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Article written by Managing Editor Kory Slye
Where would I be if my Dad didn’t take me hunting when I was a kid? That’s a tough question to answer. Being from a relatively rural area, I probably would have found my way to hunting eventually. But why leave such a significant experience up to chance? Hunting is a profound part of our history, our culture, and our lives, even for the people that choose not to hunt. We should be doing everything in our power to further that tradition, to improve hunter ranks, and to ensure hunting’s future.
That is why it is so important to take our kids hunting. This doesn’t apply to just our own kids, but our kids’ friends, our nieces or nephews, or the kid that lives down the street. We need to help foster their relationship with the wild so they become passionate hunters and conservationists. The point, the goal, is to get kids, any kid, involved in hunting.
There is nothing more important for a new hunter than having a knowledgeable mentor, willing to show them the ropes. I’m not going to lie and say taking a kid hunting is an easy thing to do. Our patience will be tested, our plans will change, and we will probably get frustrated more than once. Getting the properly sized gun or bow, the camouflage clothing, and all the associated accessories can get expensive. But a better way to look at is this; can we, as hunters, afford not to take our children hunting?
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Appreciation for wild spaces and wildlife.
Hunting isn’t only about killing animals, it’s also a way to appreciate the wild spaces our beautiful country has to offer. Hunting gives us the opportunity to experience the pre-dawn light of a crisp October morning. It is the chance to listen to the forest wake up, with the sunlight peeking through the amber and crimson colored leaves. When young hunters experience their heartbeat pounding in their ears as a buck slowly works his way into view, or when an elk bugles in the distance making the young hunter’s hair stand on end, they will be hooked, just like we were.
Hunting gives us these opportunities of unmatched beauty, grace, and power that nature has to offer. I’ve watched as black bears silently slipped by my ground blind, a bobcat crash through a brush pile, giving chase to a squirrel, and a hawk swoop in to pluck a chipmunk off its log pile perch. The natural world is an amazing place, and as a hunter we get to be a participant in that world, not just observing it as a spectator. The hunter’s eyes are more focused, searching for that twitch of an ear or the flash of an antler. A hunter notices subtleties that others would not, the snap of a twig or the breeze brushing the back of their neck when the wind shifts directions. A hunter is in tune with their environment and surroundings, a hunter has a special relationship with the wild that no one else has. Let’s share these experiences with the kids in our life because it can’t happen if they are left inside to watch TV or play video games. They need us to show them the way into the field, forest, and mountains.
Encourages Hard Work, Discipline, and Self Confidence
Scouting, setting tree stands, relentless practicing of marksmanship, and miles hiked on the mountain in pursuit of an animal, it takes a lot of effort to be a successful hunter. The more work a hunter puts into the preparation of the hunt the better chances of their success. This shows the young hunters that if they are willing to put in the hard work, effort, and the time into that preparation it will eventually pay off.
It takes discipline to be patient and know when to take an ethical shot, to concentrate and pick out that spot behind the front shoulder, to breathe steady and focus on the shot.
But the hard work does not end when the trigger is pulled, that is where the real work begins. The breakdown, the pack out, and the processing. This is when the true test begins. Is the young hunter able to stick with it, to finish what they started, and complete the task at hand? After the shot is the part of hunting that can’t be forgotten. It is after the shot that the young hunter learns to not quit, to follow through on their commitments. This lesson also translates to everyday life, where living up to a commitment is more important than ever.
When kids are involved in the preparation, planning, and execution of a hunting season they are that much more invested in the results. When the results that they have been preparing for finally come to fruition it will build up their self-esteem, and give them the confidence they need to try bigger and better things in hunting and life in general. The focus, discipline, and self confidence that hunting can breed can help our younger generation succeed in any aspect of their lives.
Prepares them for failure
Life is full of failures and sheltering our children from failure is leaving them unprepared for the future. Even after countless hours of practicing and prep work there is always a chance for failure, especially in hunting. The twig goes unnoticed and deflects the arrow, the shot sails over the back of the buck, or the turkey catches movement just before it is within shooting range. In hunting, failure is almost guaranteed, that is why it’s called hunting.
These failures can be crushingly painful and leave a hunter sick to their stomach. But failure is the ultimate motivator and an effective educator, it necessary to teach valuable lessons to young and season hunters alike. A young hunter can learn from these failures and used them to become a better hunter.
As a mentor we have to remind young hunters that failure is inevitable, but to keep working and never stop striving to improve themselves in hunting or everyday life.
Teaches them where their food comes from
In today’s world so many people drive up to the window at their favorite fast food joint or unwrap the pre-packaged meat in the refrigerator without much thought of how it got there. There’s little consideration into the source of that meat. Who raised it? Was it done ethically? Is it even healthy to eat?
Those questions can easily be answered when a hunter asks themselves about their own food. A hunter has a connection with their food that very few other people have. A hunter knows that the food on their table lived a free life before it was harvested, without any other human hands touching it.
Many people scoff at wild game and don’t believe rabbit, bear, or squirrel is acceptable table fare. But a hunter knows otherwise. Hunters know that beautiful, gourmet meals can be made with the animals that are harvested in our own backyards or on our public lands. From a simple seared venison steak cooked to a perfect medium rare, to the much more elaborate, like duck a l’orange, wild game is the ultimate ingredient.
