Many hunters dream of the day when their children will join them in the woods and learn how to track and kill their own game. Unfortunately, the number of hunters across the nation is steadily dwindling as fewer and fewer kids are exposed to this once-common outdoor activity.
In today’s society, many parents are concerned about the safety issues surrounding the use of firearms, knives and other weapons in the company of children. However, a true outdoorsman understands the value of these experiences: They teach children confidence, self-sufficiency and respect for nature. They also help children to not fear the world around them and impart skills that will remain throughout their lives.
Of course, you wouldn’t want to simply march your child out into the woods and hand him or her a gun or a folding knife. Rather, grooming your child for hunting should be a long, slow process of acclimating him or her to nature and developing proper hunting knife and firearm safety skills. There’s no standard age at which it’s acceptable to let your child handle sporting knives or guns; rather, it’s best to let your child’s maturity level be the guide.
Developing Woodsmanship Skills
You can begin training your future hunter as soon as your child is old enough to walk in the woods. Take your child on casual hikes during which you point out animal-related sights and sounds, such as bird calls, animal tracks, scat, nests and other indications of wildlife. This is also a good time to impart ideas about hunting ethics, such as land stewardship and respect for animals.
Teach your child about outdoor preparedness by allowing him or her to help you pack for your forays into the woods. A smart hunter never ventures into the wilderness without food, water, a hunting knife and a reliable light source, such as an LED flashlight or headlamp.
Early Hunting Trips
As your child becomes comfortable in the woods, you can begin taking him or her on short hunting trips with you. Even if you feel your child is too young to handle a gun or hunting knife, he or she can participate in the excitement of the hunt and benefit from watching you practice good safety techniques. When hunting with a young child, there are several key factors to remember:
Keep the experience upbeat. It’s extremely important that your child remembers his or her early hunting trips in a positive way. Teach your child about the importance of silence and patience when stalking game, but don’t get too upset if your child scares away the prey.
Choose your location and game carefully. It’s best to take young children to a location where there aren’t a lot of hunters in the woods. For this reason, you may want to start out with small game, such as squirrels. Also, keep in mind that sitting silently and waiting can be boring for a small child, so try to choose a spot where you have a good chance of spotting some game.
Use a ground blind. Many hunters prefer to use a ground blind when hunting with children. This will keep them comfortable in inclement weather and provide concealment so they can drink, snack and move around a bit without disturbing the game.
Make your child as visible as possible. Dress your child in lots of blaze orange to keep him or her safe and visible to other hunters.
Hunting Knife and Gun Safety
It’s up to you to decide when your child is mature enough to handle guns and sporting knives. However, you can begin demonstrating safe firearm and hunting knife usage early on.
A child can begin learning how to handle a hunting knife once he or she develops the hand dexterity required to use one safely. Child-safe pumpkin carving knives can be a great way to practice. For older children, a folding knife makes a good first hunting knife, as these are usually smaller than fixed-blade knives and can be safely carried in a pocket.
Many adults recommend a single-shot .22 caliber rifle as a child’s first gun. Always keep it unloaded until your child is ready to shoot, and provide a combination of instruction and hands-on experience to teach your child how to safely and responsible carry and use a firearm.
Whatever you choose to arm your child with, give him or her plenty of practice time with it before ever firing it at an animal.