Almost every hunting parent out there wants their kids to enjoy the same life lessons, thrills and opportunity that come with hunting out West. We want our kids to be involved in the great outdoors, see beautiful vistas and have a great respect for the life of elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep and other animals that we attempt to harvest. The big question that I have been struggling with is when is the right timing to get them out West and into the mountains? What is the right age and maturity of our kids to be able to have a great opportunity and brave the elements and the punishment that is required to chase most big game animals in the Rocky Mountains? Well, the answer depends on what you are hunting, where you are going and, most importantly, your child's maturity and drive. Most states help you decide when they are mature enough to hunt by setting minimum age restrictions and requiring everyone to have a hunter’s safety course. Most states also cater to our young hunters by having youth specific opportunities that have better draw odds and opportunity. This is set up to get kids excited about the outdoors so take advantage of these opportunities while your kids are young and qualify. I think that it is important to ease our kids into the outdoor lifestyle and hunt something with opportunity first, then work them into some harder to hunt animals while simultaneously trying to give them the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at some harder to draw animals.
Easing our kids into hunting out West or hunting, in general, is important. As parents, many of us are excited to get our kids into hunting so much so that we can easily burn them out if we are not careful. Taking our kids out camping and on backpacking trips could be a first step into testing their maturity in the outdoors. It is important to keep them engaged and realize that a ten-year-old may not have the same appreciation and drive to get to the mountain summit as you do. Bringing outdoor-centered activities, such as scavenger hunts, kites and fun outdoorsy food are good ways for them to have a positive experience and want to go back. Ultimately, when introducing kids to the Rocky Mountains it’s important for you to do things centered around your kids that make them want to come back. Once they are excited to go to the mountains, getting them into hunting out West will be much easier.
After your kids love camping, backpacking or hiking out West, the next step is to introduce them to a high opportunity season. There are many seasons in the West that have youth centered hunts. For example, Colorado has reduced youth license costs, areas that only youth can hunt and a great mentorship program for youth. Set your son or daughter up for success by taking advantage of these seasons and/or hunting game that have higher success rates.
For example, an antelope doe hunt is a great first western hunt for your child. There are a good number of sightings, an abundance of antelope in most states and the terrain is manageable without rigorous offseason exercise. When we started fishing with my nine-year-old daughter, Evelyn, we did not take her to a river or start her on a fly rod. We chose an appropriate rod and small stocked fishing pond so that she had a great first experience. Fish after fish she pulled out of the water, which made her want to go fishing all the time. Now, I can’t get her to stop asking to go fishing. Why is hunting any different? We shouldn’t expect our kids to enjoy hiking to high elevation on a below zero day, see no elk and want to do it again. Hunt a species that has a high harvest success with low physical exertion and your son or daughter will be more likely to want to go again.
After they have found success or built the drive to want to chase a harder species like elk or high elevation mule deer, then plan it with them. With your guidance, have them help you pick spots to go and sit. Set the appropriate expectations prior to going and be sure to bring enough clothing, food and entertainment to make it an enjoyable experience. As western big game hunters, we realize there are highs and lows of hunting in this rugged and unforgiving terrain, but this acceptance comes with maturity. If your son or daughter is having a miserable time, then try to change up the way you are hunting to make it more enjoyable. Ultimately, your job as a hunting mentor and parent is for them to want to go again in order to enjoy and respect the great outdoors. Yes, a harvest would be an amazing add-on, but an enjoyable memory is what you are searching for with your kids.
Being a parent is an incredible responsibility alone, but so is being a mentor to a young man or woman interested in the western mountains. Being out in the wilderness can be dangerous for adults and children as there are predators, unpredictable elements and unforgiving terrain around every corner. If you are taking a child out West, it is your responsibility to keep your son or daughter in good spirits and, also, most importantly, safe. Try to get them involved in the western mountains at a young age, make their experiences enjoyable, start them hunting on a high opportunity hunt and take advantage of special state youth programs, tags and opportunities. Not everyone is going to fall in love with hunting out West like you are, but if you want your children to, it’s your responsibility to try and introduce them the best you can.