When that food is brought to the table for the Sunday night family dinner, the young hunter will feel proud knowing that they have provided for their family. The feeling of self-sufficiency is powerful, especially when dinner consists of food provided solely by a young hunter’s hands.
Teaches them compassion and empathy
To paraphrase the late Anthony Bourdain, “If you choose to eat meat there should be a sense of loss and understanding.” With hunting, there is no better way to feel and comprehend that loss. Death is a part of hunting, and without it there can be no life.
Hunting teaches our children about compassion and empathy. A young hunter has compassion for the animal that just gave its life to feed the young hunter’s family. A hunter does not want to cause suffering, a hunter wants to ensure a quick and humane kill. There is no greater sense of inner emotional turmoil than what an archery hunter experiences after a bad shot on an animal.
When we take a kid hunting we expose them to the conflicting emotions that come with hunting. They will experience the joy of a successful hunt, but the brief sadness that they took a life. Death is no longer in the abstract, it is at this point that it becomes real. This gives the young hunter a greater respect for the animal, and the desire to utilize that animal as best as possible.
Rite of passage
It’s been nearly 25 years since I first walked into the woods with my Dad for the opening morning of archery season in northwestern Pennsylvania, but I still remember even the smallest of details of that morning. It was a primal rite of passage in a modern era, and from that point forward I was a hunter.
Most hunters remember their first time hunting, it is a life changing experience. It provides a definitive moment in a young person’s life where they take a step forward into adulthood and the challenges and responsibilities that come with that. It is our chance, as mentors, to instill in them the core values, ethics, and ideals that surround hunting. It is our chance to guide them and ensure they grow and become ethical and compassionate hunters. This rite of passage binds the past, present, and future generations of hunters together in a shared philosophy, the philosophy of conservation, respect, and admiration of the wild.
Teaches Firearms safety
In today’s world, the mere mention of a gun can stir up some intense emotions. Without question a firearm is a very dangerous thing when not handled properly. My kids learn from an early age that the guns in our house are not toys. They know they are not allowed to touch them, unless I’m with them. They know if they are at a friend’s house and see a gun to not touch it and tell an adult.
Hunting is a perfect opportunity to teach kids how to safely and properly handle firearms. Education is key, it removes the stigma that surrounds the rifle. They will understand what it is capable of doing because they will see what it can do first hand. Hunting is the perfect setting for the kids to learn the four basic rules of firearms so they understand that guns are not evil, but only a tool in our collective toolbox.
Creates lasting memories
To me, one of the most important parts of hunting is being able to spend time with family and friends and the memories that are made while we are hunting together. Sharing stories around the campfire or kitchen table of past hunts and adventures is just as fun as going on the hunt itself.
Most of my childhood hunting memories include my Dad. From my first squirrel, to my biggest buck, my Dad was there with me. Sitting together on the opening day of buck season, listening to the pheasant roosters cackle as they fly through the air, or in the garage processing our day’s harvest, we have spent so many hours together because of hunting. Those hours spent together and those memories made have created such a strong bond between us. It’s this bond that motivates me to introduce my own kids to the outdoors. I want them to have the same experiences I did. In 30 years, I want them to look back at their childhood and fondly remember the days of hunting with their old man.
We need to take our kids hunting in order to create those lasting memories. Hunting can be a solo adventure, but sharing it with someone, especially a kid, is where true happiness lies. Take your kids hunting so you can share these memories with them, so you create more memories with them, and so you can reminisce about them for years to come.
Continues the tradition of the North American wildlife model
We need to reverse the trend of declining hunter numbers. The only way to do this is if we take kids hunting and create more opportunities for the younger generation so they can enjoy what we enjoy now.
Our model of wildlife management is the greatest in the world, where we all have equal opportunity to hunt for wild game on our beautiful public lands. These opportunities are there because of the great thinking sportsmen and conservationists that came before us. The Pittman-Robertson Act was created by hunters to help ensure America’s wildlife was taken care of and allowed to thrive. Each state’s hunting licenses, tags, and permits also contribute to wildlife conservation. And if that wasn’t enough, conservation groups like Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Ducks Unlimited, to name a few, contribute to habitat improvement, hunting opportunities, and other conservation initiatives. But, if hunter participation continues to decline, the money going to conservation and wildlife will continue to decline as well, and it is hard to know what will happen to our beloved wild game.
If we introduce a kid to hunting, even just one kid, we have a chance at reversing that downward trend. We have a chance at creating a lifelong hunter, and if so they will generate thousands of dollars for conservation over their lifetime. Let’s show our kids that hunters are wildlife’s best ally and greatest supporter. Without us, the wildlife that everyone in the country has an opportunity to enjoy, would not be possible.
It is our duty, as dedicated hunters, to share our passion with others in order for our tradition to live on. There are countless benefits to taking our children hunting, they make our children stronger, ourselves stronger, and our community stronger. These benefits are why I take my children hunting with me, and they are the reasons you should take a kid hunting with you as well. Remember, we are stronger together.