As a mother of two young children, I’m always looking for ways to get them outdoors and engaged with nature. My daughter in particular is excited about hunting, and I want to do everything I can to encourage her passions in a safe and supportive way.
At just after her second birthday she witnessed her first hunt, and jumped right in to help when it came time to clean and process the meat. Hunting may not be appropriate for every child, but where the passion exists, it’s a perfect opportunity to teach self reliance, responsibility and respect for nature at an early age.
Regardless of how you feel about guns, we hope we can all agree that teaching children about gun safety, while instilling a healthy respect for something that can easily take a life, is a great way to look out for their wellbeing in a country with over 300 million guns.
With that in mind, I’m happy to introduce Jon Sutton from Outdoor Empire, the author of this guest post on getting kids started with hunting. Each state has different regulations, as well as specific programs to get kids started hunting. This article provides examples from my home state of Vermont.
Getting Kids Started with Hunting
There are a ton of reasons to get today’s youth involved in hunting. Firearm safety, exercise, quality time outdoors and respect and understanding of nature are just a few of the benefits that come with kids hunting. State Fish and Wildlife Departments recognize all these positives, and actively promote youth hunting throughout the country. From hunter education to youth hunting opportunities the state has done a lot to make getting youth started hunting easier.
While some states have age minimums for hunter education or licensing, Vermont is one of 28 states that have no minimum hunting age. This does put the onus on parents and mentors to decide when their child is ready to participate as a licensed hunter. This article will provide some tips for how and when to get your child involved and discuss state provided opportunities along the way.
Start with Hunting Observation
Bringing your kid along on a hunting trip before they are allowed to actually hunt provides dual benefits. First, it serves to help get them excited about the sport. Second, it gives you the opportunity to start teaching ethics, safety and skills. As you continue to teach them, you can also gauge their retention and understanding of those lessons to determine their readiness to take the state provided hunter education course.
Make sure that you take them along on hunts with flexible duration and good weather. Ideally, pick a hunt where there is a good chance of encounters or success. Make sure they are dressed appropriately for the conditions and bring lots of snacks. It helps to focus less on the hunt itself and more on making the experience enjoyable for them.
Youth Hunter Safety
Most states, Vermont included, requires hunter safety courses for all first-time hunters, regardless of age. If the hunter is going to hunt with a bow, they have to take an additional bowhunter course. As mentioned above, there is no age minimum for either course, but anyone under 16 must have a parent signature to participate. Vermont provides the hunter education courses free of charge.
If you have taken advantage of teaching opportunities beforehand, the course should be somewhat remedial for your child. However, safety, ethics and conservation are all topics that bear repeating. Keep in mind that the educational materials and tests are written at a sixth grade reading level.
First Hunting Experience
Once your youth hunter passes their hunter safety course and becomes a licensed hunter, it is time for their first official hunt. Pick a hunt that makes sense for a first-timer and cater it to them in the same ways you made their first tag-along trip enjoyable. This is another area where Vermont Fish and Wildlife has stepped up for the kids.
The state provides three annual youth hunt opportunities. All of these hunts require the youth to be supervised, which creates additional opportunity to reinforce lessons and continue teaching skills and decision-making. Youth hunts come with the benefit of the kids being the hunters and the adults not feeling the pressure of harvesting their own animals. They also are timed and designed to provide good odds of success.
Youth spring turkey, youth waterfowl and youth deer hunts all provide opportunities for kids to hunt before the regular season starts. This tends to mean better weather and more animals. On the deer hunt, youth hunters are allowed to harvest any deer, without having sex or antler point requirements.
Creating Positive Hunting Experiences
As you try to get your child into hunting, all you can do is your best to make it a positive experience. Sometimes, everything will go wrong and the kid will still have a great time and begin loving hunting. Other times, the hunt can be perfect, but hunting might not be for them. The less pressure and stress you create on the hunt, the more likely they are to enjoy it. Make sure you do not force things they are not ready for like gutting animals or long days in foul weather, which will allow their passion for the sport to grow more organically.
If all goes well, your child will join the world of passionate hunters, and you will get to experience the joy of getting a kid into a great hobby.
You can find more tips on getting your kids hunting at Outdoor Empire.