As parents who love the outdoors, we all would love to encourage our children develop those same interests and passions… to have their first hunt be exciting and memorable. Over the years I have had many friends fail or achieve only mixed results with introducing their children to hunting. I honestly believe that had some of them taken a more inspired and purposeful approach, the outcomes would have likely been far more positive. As parents and stewards of the sport, and the outdoors in general, all of us should display an active and vested interest in teaching and inspiring future generations of sportsmen and women.
With this in mind here are my thoughts/tips to improve the overall experience for your children:
- Get Them Excited – Take the time leading up to the hunt to talk with them, to paint that adventurous, exciting picture… to stoke the fires of anticipation. In many instances, telling stories of previous adventures serves to fan the flames of excitement.
- Make the Hunt About Them – Make sure they understand that this particular hunt is all about them (even if you have a tag yourself). Do all possible to enhance the experience by putting them first, getting them into a position to succeed without pushing them too hard. Remember, if you push them too hard to hunt, you will likely lose their interest for the hunt and likely future trips as well.
- Practice, Practice, Practice – Do not wait until the week before the hunt to get them sighted in. In the months leading up to the opener, find time that fits into their schedule to get them out shooting. My own personal experience suggests that children are usually more receptive to actually practicing when it does not conflict with their other interests. Help them understand the importance of sighting-in and repeatedly practicing from various shooting positions.
- Make Them Part of the Group – If you are hunting with a group of friends/family, do everything possible to make your child/children feel included. Time spent fostering this aspect will undoubtedly payoff in the long run. When children feel like they are a part of a group, they are likely to embrace the experience more completely.
- Get the Right Gear – There is nothing worse for a child on their first hunt than to be too cold, wet, or develop blisters from new boots. Having them break in new boots on the actual hunt will only serve to put a damper on their experience. If you get them new boots, take the time to have your child break them in on pre-hunt scouting trips and/or hikes. Children who spend less time being uncomfortable are more likely to enjoy themselves.
- Food/Snacks – This one seems obvious; however, if the plan is to remain out all day, you need to seriously think about having enough of the right kinds of snacks/food. When planning your trip, take the time to talk to your child/children about what they might want to eat and how you can plan snacks and meals together. From a kid’s perspective, there is nothing worse than mom or dad giving them no say when it comes to food.
- Avoid Bad Weather Days – If you are like me you live by the credo that there is no such thing as a bad weather day (during a hunt), but for your child’s first hunt, I would recommend shelving that notion. The idea is to promote a positive and memorable experience, to lay the foundation for hunting adventures with your child/children for years to come, and nothing dampens that fire quicker than dragging your child out into bad weather. Resist the urge to venture out in inclement weather, unless you are absolutely sure your child is up for it.
- Take Breaks/Discuss a Tentative Schedule – For those of us who have been hunting for years, we tend to push a bit farther and harder than most. Temper your expectations with the understanding that you are willing to sacrifice/deviate from your normal hunting routines for this hunt, if only to ensure your child has a positive experience. This is probably the number one reason children refuse to hunt again…because they were pushed too hard on their first hunt. Trust me…I have seen this happen too many times over the years. Do not make this mistake!
- Let Them Tell Their Story – Nothing excites a child more than being able to tell a story. Encourage them to speak up and talk about their adventure with friends, family, or anyone else who will listen, after all, it is theirs to tell. This will subconsciously reinforce the idea that their experience was fun, adventurous, and memorable, while serving to heighten anticipation for the next hunt.
- Have Fun – Of all the points I have listed above, the one parents tend to forget most often is simply Have Fun! If you do all that you can to ensure your children see the experience as fun, they will most assuredly be back for more. If they miss a shot, take the opportunity to be encouraging, while avoiding anything that could be construed as negative or critical. Children will simply not respond to negative comments or criticisms.
One of the most important points I would emphasize is this – Hunting is a lot like life in that…It is truly about the about the journey, not the destination. This most certainly applies to your child’s initial experience as well, as many of my most memorable hunting adventures are those that did not end with a successful shot. Take the time to reinforce this notion with your child/children and ensure they understand what truly epic adventures are all about. Life is simply too short to not enjoy each and every moment. Live life epically my friends…Live Mount Epic.