stabilizes a rifle for optimal accuracy but absorbs virtually all recoil imparted by the shot.
Not Giving Ample Consideration to the Weather
For the die-hard whitetail enthusiast at heart, inclement weather is little but a minor inconvenience encountered along the road to success. However, to a child, the same weather conditions can rob a hunt of much of its enjoyment, and skew their perception of the day’s events.
Few circumstances can dissuade a child’s interest in hunting as quickly as being forced to sit quietly in 20-degree weather. In the majority of cases, it will take no more than a couple of hours for a child to begin inquiring about a hasty retreat to the warmth of home.
Avoid these circumstances to the best of your ability by hunting in the afternoons when temperatures are typically higher and dressing a child with comfort in mind. As a general rule of thumb, add an additional layer or two of clothing to a youth hunter’s attire, beyond that which you think will be needed. They can always shed a layer, should the need arise.
Not Having Patience
The best thing that any hunting mentor can do is leave any preconceived notions as to what their young apprentice is and is not capable of at the truck. Come into each hunt with an expectation of nothing more than teaching and making memories. This makes it far easier to remain patient with your young apprentice, even if the hunt does not unfold as you would have hoped.
One must remember that children are easily intimidated by all that is new, and outside of what is routine. Children will move at the wrong time, talk too loudly, and inadvertently make a substantial amount of noise when walking to the blind or stand. This comes with the territory when mentoring a young hunter and becoming aggravated does little but to stifle a child’s enjoyment of the hunt.
Rather than becoming aggravated at these inevitable blunders, treat such occasions as a teachable moment. With understanding, explain how you might handle a particular situation. Likewise, provide positive reinforcement when a young hunter improves upon an action that has previously been discussed.
Not Involving a Child in Decision-Making
As a child, the majority of decisions in life that carry any substantial weight are made by your parents or guardian. As a result, most children value any opportunity in which an adult allows them to make a decision of perceived importance. This also applies when hunting, as allowing a child to make certain decisions that ultimately impact the course of their hunt will allow them to benefit from a sense of involvement.
By allowing a child to decide between two particular stand sites that you believe to be promising, you will be assigning worth to their opinion, and allow them to feel as if they played an active role in any success that they might have.
We can all remember a time during our youth where we were provided the opportunity to make a decision that we felt to be of importance, and how monumental such an occasion seemed to be. By allowing a child to make decisions that can determine the eventual outcome of their hunt, you encourage a positive experience, even in the absence of a successful harvest.
Inspiring the Next Generation
Most outdoorsmen can recall their first deer hunt in vivid detail. Whether or not a tag was punched is inconsequential, as the memories made were worth much more than any trophy one could ever wish to harvest.
As mentors to young hunters, we bear the weight of ensuring that this experience is both educational and enjoyable, as such memories will last a lifetime. By avoiding the missteps above, you will be better equipped to reflect your own passion for the great outdoors on the generation to come and ensure that our hunting heritage thrives far into the future.