Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)
To Hunt or Not to Hunt, That is the Question…
Opinions and definitions of hunting vary widely across the spectrum, and the topic often elicits strong emotional responses on both sides of the debate.
Merriam Webster’s expanded encyclopedia definition of “hunting” states:
“Pursuit of game animals, principally as sport. To early humans hunting was a necessity, and it remained so in many societies until recently. The development of agriculture made hunting less necessary as a sole life support, but game was still pursued in order to protect crops, flocks, or herds, as well as for food. Weapons now commonly used in hunting include the rifle, shotgun, and the bow and arrow, and methods include stalking, still-hunting (lying in wait), tracking, driving, and calling. Dogs are sometimes employed to track, flush, or capture prey. In Europe, much of the land was owned by the aristocracy, and gamekeepers were employed to regulate the amount of game that could be hunted in a given area. By the 1800s the land hunted upon was not or had never been privately owned, and there began to develop a “tragedy of the commons,” in that no one hunter had any motive to limit the number of animals killed; certain species were hunted to, or very close to, extinction. To counter this development, ethical codes were established that give the quarry a fair chance to escape; attempts were made to minimize the suffering of wounded game; and game laws, licensing, and limited hunting seasons were established to protect game stocks. For instance, a modern license may authorize a hunter to kill only two deer during the brief season for deer, and he or she must present a kill to a game warden who will then document and tag the animal. There are often penalties and fines for being found with an animal that is not so marked.”
Contrast that with Wikipedia’s definition:
“Hunting is the practice of killing or trapping any living organism, or pursuing it with the intent of doing so. Hunting wildlife or feral animals is most commonly done by humans for food, recreation, or trade. In present-day use, lawful hunting is distinguished from poaching, which is the illegal killing, trapping or capture of the hunted species. The species that are hunted are referred to as game and are usually mammals and birds.”
Hunting can also be a means of pest control. Hunting advocates also state that hunting can be a necessary component of modern wildlife management, to help maintain a population of healthy animals within an environment’s ecological carrying capacity when natural checks such as predators are absent. However, hunting has also heavily contributed to the endangerment, extirpation and extinction of many animals.
The pursuit, capture and release, or capture for food of fish is called fishing, which is not commonly categorized as a form of hunting. It is also not considered hunting to pursue animals without intent to kill them, as in wildlife photography or birdwatching. The practice of foraging or gathering materials from plants and mushrooms is also considered separate.
Skillful tracking and acquisition of an elusive target has caused the word hunt to be used in the vernacular as a metaphor, as in treasure hunting, bargain hunting, and even hunting down corruption and waste.
Removing all emotion from the definition, hunting for the purpose of our discussion refers to the outdoor pursuit of any defined, legal game species by legal methods of fair chase with the intent of reducing to possession said game such that it may be properly utilized.
The difference between hunting and other outdoor recreational activities such as wildlife photography is that part of the process of hunting is the end of life of the animal. This is the reason that we use firearms and/or other weapons like bows.
You may stalk animals in order to get closer to them. You may observe animals from a close distance for an extended period. You may even photograph an animal to preserve its image and likeness, but in order to hunt, it is required that you take an animal’s life.
Many kids take their experience with safe handling and use of firearms and move on to hunting, but many don’t. How and why they choose is what is important.
One of my favorite quotes on hunting comes from Jose Ortega y Gasset’s Meditations on Hunting: “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted...If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it, to conquer the surly brute through his own effort and skill with all the extras that this carries with it: the immersion in the countryside, the healthfulness of the exercise, the distraction from his job.”
It is a very personal choice that some are encouraged and prepared to make, while others are most certainly not. For me, this was an easy choice. I grew up in a family where my father hunted avidly, all of his friends were hunters, and I wanted nothing more than to be just like my dad and them. When I was young, it did not occur to me that shooting was in and of itself a sport. It was something that you did in order to hunt.
Growing up, shooting was something that we did in order to hunt. When you come from a hunting family, the decision whether or not to hunt may happen even before you learn to shoot.
Hunting allows a youngster to experience a direct connection to their food.
Hunting is a very personal choice. There are many benefits to your child taking up the sport of hunting, not the least of which is being involved and more closely connected to both their food and nature. Hunting is a very active pastime, and an excellent form of exercise.
Some people, like me, are driven to participate by an underlying, overwhelming desire to do so. Others could take it or leave it. Finally, there are those who fall to the opposite end of the spectrum and not only do not wish to participate, but are against the sport.
