It takes a little planning and effort to introduce children to the outdoors.
By Fred Eichler
About five years ago, I made a rule that my three boys couldn’t watch television or play video games on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Sundays. I also placed time limits on TV and video games for the rest of the week.
I didn’t do it to be an ogre; I just realized they were spending too much time inside.
During the first few months, my wife Michelle and I heard some griping, but the boys now spend more time riding horses, shooting their bows, plinking with BB guns and just being outside.
I’m often asked about the best age to take a kid hunting. Every child matures at a different rate, so there’s no right answer. Some kids are ready much sooner than others, and the important thing is for parents to be ready.
You’re going to be asked a bunch of questions, so it’s a good idea to think about how you might answer.
“Why did you kill that, Dad?” or “Are we going to eat that?”
Kids are curious, and such questions are inevitable. I figure if a child is old enough to ask the question, they deserve an honest answer.
My boys all understand we harvest animals for food, and we’re proud we don’t have to rely on a grocery store for our meals.
Of course Michelle and I wanted our boys to be hunters, but we didn’t push it on any of them.
When they expressed an interest, we were more than happy to take them. If they didn’t, that was fine, too.
The boys range in age from 7 to 17, and I’m happy to report they’re all avid hunters. I don’t know if they always will be, but I’m confident they’ll never forget the important role sportsmen play in helping preserve wildlife and wild lands.
One of the most important aspects of introducing your child to hunting is to introduce them to the outdoors first. Their first experiences should be fun and full of activity.
It’s as easy as taking a hike, floating a river in a canoe or maybe even going to a zoo. Michelle and I keep the kids involved by doing things we find interesting. If we’re having fun and learning new things, the boys pick up our vibe and enjoy it as much as we do.
We take a bird book on our outings and try to see how many different species we can identify. Even driving down the road, we turn it into a game of who can spot the most animals.
The biggest mistake you can make is to take your child deer hunting before they’ve developed a love for the outdoors. The next biggest is not giving kids enough time to get comfortable with firearms outside of hunting situations.
Shooting sports are a great way to spend time as a family. And when I say shooting sports, that includes blow guns, BB guns or sling shots, on up to bows and rifles.
Kids love to plink targets with any weapon, and that’s how we started our boys.
Don’t make shooting sessions too intense. I made the mistake of trying to be too technical with some of my boys. My youngest son, for example, wanted to do everything on his own. When I stopped him to offer instruction, he would get upset and quit. I learned to bite my tongue and wait until he asked for help.
It’s also important to make sure a youngster is capable of handling the recoil of a firearm. Just as adults develop a flinch when shooting big calibers, kids who shoot firearms too big for their stature will develop bad habits, and they won’t enjoy the shooting session.
If shooting becomes punishing or scary, your child will find something else to do.
After your kids develop a love of the outdoors and are comfortable with weapons, it’s time to go hunting. Short excursions for small game are great for starting out.
Children often get distracted by things that have nothing to do with the hunt, and that’s perfectly okay. I allow time for sword fights with weeds or any other game they might want to play. And, if I invite one of the boys to go hunting and he says no, I don’t push it. After I return, I make sure to tell him how much fun I had.
When your child harvests their first animal, whether a squirrel, a rabbit, a frog or a dove, take it seriously. Congratulate them and explain how we honor the animal by utilizing it. Later, make a big deal over the meal that animal provides.
Whether hiking, plinking or hunting, Michelle and I always make safety our top priority. Safety instruction is the one thing I won’t skip. Being safe doesn’t take away from the fun.
Once the weapons are unloaded and properly stowed, it’s time to horse around. Some of the best times I have had in the woods have been foot races, wrestling matches or rock skipping contests with the kids.
Starting a child in the outdoors is gift for the child and the teacher. Children who hunt are more self sufficient, more responsible and better stewards of wildlife and wild lands.
I hope my boys continue to hunt and carry on the outdoors tradition with their kids. I believe our time hunting, fishing and being outdoors has brought us closer together and helped form bonds we will share for life.