We recently released a film where I took my 16 year old son Landon on a mule deer hunt in Colorado. After the release of that film, I thought it would be the perfect time to discuss some thoughts around taking kids hunting. Be sure to watch the film and then dive into some thoughts about what I have learned taking my kids hunting throughout the years.
Check out the film "YOUNG BUCK" below:
I have experienced a reignited spark and appreciation for the outdoors and hunting. I have always loved those things, but getting to experience those again through the fresh perspective of my kids has reinvigorated those feelings in me. I also believe that it’s made me more aware of the responsibilities I have to teach through example. It’s made me more self-aware, both when I am hunting with my kids and alone on my own personal hunts. It’s contributed to the depth of appreciation I have for the privilege I have to explore and hunt. It’s also made me better at preparing and planning. Planning for a personal hunt is challenging, planning with a real focus to maximize the opportunity for my kid to find success is another level.
Make sure that they are comfortable with and know their weapon. If they are hunting deer, or antelope, if possible, consider a smaller caliber that has less recoil. When Landon turned 14 I told him I would partner with him to buy a new rifle/scope setup and we got a Browning Stainless Stalker 25-06 with a Vortex scope. In my experience, it’s been an excellent option and he absolutely loves that gun and shoots it very well. Also, time with your kids at the gun range prior to their hunt gives them confidence and allows them to be comfortable handling it. Along those lines, have them practice shooting from different field positions. Get used to shooting from a prone position, shoot off a rest like a tripod, or sitting with a pack as a front rest.
Selecting the right type of hunt is important. In my opinion, an antelope hunt or a deer hunt provides a great first big game hunt. Seeing animals keeps them more engaged and is more important than getting a trophy-caliber buck.
Snacks are key. My kids seem to always be hungry, especially my teenagers. Jerky, fruit snacks, Honey Stinger waffles, trail mix, and Snickers are my go-to’s for my kids. Those may not all be the most healthy options, but when it’s cold and the hunting action is slow, those lift their spirits and occupy some time.
If your kids are cold, they won’t last long in the field and they won’t want to go out again. I try to make sure that they have a pair of boots that fit, warm clothing layers, warm hat, and some hand and feet warmers. I also talk to my kids while I am in the field about why we wear certain layers and when to use them.
Talk to your kids about the importance of hunting and tell them why you hunt. Talk to them about conservation, ecosystems, the food chain, hunting ethics and the adventure hunting provides. I believe it’s important to talk to kids about the feelings and emotions that come from killing an animal. Kids may feel excited and accomplished at first and then even sadness and emotional after killing an animal. I think it’s important to acknowledge those feelings beforehand and validate them. Those feelings are normal, there is a sense of sadness and loss that a life has ended. I think it’s important to talk about those feelings, validate them, and talk to them about respect and appreciation for the animal and the reasons we do kill.
Finally, I think it’s important to allow your kids the responsibility for carrying some of their own gear and weapon. I think it’s important to allow them to help process and break down the animal. Guide and help them, but let them participate in removing meat and help pack it out. Doing so not only teaches them, but it connects them to the entire process and in my experience gives them more appreciation for the animal and a sense of accomplishment.
I have been hunting for 26 years and at this stage, the personal reasons I hunt and the experiences I am chasing are somewhat different than when I take my kids. At this stage, I hunt for the adventure it provides, the personal challenge and the sense of accomplishment I feel from successfully doing something that in reality is very hard. I hunt less for meat, although the meat is still near the top of the list for me and we eat everything I harvest, but I no longer feel the inordinate sense that I once did to fill a permit. I want to experience natural landscapes, observe and hear animals in the wild, and pursue older age class animals. I focus more on enjoying the entire process, the time in the field and being able to disconnect from the fast pace of the normal responsibilities of work and home life. I think because the “thing” I am chasing has changed some, most of the hunts I do on my own are backcountry backpack archery hunts or hunts in new landscapes and for new species. I like to push my limits, I like to hunt alone quite often. I like the solitude and disconnect those hunts provide. Many of those hunts are much more physically demanding and for lack of a better word..uncomfortable. I like those hunts and at my stage in life, those are the hunts I am personally pursuing.
The hunts I am taking my kids on are mostly hunts where I can increase their chances of finding success. I also want to make sure their needs are being met and that they are having a good experience. I don’t mind, and I actually want my kids to be somewhat uncomfortable, but I don’t want them to be miserable for days on end. If they choose to continue to hunt into their adult life, those types of hunts will come and they will get that euphoric feeling of finding success that only those types of hunts can provide. For now, I want my kids to be engaged and learning, to find success, and I want to spend time and connect with them. Those are often hunts where we are hunting from a base camp or a hotel or from home. Talking, telling stories, laughing, and just connecting is most important. My own father always told me to take advantage of the time available to spend with your kids outdoors, because they grow up so fast. The older I have gotten, the more that advice resonates. Time really does fly and kids grow up fast.
I get a lot of questions about gear on hunts, especially this hunt with my son. If you watched the film, here's a list of some of the gear I used on the hunt: