There’s a chill in the air and snow on the ground. The coffee was prepped the night before, guns cleaned and oiled, and the alarm is set for an hour and a half before dawn—yes, it’s deer season.
This annual ritual has changed for me over the years. I used to shoot deer but now I have kids, so there are fewer sightings and less shooting. I try to teach them to be quiet … really I do … but the lesson just doesn't seem to take as quickly as I want it to.
Years ago I shot a deer right in its bed. I knew where there was a bedding area, and the wind was in my favor. I snuck quietly through the woods, stayed low, walked up on it, and filled the freezer. Can you even imagine trying to do that with a ten-year-old? They’re good kids and they are learning, but with seven kids to teach I think I’m in for some lean years. Of course, I also end up giving my best stands to my older children because I so badly want them to get a deer. Honestly though, I wouldn't have it any other way, because when they finally get that first deer it is the culmination of years of preparation.
Now I’m going to get a little political. The DNR’s “bucks only” mandate of this year is not an appropriate response to the present issue of reduced herd size due to wolves and winters. While there may be an argument to be made from a management perspective, kids need to be able to get their first deer—that is what will help them to maintain their interest in the sport. As a society we are dealing with a declining interest in hunting and the outdoors among youth. If you want to get youth out to hunt (and if you want to encourage parents to take them), then issue antlerless tags to kids and if the adults want a better chance to have venison then they have to take kids hunting.
Politics and joking aside here are a few simple tips for taking your kids hunting.
Kids are not great at being quiet—just in case you didn’t know that already—and that means they will be noisy when they are walking to stand and also when they are sitting in stand. You can whisper while on stand and be ok, but I have a daughter whose whisper may be louder than the average person’s regular voice. I’ve been working with her on it and she is getting better, but she is so chatty. I am developing patience, I think.
Since kids like to move around and sitting on stand is hard, it may work best to get them started by taking them out for an hour at a time before they can carry a gun. You can do this during nonpeak hunting times so you don’t have to leave stand too early when you really don’t want to. Odds are your kids don’t really want to see first light anyway.
I was twelve years old when I went hunting for the first time. It was cold, dark, and a little scary. I was all by myself and wound up falling asleep. Though I now look back on that memory with some fondness and believe it helped me become more self-sufficient, I would’ve enjoyed sitting with someone as opposed to being on my own. I was fortunate in that I had a strong desire to hunt and to learn about nature. My dad was a great deer hunter—he knew where the deer would be and how they would travel in relation to the wind and the seasons and he rarely went a season without getting a deer—but he wasn’t the most eager teacher. I learned from him by observing, listening, and asking some questions at the right time. I am trying to take the many lessons I learned from him and pass them down to my kids in a manner that will make it easier for them to learn.
Point out tracks and sign, explain the process of hunting, and identify the flora and fauna. Kids are naturally curious and love to learn. That’s why so many of us have fond memories of great teachers. Learning feeds their minds, and learning about nature feeds both the mind and the spirit. If you are willing to take the time to teach them you will be a hero in their eyes. Passing on knowledge is one of the great responsibilities and privileges God gives us and it is one of the most satisfying things you can do.
My first deer was a small buck and his spikes were not yet three inches in length. (I actually think he was an early fawn and just missed being a button buck by a month or so.) Although I was ecstatic other members of the hunting party did not share my joy. They deemed my deer to be small and unworthy. I must confess that put a damper on my feelings of elation. No matter what a kid shoots we need to remember to get excited for them.
My wife thinks about safety more in a single day than I think about it over the course of a month. I never owned a tree stand with a shooting rail or had a safety harness until I started taking my kids out. I always taught them about gun safety, which is essential, but there are numerous other considerations as well. I learned to pay attention to whether they are warm enough. My kids want to be tough when they are out with me—especially my boys because they want to hunt and they want to prove themselves—so if they say they are cold, they are. When they say they’re cold, we head in right away.
In short, make sure all the basics are covered so you don’t live a life filled with a big regret. Hunting is actually a very safe activity, statistically speaking, so let’s keep it that way.
I had the good fortune of introducing a young man named Andrew to hunting. He has shot a couple deer on my property, one of which was a fourteen-point nontypical buck. I drove his first deer to him and he dispatched it with a perfect shot. To celebrate that success, to see the smile on a young man’s face as he gets his first deer, what a glorious feeling that was. Andrew has turned out to be a fine young man as he has joined the National Guard, works for the Minneapolis Police Department, and married a beautiful young lady. He is also still an avid deer hunter and with his EMT skills he is a great asset to have around camp.
Hunting with kids presents its own challenges and its own rewards. We are fortunate enough to live “Up North” so deer camp takes place at our house and the kids look forward to it almost as much as they do to Christmas. For us it is a time of friends gathering together, breaking bread, and praising God for the opportunity we have to harvest game. I pray you can experience that with your kids too … and maybe even get a deer.