I’m lucky. My two boys, Kyle, 14, and Matthew, 12, are hooked on hunting. They look forward to each opening day as if it was Christmas morning, and have a burning desire to learn everything they can about guns, game and the natural world.
Some kids, however, could care less about the outdoors. They’ve been pushed too hard or never been asked to go at all. By the time they reach 12 or 13, they’ve been lost to other interests and have little chance of ever falling in love with the November deer woods.
So what did I do right? First, I took them every chance I could. During their early years, we shuffled through hardwood lots in search of squirrels on warm October afternoons. Matt rode in a backpack when he was just 2-years-old, while Kyle walked beside me. I even changed diapers in the woods and took breaks for bottle feedings between bumbling stalks for suspicious squirrels. We bagged a few, but mostly, the three of us just had fun.
Each outing was as much a classroom or even recess as it was a hunting trip. In fact, some of my best memories of those first years had nothing to do with hunting. We threw rocks at trees and acorns at each other when the mood struck us. I decided that nurturing my boys’ love of the outdoors and hunting had far less to do with actual hunting than with making the entire experience an enjoyable one.
As they grew older, I let my boys take turns with the .22, shooting at plastic bottles and anything else that made a safe and worthy target. I quizzed them on animal tracks and other sign, and asked them what they might do in various hunting-related situations. Then we moved on to bigger, more challenging game and louder and bigger guns. Deer, turkeys and ducks and geese became a staple in our autumn outings. As they grew older, I coaxed them into taking the day a little more seriously and focusing their efforts on the ultimate goal of our hunt. They eventually learned when it was okay to talk or walk, and when it was vital to sit still and be quiet. They are still learning, of course, but my boys are well on their way to becoming skilled hunters and naturalists.
What kept their attention in the woods and marshes during their first years as hunting partners had less to do with the action in the woods than what we did before and after each hunt. I made sure everything about the experience was a positive one that left a lasting, if not subtle, impression on their budding minds. We stopped for lunch at their favorite fast-food restaurants on the way to the woods and we sometimes rehashed the day over dinner in some small-town diner. We gobbled down junk food in the woods because, well, because it made them happy.
When we were in the woods, I let them dictate the pace. I made sure we spent some time actually hunting, at least walking through the woods with a gun in my hands, but I didn’t take it too seriously. Kyle and Matt took turns banging the rattling antlers together and they blew plenty of sour notes on the various calls hanging around their necks. They probably scared more game then they pulled in, but they were having a grand time. That’s all I cared about.
What Not To Do
The easiest way to turn a kid off to your passion is by forcing them to do things they don’t really want to do. You may be able to sit still for hours at a time as you wait for a buck to pass, but what 10-year-old wants to do that? Dress them warm and don’t stay too long, unless, of course, they demand a few more hours in the woods. Remember, each outing, especially when children are young, should be all about them. Raise them right and some day they’ll return the favor and make your outings together all about you.