I’m the proud dad of four kids ages wiggly, chatty, distracted and hotshot. Because their ages vary - there is almost seven years between my oldest and youngest - hunting with each of them is a bit of a different experience. In truth, hunting with kids is less about age and more about their personality. Some kids are super focused and can sit for hours no problem waiting for a turkey to come in so they can get their chance at a shot. Others, much like my wiggly one, are just happy to be out there with you, being quiet isn’t something they are concerned about and honestly success isn’t either - they are just happy to be sitting in a blind, eating snacks and looking thru binoculars. Regardless of age, there are several truths that apply to taking virtually every kid hunting. Here is my checklist of things to consider before you head afield with kids that can make the experience much more fun and rewarding for everyone.
- Dress for anything: Spring weather is unpredictable so wearing the right clothes is important. Cool mornings can quickly give way to soaring afternoon temps or surprise rain showers. Kids should dress in layers so that they are comfortable no matter what the weatherman decides to dish for the day. Camo outer layers are great if you are exposed outdoors and need to blend in. However, if you are sitting in a blind remember that just a dark colored hoodie or jacket is fine and will help you blend in with the dark walls of your blind.
- Don’t forget the snacks: If kids are hungry or thirsty it can make any hunt far less enjoyable for them, and for you too. So, stop by the store and fill a small cooler with a few drinks and some quiet snacks to keep the troops in good spirits. For the record, celery and carrots are not a big hit with kids. Twinkies on the other hand will have you looking like the hero - a little junk food isn’t going to hurt them. If the snacks you choose have plastic wrappers, repackage them in ziploc bags or plastic containers to manage the noise. There is nothing like the crinkling of a potato chip bag in the woods to send every animal in the area running for the next county.
- Mask the movement: Kids are busy and sitting still isn’t generally their strong suit. I’ll be honest, I’m not real great at it either. So, hunting from a good blind can help mask movement and just might save your hunt. Turkeys have incredible eyesight and being able to hide some of the movement coming from your mini hunting partner can increase your chances of seeing and potentially bagging a tom. This will be a whole lot easier if you have a comfortable place for them to sit while you’re hunting. If they have a chair that is comfortable for long sits and allows them to see out the shooting window they’ll be less likely to sit and squirm.
- Know when to call it a day: Attention spans wane and you have to be realistic about the amount of time a kid can sit somewhat still and relatively quiet. It all depends on the age of child you’re taking into the woods and their personality. With that said, it’s best to cut your hunt a little shorter than you intended, rather than to stay out too long and make it an unpleasant experience for the young hunter. You want them to be excited to go again, not dreading it.
- Screen or no screen: I’ve heard many people suggest taking smartphones or tablets along to divert attention and keep kids occupied when there isn’t much activity. To each their own, however I don’t bring screens along, I don’t want my kids looking to technology as a crutch. We’re in the great outdoors spending time together and I want their focus to be on the hunt and each other. Furthermore, when it comes to hunting, if your face is buried in a screen you’ll very likely miss out on a lot of opportunities that slip by without you even knowing it. Part of hunting is learning what to do with the time that lacks animal activity. Bring along binoculars and teach them to glass, what to look for, how to spot movement, identifying different species, etc.
- Have realistic expectations. Going turkey hunting does not mean you’ll actually be bringing home a turkey. If that’s the case, fantastic! However, you have to be practical and explain to the child that they may not connect with a bird and that’s okay. Turkey hunting isn’t just about killing a tom - the hunt should be fun, educational and leave them wanting to experience it all over again. If you can achieve those things, even without bringing home a bird, you and the kiddo both win. Success will come in time, in the moment it’s about allowing them to experience everything and keeping it fun.
- Educate and demonstrate firearm safety. Taking a kid hunting provides the perfect time to hammer home firearm safety. Kids should already have some pretty solid guidelines when it comes to firearm safety but it never hurts to go over it again. Young and inexperienced shooters benefit from frequent reminders, don’t assume they know everything, cover all your bases when it comes to firearm safety.
- Leave your ego behind. Don’t go into a hunt thinking about what YOU could come home with. Invest yourself completely in the experience you are giving the child that you are taking and leave your personal ambitions behind for the day. Regardless of the game you are pursuing - turkeys, big game, small game and even fish - kids aren’t in it for record book results, they just want to have fun and possibly find some success at the same time. Doe or button buck, 1-pound largemouth or 5-pounder, 25 pound gobbler or 12 pound gobbler, the reality is that it doesn’t matter. Every animal they tag or bag is a trophy so celebrate with them and don’t steal their thunder!
The only way kids learn to love hunting, fishing, shooting and outdoor recreating is by following the example that the adults in their lives set for them. Get your butts off the couch, out of the house and get the kids in your life into the woods.
Take a kid hunting,