Every year as hunting season approaches a father comes in our gun store looking for a gun for his young son or daughter. Invariably they are looking for a deer rifle in a compact stock and low recoil like a .243. Many times the youth is eight or nine years old. As a business owner I have to bite my tongue and keep from asking, “Why don’t you buy them a .22 rifle or 20 gauge shotgun and take them squirrel or rabbit hunting?” Can someone tell me why the rush to put an 8 – 9 year old kid in a deer stand? I will tell you this: we are not developing future hunters and conservationists by doing so.
In ancient times (when I was young) when a kid showed some interest in hunting the parents would buy them a .22 rifle or single barrel shotgun to get them started. Either the father or an uncle would then nurture them in the process of becoming a hunter. They would first teach them firearms safety (with NO leeway allowed) and then take them out for some practice. Then it was off to the woods or fields for squirrels or rabbits. The adult helped them identify oak and hickory trees that attracted squirrels or briar thickets with paths through them. The kid also learned how to be a hunter by walking stealthily through the woods and looking for the flicker of a squirrel tail in the branch of an oak tree or the outline of a rabbit as it sat along a field edge hoping you would pass it by.
Today? Dad is a member of a deer club or his buddy is and invites him down for a hunt. Hey, can I bring the kid and introduce him to hunting? Sure, bring him or her along! So we buy them a rifle which may or may not fit, take them to the range with no prep to fire a few rounds to sight it in. We go to deer camp where we wake them up at 4 a.m. put them in a four-wheeler and drive to the stand next to a food plot. Then they sit there for hours with the hope that something will show while the youth sits there bored and plays games on a cell phone or IPad until it’s time to go back to camp. Sound familiar? It happens all too often and then the parent is surprised when the kid doesn’t want to go hunting again.
Are we training future hunters doing this? They are not learning anything about what it means to be a sportsman or conservationist. But I will guarantee you this: put a .22 rifle or shotgun in their hands, train them to respect and handle it safely, then simply walk through the woods or fields explaining the sign they see and you will develop a future hunter. Let them see the log where a squirrel sat and cut hickory nuts then sit quietly listening for the agitated bark of a squirrel and you have their attention. Or let them try to shoot at a dove zipping through a cut corn field and laugh with them when they miss or slap their back when they down one. See the smile on their face when they connect and you will have a hunter. Deer can wait for a later date. And when it is time for deer let them get involved with setting up stands based on the signs you see like travel lanes or scrapes and where to put it based on wind direction.
If we are to perpetuate the future of hunting we need to not only train young hunters about the “what” of hunting but also the “why” of nature. It helps them understand nature and develop respect for the game they pursue. Ah, the good old days of hunting squirrel with Uncle Jim. That’s how I plan on introducing my grandkids to the sport.