The great sport of hunting and wildlife conservation has been on the decline in the United States since the 1960’s, especially in America’s youth. Fewer and fewer young hunters are venturing out into the woods due to major demographic shifts, urbanization, and the constant allure of electronic distractions.
If hunting is to survive, it must be the new generation who will carry the banner of this American tradition into the future.
Although this sounds like a monumental task, it is not insurmountable if you follow the steps we outline below to pry your kids away from the latest TikTok video and out into the woods.
Emphasize Firearms Safety
When it comes to youth hunting, firearms safety is paramount to keeping everyone safe and having an enjoyable time in the field. As a parent or mentor, it’s your duty to teach any youth hunter the importance of firearm safety in the woods.
This task begins at the gun range, as firearm safety comes with familiarity. Children should hand any firearm they take into the woods multiple times before heading to deer camp. Besides basic marksmanship techniques, your child needs to know how to load and unload the firearm, check the chamber, and operate the safety.
Getting your child involved in youth shooting programs is a great way to build their confidence using a firearm and can teach them valuable shooting skills. It’s also really fun and a great way to keep them interested in shooting.
Strategies for Teaching Children to Shoot
Teaching a child how to shoot properly and safely is an extremely rewarding process. It allows you, as the parent or mentor, to spend quality time with the child and build lifelong memories before heading into the woods.
When introducing a child to firearms, the best thing you can do is start them off with a 22 Long Rifle (LR) as it has virtually no recoil and allows the child to focus completely on developing proper marksmanship skills. If you are dead set on shotgun hunting, then a .410 gauge is definitely the best option to start training with before you upgrade them to a 20 gauge.
When training children with firearms, the important thing to emphasize is fun as children are more likely to want to shoot more if they enjoy it. Try integrating reactive targets that are fun to shoot, like spinning targets, steel, or shoot-and-see paper targets. This gives the child immediate positive feedback when they score a hit.
Make sure to heap plenty of praise onto your child for going shooting and make note of all the progress they are making. Remember, your child is not likely going to be the next Annie Oakley or Jerry Miculek, so don’t expect sub-MOA groups on their first trip to the range.
Keep your expectations in check and use positive reinforcement to emphasize proper trigger control and site alignment and your child will be punching out the bullseye in no time!
Teach Hunting Safety and Ethics
When you’re out in the woods, your child will look to you as an example of how to behave. While in the woods, here are some basics you should cover with your child:
- Always follow state and local laws as well as licensing requirements
- If hunting on private land, ask permission
- Leave the woods as you found them and teach conservation
- Look for other hunters and teach your child how to minimize your noise
- Don’t badmouth the game warden and teach respect for law enforcement
- Never shoot in the direction of homes, roads, or other hunters
- Explain minimizing suffering of the animal and pass if the shot doesn’t present itself
By instilling these values in youth hunters, we can help raise the next generation with the ethics and morals that make hunting an amazing sport.
Have a Plan
Children love structure, they thrive in environments when they know what to expect and what is going to happen. Therefore, to get your child excited about hunting, one thing you can do is involve them in the planning and preparation for the hunt.
Here are some good practices when preparing to hit the woods:
- Know where you’re going – Don’t plan on going too deep into the woods on your first few trips, keep it close and look for spots with a lot of animal signs.
- Don’t be afraid to move – Youth hunters under the age of 14 typically don’t have the patience to sit still in one spot for 6+ hours. If your spot is dead quiet, don’t be afraid to try a different spot to keep things interesting.
- Prepare the night before – Try to get all your gear lined up the night before so there is less confusion in the morning when your child will likely be groggy and unfocused.
- Pack Snacks – A hungry child is a cranky child. Pack extra snacks to keep them satiated and focused on the hunt and not their stomach.
- Consider a blind over a tree stand – A blind is more comfortable for a child as they can move around with you having to worry about spooking the animals around you. It can save a lot of frustration and tears and make for a more enjoyable time.
- Know when to call it – Although you and I can sit in a tree stand all day, youth hunters will not have the patience for this. Plan for 3 or 4 hours in the woods the first few times or less if it’s cold.
Preparing the Next Generation of Youth Hunters
Passing on the sport of hunting to the next generation is a sacred duty that has been passed down through the ages. By following the simple steps outlined above, you can help make hunting a fun and integral part of your child’s life.
Hunting with your child prepares them for life’s greatest challenges through a variety of lessons learned while spending time together in the woods. It’s a type of quality time that has no equal, one that they will remember for a lifetime.
Full article at ammo.com. Used with permission.