Lessons I Learned Taking My Kids Hunting
Taking the kids of today into the outdoors, who have grown up with most of their lives revolving around screens, is even trickier than it was when I was a kid.
I am lucky enough to have kids who all have, to greater and lesser extents, a sense of adventure. So the hardest part, getting them out the door, isn't too tough as long as there's a new skin being released on Fortnite. But in the process of exposing my kids to hunting, I have done some things right and done some things wrong.
You Must Have Patience
My biggest weakness as a hunter is a lack of patience. I'm not so impulsive that I start cracking off rounds as soon as I see deer half a mile away, but I tend to sneak up too fast and blow it. When it came to taking my son and daughter hunting this year, I was patient enough to not try forcing them into going. I waited until they actually said, "Yes, I want to go."
For my 10-year-old son, who is very active and very social, the prospect of sitting in a deer blind for hours waiting for something to maybe walk by, was not going to be an option. For him, I got a mentor antelope tag and took him out west to spot and stalk. It kept him busy with a constantly clear goal in mind, which was to get as close to the quirky white, black, and tan critters as possible.
My 13-year-old daughter has more maturity and is quite a bit more patient than my son. So when she said yes to a mentor deer tag I was unsure of how long I could push the "sit and wait" tactic required for most East River deer hunting. One day was my plan. One morning was what I realized she was going to be up for.
Do Not Buy Specialty Clothing Just For Them
I took my son out in October. I did buy him some clothing. I bought a pair of hunting pants for $25, a pair of hunting boots for $60, and a camo polyester workout-type t-shirt for $3. The only purchase that wasn't a bad idea was the t-shirt. It was basically disposable at that clearance price, and he has worn it regularly since. The pants were a bad idea. They weren't too expensive, but he had no jeans or pants that were tough enough to handle crawling around on rugged buttes in western South Dakota. But I should have just bought him a pair of tough khaki cargo pants so they could serve as church clothes since the only pants he will wear are sweat pants. The boots were needed for winter anyway, but I'm unsure if he will wear them enough to get at least a year out of them before he outgrows them.
After learning all of that from my son, I had my daughter wear her winter snow gear and boots to go hunt. She looked like a pink "Where's Waldo?" costume, but it was the right type of layers to wear and stay comfortable.
Ease Them Into the Idea of Killing
I have killed plenty of animals as a hunter. Deer, pheasants, antelope, and squirrels have all died on the other end of my gun barrel. However, I am not as calloused to it as you might think, especially when it comes to big game like deer. Whether it is a giant buck or a doe, I usually have some small amount of sorrow. I have it more now than when I shot my first deer at the age of 12.
When I took my son hunting antelope, I didn't take into account the fact that he had never killed an animal before. He knew it involved taking life. He had watched lots of Meateater episodes with me and seen deer hanging in the garage. But when it came time to line up a shot on an antelope, he couldn't do it. He teared up and just didn't want to do it. I think he thought I would be upset because that was the goal.
Lining up an animal in your scope is an exciting experience. Adrenaline is flowing through you like crazy. I didn't think about the fact that he had never shot anything before. Not all kids would react the same way, but he did and that was perfectly fine. In hindsight, some squirrel or pheasant hunting would be a good idea to do first if you are taking a kid under the age of ten out.
I was far more concerned that he still had fun with the whole experience and he did. Spotting them far off, planning a route to get to them, and then sneaking up on them was like "playing a video game in real life." He found a small skull in the grass, and I asked him what he thought it was. I was impressed when he pointed out that it had big long canine teeth so it was definitely a predator and not a squirrel or prairie dog. At the time I had no idea what it was but after googling I think was a black-footed ferret or a mink.
Half of the reason I hunt is for the food. After not bringing home an antelope with my son, I asked my daughter if she would be up for shooting a deer for the freezer. I thought she'd say no, but she said yes. I asked her if she thought she'd have trouble killing a deer.
"No," she said. "If a hunter doesn't get them they're more likely to die by starving to death or torn apart by coyotes. I just want to practice shooting first so I don't screw it up."
She's fairly pragmatic, most of the time.
We went out last Saturday but didn't have any luck. I was most excited that she really got into scanning around the area and occupying herself that way instead of just getting bored. But by 10:30 I was pretty bored too.
Mentored, Youth, and Apprentice hunting in South Dakota is a great program. There is no minimum age limit for mentored hunting but they cannot be over 15. As the mentor, you must have your HuntSAFE card on you while hunting.