I know several elite-caliber shooters who do not hunt, and who have told me that they can’t bring themselves to shoot an animal. It does not in any way diminish their love of shooting.
Your experience, and your child’s introduction, may be similar to one of the following examples, but most likely will be some combination of several.
I will address three perspectives on hunting… one from an avid hunter point of view, one from a casual outdoor family, and one from a non-hunter’s perspective.
If you come from a hunting family, the question of whether or not your child chooses to hunt will most likely be an easy choice. Your child has most likely been introduced to wild game in various stages: fully furred and feathered, rendered for cooking, and served as table fare. There are several things, however, that you should be sure to keep in mind when you introduce your child and new shooter to hunting.
First, remember to keep hunting fun. Just like when you introduce them to the gun for the first time, a first experience hunting needs to be brought about in a friendly, easy-going, comfortable manner.
A child’s first experience hunting should not be in a goose pit in frozen sleet and sub-freezing temperatures for six hours. When you are introducing your child to hunting, and your child experiences a desire to go, it becomes all about the child and not at all about you.
When it comes to a first hunting experience, there are two types of hunts that I recommend overwhelmingly. Those are a dove hunt or a squirrel hunt, and which hunt you choose may depend on what type of firearm your child has been introduced to and has some experience with.
Dove season in most areas begins in mid to late August or early September. In many states, the dove season has a noon opener for opening day. There are two huge advantages to this when it comes to introducing young children. First, it means that they do not have to wake up early, get ready in the dark and be tired for most of the day
Second, the weather is warm, so the child will remain relatively comfortable throughout the day. Be sure to bring some of their favorite soft drinks, etc. and perhaps even something to occupy them like a book (or, yes, even a handheld videogame) for any time the action slows.
If your child has been introduced to a shotgun already, you may want to bring it along and allow them to either participate for a short time with your immediate supervision (meaning you do not shoot) or, if you are hunting in a group where that is otherwise non-feasible, you can take a break and let them shoot at some empty hulls placed on tree branches.
Remember, just as in your introduction to firearms, this introduction to hunting should be more about the child than you, and you need to ensure experience remains fun for the entire time.
Your child will let you know when it is time to go, and I urge you to, no matter how good the shooting maybe, heed their call and possibly even go do something else fun and entertaining with them.
Squirrel hunting is another enjoyable experience for young children. It shares many of the same advantages of dove hunting, as the season starts early in late summer or early fall, the weather is warm and participation is a relatively non-stressful and non-intensive experience.
There are two methods for squirrel hunting. The first method is to quietly sneak in to a stand of hardwood trees. This means you are looking for oaks, hickories, beach trees, etc. - anything that produces a desirable nut and food source for squirrels.
Sit together, quietly, at the base of a large tree and either wait and observe, or use a squirrel call that can be purchased at any major sporting goods stores or even most big-box stores that carry sporting goods.
Have the child try to spot the squirrel coming in. You may quietly direct their vision, but remaining still is one of the requirements for this type of hunting. That can pose a challenge to a child that seems to have “ants in their pants” most of the time. Fortunately, you can also hunt squirrels by spotting and stalking them in the same types of hardwood stands. Move slowly and cautiously, and look for movement both on the ground and in the trees.
In early season, a small-gauge shotgun such as a .410 or 20-gauge is ideal for spotting and stalking, as many of the shots you take will be on a moving animal.
For stand hunting, where you are sitting still, a bolt-action or semi-auto .22-caliber rifle is an ideal weapon choice. This also allows you to have the child participate, and even harvest their first game animal.
Another big advantage to squirrel hunting is that many of the habits and requirements in order to bag squirrels transfer to other types of hunting.
For the majority of the country, the whitetailed deer is the number one big game animal that is pursued. The two main methods of whitetailed deer hunting are still-hunting (sitting on the stand in a desirable habitat area), and spotting and stalking.
By the time your child is ready for big game hunting, they will already have a great deal of the experience and skill set in order to be successful.
Plus, let’s face it… having action or doing something, especially for a young child, is always more fun than sitting for long periods of time.
If your family has a casual outdoor attitude and your child expresses a desire to try hunting, you have a choice to make. You can take them yourself, or you can set them up with an outdoor mentor. That person can be a relative, a friend or one of the several groups that specialize in those types of things. Two that I recommend are the United Sportsmen’s Youth Foundation (www.USYF.com) or “Pass it On” Outdoor Mentors (www.outdoormentors.org). You can also find beginning hunter programs through the International Hunter Education Association, at www.IHEA.org.
