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Tips for Taking Kids Hunting

by Hollis Lumpkin

6 Pro Tips for Hunting with Kids

For parents and veteran hunters alike, taking kids hunting can be one of the most rewarding experiences in outdoor life. For many, growing up learning to hunt was as natural as learning to tie their shoes or ride a bike.  For others, the option to go hunting as a kid (for any number of reasons) simply didn’t exist. But, when many of those same youngsters were exposed to hunting as adults, they fell in love with the sport and became hooked for life. 

In a lucky twist of fate, I grew up a member of the first group. I went on my first dove hunt before I was big enough to shoot a gun. I sat right next to my dad on my own little dove stool, and enthusiastically played the part of retriever for his downed birds. I was 8 or 9 when I got my first gun, and still remember every detail about my first successful deer hunt. 

Kids Hunting Toddler
Trying out my dad’s snake boots long before I got my first pair!

In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to encounter fellow hunters twice my age, but with half the experience. Almost every one of says the same thing – “It’s so great you grew up doing this with your dad. I wish I’d exposed to this as a kid!” 

Should you take kids hunting?

So, if you ever wonder to yourself whether you should take kids hunting, the answer is (almost) always, YES! (More on the “almost” below.)

Hunting instills knowledge and teaches skills that have ripple effects across many sectors of life. Aside from the obvious points of safety and self-protection, hunting fosters a particular sense of self that stems directly from working hard and spending time outdoors. Hunting, after all, takes practice, patience, and persistence – three facets of hard work that will stay with you through adulthood. 

Kids Hunting Hughes Youth Hunt

Hunting is often a social sport – gathering with fellow bird hunters to gear up before heading to the duck blind or sharing stories of elusive bucks around the fire at deer camp. It promotes a certain camaraderie that brings people from all walks of life together with a collective interest. Whether you’re a doctor or a janitor, an athlete or in a wheelchair, hunting can level the playing field in pursuit of a common goal. Hunters respect each other and passing on those sentiments to youth hunters is one of the best parts of being a hunter. 

Kids Hunting In the Pond
Working as a group to get the decoy spread packed up.

Last, but certainly not least, hunting teaches kids about conservation and the natural world around us. From wildlife rules and regulations to the ecosystem itself, there is a never-ending pool of vital knowledge, and hunting helps to offer amazing hands-on learning. 

1. Select the Right Age to Begin Hunting

Ah, the golden question. How early is too early? What ages are appropriate for what hunting trips? These are questions that run through parents’ minds as they introduce their wee ones to the sport, and the reason I said almost always take them hunting. 

The not-so-short answer is that it varies depending on the game you chase and the type of hunt you’re on. Ultimately, some hunts just aren’t great for kids and the poor experience can ruin hunting for them all together before they even get started. But, one awesome experience can kick off a life-long interest.

Kids Hunting First Duck

A long trek across snow-covered mountains probably isn’t the best choice for a 5th grader. But if the child has grown up hiking and is familiar with mountainous terrain, then they may have an incredible time. I grew up in hot, humid South Carolina, so a late-summer dove hunt in a dusty, sunbaked field was just another day outside. My dad started off by taking me on fun hunts in pleasant weather, so I never associated hunting with being uncomfortable or out of my comfort zone. But, if you’d dropped me on that cold mountain and told me to hike in a few miles before starting to hunt, you can bet I’d have a different attitude. 

Kids Hunting Hollis Argentina Trip
It wasn’t long before I was spending all day in the dove field in Argentina, shooting more than 1,500 rounds per day.

The short answer is, you know your kid, so you make the ultimate call. Bear in mind their physical stamina and attention span, and tailor the hunt accordingly. 

2. Pay Attention to Safety

When it comes to safety and hunting, it all starts with YOU. 

You can never be too safe - kids will be watching what you do and will likely imitate your actions. With that, set a good example – be overly cautious with you your gun, even if you’ve been handling firearms for decades.

