Thursday, September 28, 2017

How Young is Too Young

My Son Ridge with his first Buck. He
was 11 years old. 

Increasingly, I am seeing pictures all over social media of children with big game animals. Recent photos of a five year old with a massive buck caught my attention and got me to wondering, how young is too young to allow children to kill big game animals?

First let me say, I do not have the answer, but I do have some thoughts that may help you with your assessment of deciding for your children. As a father of five children, three girls and two boys, I have made some mistakes along this road that I would like to prevent you from making. My oldest son killed his first buck when he was nine years old. I waited until then, because I wanted to make sure he understood the finality of killing something and to make sure he could handle the gun safely. My second son, I waited until he was eleven, and my middle daughter (the only one of the girls that hunts) she was thirteen. But in hindsight, I wish I had waited for all of them. And here is why.

In each case, the first animal they killed was either a whitetail or a turkey. In our home state of South Carolina, that is about the only 'big game' we have. In retrospect, I wish I would have started them off on small game. My dad was not a hunter at all, he preferred to chase white balls across mowed grass. I came to hunting naturally, and without a mentor. I began by hunting squirrels, then doves, a few rabbits here and there, but most of my time was spent chasing bushytails with my Sears and Roebuck .22 rifle. I was in my 20's before I ever thought of hunting deer. Back inn the 1970's there were so few deer it wasn't even on my radar. Once I began, I had to figure the whole thing out on my own, And it was many years later before I killed my first one.

There is something pure about hunting small game. It is easier for kids to enjoy the 'less stress' of chasing squirrels. More movement is allowed, talking is not a terrible thing, and you can walk around without fear of scent control, or full head to toe camouflage. .22 caliber rifles or small gauge shotguns, are not loud and do not have enough recoil to measure. It teaches some patience and marksmanship. Hunting small game teaching kids to be safe with their gun while walking through the woods. It teaches them how to cross streams, fences and blow-down logs. And how to ensure safety all of the time.

If we allow four and five year old children to kill big game before they loose their front teeth, are we not setting them up for disappointment later? What is there to aspire to if success comes so easy so early?

A  friend of mine likes to use the analogy of 'ratcheting up'. Meaning, you start at point 'A', and ratchet up one click to the next level 'B'. Then to 'C', and so on. Perhaps this is a good analogy for introducing kids to the world of hunting. Start with small game, teach them to sit quietly, stalk slowly, make good clean ethical shots. Show them how to clean the game and then how to prepare it for consumption. Show them how to clean the guns after the hunt. Let them face defeat with a squirrel, or groundhog, perhaps a jackrabbit or cottontail. Let them feel the success of developing good skills for killing crows, or doves. Help them to focus on the event, the splendor of participating rather than the size of the antlers at such a young age.

I am 53 years old, and I have been hunting since I was thirteen. So forty years of hunting animals all across the continent. Still to this day, getting my old .22 Sears and Roebuck rifle out and wandering into the woods after squirrels is one of my most favorite things to do in late winter. The leaves are all gone, the air is crisp, and the scampering of bushytails bring a sort of nostalgia to my soul.

After my sons and daughter killed their deer, and turkey and pigs, we started over. Now their favorite hunting is squirrel hunting. We can talk, walk around through the woods and get to shoot at some squirrels. Often we stop by the creek, build a fire and put a squirrel on a spit and have it for lunch. They are enjoying the outdoors in a way, that sitting in a ladderstand just doesn't do. For them anyway.

At the end of the day, it is up to the parent and the laws of your state to determine when you can and should take your children hunting. From my experience however, too young is far worse too old, because there is no 'too old'. One of the reasons I began so early with my children, is because as an older parent, (I was still having kids into my 40's) I wanted to introduce them to something we could do together when I am well into my eighties and beyond. Time has a way of sneaking up on you, as my children became teenagers, school, cars, girlfriends and boyfriends, jobs, sports all became more important than spending time with dad in the woods. That is fine at this stage, the seed was planted and hopefully it will grow. But we still find several times each fall to spend a day together in the woods, carrying guns, looking for game. But mostly, we spend the day together. More memories are built based on the adventure shared than of the bulge in the game bag.

Just remember, for them, it is not about killing big bucks or a limit of ducks. It is about spending time with mom or dad one on one. So when you take them, let them decide when you leave. When you take them, let them decide what your'll hunt. Make it more about spending time with them, than killing something. Because they will remember the days spent with mom and dad a lot more than they will remember what they killed.


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