INTRODUCING TWEENS AND TEENS TO HUNTING
As children get older, some of their friends and peers may already be involved in outdoor pursuits such as hunting. If they have limited to no experience hunting, you may want to take them on an introductory hunt as previously described for doves or squirrels. Manny, however, will want to participate in the same types of activities as their friends - and that can work out well, also.
In most states, there are early seasons that allow youth to hunt before the regular season opens. Conditions tend to be milder and there tends to be a greater chance for success, as the chosen species has not been pursued for many months.
The most popular types of hunting in the United States are deer hunting, upland bird hunting and waterfowl hunting.
Some excellent news for the new or inexperienced hunter or shooter is that many states offer special “youth hunting seasons” and even “youth hunting programs” (usually available for a minimal fee and run by volunteers). These programs are most often held prior to the regular hunting seasons, meaning that the weather is generally more temperate and odds of success are higher, as the chosen game has not been exposed to any pursuit for the majority of the year.
The only youth upland hunting season that I am aware of is a youth turkey hunt. Turkeys can be very exciting to hunt, but, unless the mentor knows what they are doing and how to call, can also be exceptionally frustrating.
If your child would like to turkey hunt, but you are not a skilled turkey hunter, I urge you to get in contact with someone at the National Wild Turkey Federation (www.NWTF.org) who can put you in contact with a mentor for your state’s youth season.
Waterfowl hunting, while a great deal of fun, usually requires a special skill set, some specialized gear (boats, decoys) and the ability to blow a duck or goose call. If you are not skilled in waterfowl hunting, the fine folks at Ducks Unlimited (www.ducks.org) can connect you with a mentor for your state’s youth waterfowl season.
If you are not skilled in waterfowl hunting, the fine folks at Ducks Unlimited can connect you with a mentor for your state’s youth waterfowl season.
A youngster’s first deer is a memory that they will cherish forever.
Deer hunting is another story. The most fortunate thing about the United States is we have a very large amount of public land, much of which is open to hunting. In order to hunt deer, the equipment is rather minimal. You basically need only the proper safety clothing and an adequate firearm capable of harvesting a deer.
Certainly, there are many skills needed to be an effective and successful deer hunter, but you can have many enjoyable experiences with your child in the woods with a minimum of additional expense and acquired skill.
Regardless of what type of hunting your child chooses to participate in, remember that whenever we are handling or using a firearm we adhere to the 10 Commandments of firearm safety.
Finally, if you come from a non-hunting family, you have a fantastic opportunity in front of you. If you do not hunt and your child expresses the desire to try hunting, what a great opportunity for additional bonding time with your child! You can take the hunter safety course with them, participate in some beginning hunter programs by their side, and grow a strong, lifelong bond with your child.
If you do not wish to begin this journey alongside your child, that is fine. Many organizations out there, including those listed above, can help you find a great outdoor mentor to take them hunting and introduce them to a hobby they can participate in for the rest of their lives.
If you take the right steps in introducing your child to firearms and hunting, you will have a partner in the outdoors for life.
I really don’t have a lot of advice for people in anti-hunting families, except to encourage you to support your child in exploring the types of activities and pursuits that they wish to, provided they are legal and safe.
HUNTER EDUCATION PROGRAMS AND REQUIREMENTS
Each state requires new hunters (or, more accurately, all new hunters born after a certain date) to attend and complete a hunter safety course. Many of these courses are held at local sporting clubs, sporting goods stores or firearm ranges. Part of the curriculum is learning the different components of and firing a gun. This makes an excellent way to introduce your child to both guns and hunting. Many parents choose to take the course with their child.
Due to the increasing popularity of hunting, and, unfortunately, to a shortage of volunteers to teach these courses, many courses fill up very early. Some hunter safety courses have as much as a six-month waiting list.
There is now another option that uses a technological solution to overcome the limited number of classroom seats available. That solution is HunterEdcourse.com
By navigating to the website www.HunterEdCourse.com, entering some basic information and paying a minimal fee (at the time of the printing of this book the course fee was $13, the lowest fee of any of the online hunting education courses), your child (and you) can complete the entire classroom training portion of the hunter education course at your own pace. The total estimated time to complete the course is between four and six hours.
This is the consistent, state mandate for all hunter safety courses, so regardless of where you take your course or how you complete it (online or in person), plan on spending between four and six hours in a classroom or online learning environment.
Note: many states also require you to compete a “field day” where you will take a written exam and be put through a field test in order to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject matter as well as safe firearm handling.
Be sure to schedule your field day and obtain your state certification in hunter safety before heading out to hunt.