For example, checking the safety on my shotgun or rifle is second nature to me. It’s a virtually subconscious movement after so many years, and I’ve practiced doing it discretely so as not to alarm approaching game. As a result, the motion of checking it may not even be noticeable to someone unfamiliar with guns. Make it an obvious and deliberate movement while you are hunting with a kid and show them you are doing so. 

Also, don’t just hand them the gun and head on your merry way to hunt. Let them practice with the gun ahead of time – first holding it and getting used to its weight, then the process of shooting, followed by actually shooting it. 

Stressing the importance of muzzle direction is crucial. Instill in them from the beginning to always treat a gun like it is loaded, even if it is not. It’s easy for a kid to get overly excited when they see a flight of ducks coming towards the blind, and accidents can happen far too easily if they don’t understand (or remember) proper gun care.

Kids Hunting Hollis and Foster

Shooting practice is also key – a child could end up with a black eye or, worse still, they could even lose grip of the gun entirely if they aren’t used to the recoil or at least expecting it. 

Start off holding the gun for them getting in and out of the stand, and even while in it, until they get more comfortable with handling it themselves. Make sure they 100% know how to use it and are comfortable doing so before their first shot at game. I still get buck fever after taking dozens of deer and passing on even more, and I know I’m not the only experienced hunter to feel that way. Imagine being 10 and seeing those same deer for the first time!

3. Keep Kids Entertained During Downtime

No matter how much preparation you do before a hunt, you will inevitably encounter those slow hunts when nothing is happening. Hunting is often a waiting game, after all. Downtime entertainment can make or break a hunt, especially for excited and energetic kids. 

But, don’t jump straight to phone or tablet games. To this day, I often bring something to do in case I get bored – from reading, to tackling a crossword puzzle book. Both are great options for kids, too. You can also come up with different games to play, like I Spy or “Nature Bingo” to keep them entertained but still learning. Even snacks can keep them occupied for a little bit. 

Kids Hunting In the Pond
Working as a group to get the decoy spread packed up

4. Bring Extra Supplies for Kids

What should you bring along on these youth hunts? Invariably, kids will forget something – it’s in their nature. Just to be safe, bring back ups of the basics – hat, gloves, and facemask. Kids are often fidgety, and its only exacerbated if they are uncomfortable, so a spare cushion or seat is a good idea, too. In the same vein, whenever I guide youth hunts, I make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks. If you are hunting in cold weather, bring extra hot hands, since children get cold more easily than adults. If it’s hot out, I make sure to have bug spray or a ThermaCell. 

Kids Hunting Wear Extra Layers
We both needed all of the warm clothes we could get on this icy youth duck hunt I guided last year.

5. Always Carry a First Aid Kit

Kids are inherently accident-prone and often careless, so be prepared to address some minor first aid issues. As a general rule of thumb, I bring small first aid kit with me on longer hunts, which is usually all you need to mend a scraped knee or thorn-poked hand in the field. 

6. Remember to Have Fun & Be Supportive

When it comes to hunting, having fun is a top priority. It should be enjoyable for all parties – young and old, seasoned and novice. Just because you love to hunt, doesn’t mean every kid will, and pushing him or her too hard can put a damper on the entire experience. Let them learn at their own pace and come to enjoy it naturally. 

Moreover, don’t pressure a youth hunter to take a shot they aren’t ready to take. Taking an animal is different in a kid’s mind, and they often struggle with it both before pulling the trigger and after. Don’t get upset if they miss a shot or freeze up and can’t even pull the trigger. Use it as a teaching moment and let them know that it is absolutely acceptable to pass on game, and even the best hunters in the world miss eventually! Disappointment is a part of hunting – if you haven’t experienced it, you haven’t hunted enough! As long as kids are enjoying themselves, and learning in the process, you can call the hunt a success. 

Kids Hunting Group Shot
Two youths on an epic duck hunt that not one of us will soon forget.

When it comes to taking kids hunting, the bottom line is be safe, be smart, and have fun.