You’ve been dreaming of the day when you start hunting with your children. The day that starts a lifetime of memories to come of taking on the great outdoors together. Of great victories when you get your trophy, and the long evenings of talking about the day’s adventures.
But the first day of hunting comes, and your child hates it. How did this go so wrong? Are your dreams of a bright future in the outdoors together gone?
I have seen this exact scenario happen one too many times. During the child’s first experience something goes wrong, and the parents are left questioning what the problem was while the child turns their back on the whole thing.
I know that every parent who wants to share their love for the outdoors with their children wants to avoid the mistakes that could cause this because you want your children to love it as much as you do!
To help you avoid this devasting outcome, I am covering the most common mistakes we see parents make when introducing their children to hunting as well as ways to avoid them.
They do not purchase the correct equipment for their children.
It’s an understandable thought process. This is your child’s first-time going hunting. Do you really want to invest in expensive equipment? You don’t know if your child will enjoy hunting, but you do know that they will probably outgrow any clothing and guns you purchase for them. Is it worth it?
The answer is yes! You need to purchase the correct equipment. Why? Because over our 18+ years of working with families, this is the first of the two big reasons children come to dislike hunting. They didn’t have the right equipment during their first experience so they were cold, wet, hot, or couldn’t manage the gun or even worse yet get hit by the scope.
What does this look like exactly? Here are some tangible examples:
- Buy the same quality that you purchase for yourself!
- Make sure all clothing is the correct size for them.
- For the cold… make sure they have excellent warm boots that are not too small and great wicking wool socks.
- Make sure all clothing has the proper insulation levels for the activities involved.
- Make sure their gun is the right size for them with a great recoil pad and possibly even a muzzle break. Don’t lend a child your gun that is too big for them.
- If it is cold, make sure they have the proper gloves, hats, socks, long underwear, etc.
- If it is hot, make sure their clothes are a good wicking material, so they are not sweating more than necessary.
- Invest in excellent hearing protection so that the sound does not overly scare your child, especially if their rifle has a muzzle break.
Being ill-equipped is miserable no matter how old you are, but when you are young, it is exceptionally worse. So, make sure you have the right equipment so that your child’s first memory of the outdoors is comfort, not misery!
Not taking the time to prepare yourself or your kids to shoot well.
Remember how I said there were two main reasons we see children come to hate the outdoors? Here is the second: they wound an animal, or they watch someone else wound an animal.
So how can you help avoid this? Both you and your children need to prepare by going to the shooting range several times before you go on a hunt, whether you are doing the shooting, or they are. You both need to be prepared to make a great ethical shot so that your child does not see you wound an animal or so they do not do it themselves. No one wants to see an animal suffer!
Spend enough time there so that your child is comfortable with guns, knows how to handle them safely, and, if they are shooting, are confident in their shooting ability. Depending on the child and how quickly they learn, this may not be as big of a commitment as you might think, and it is worth the time to have a successful and non-traumatizing trip.
Wait until your child is ready
This one may really test you: you need to wait until your child is ready to shoot. They will let you know when they are ready by asking to shoot. If you forced it, it will not work out well for anyone.
Here is a story from my life to illustrate this point:
When I was 8 years old my parents planned our first family trip to Africa. I had been in the hunting world all of my life but had never shot an animal. I had decided I finally wanted to shoot on this trip.
As you can imagine, my dad was over the moon excited. He bought me a new 7mm 08 rifle with a muzzle break that was just perfect for my size with an excellent scope and all the other gear I would need to be ready for stalking and taking my first animal.
A few months out from the trip we went to the shooting range so I could practice with my new gun. I had told Dad that I wanted to go and try it.
Now I grew up at the range. I wasn’t afraid of being around guns or shooting small caliber guns and knew my gun safety. Dad always had great hearing protection for me. But something in me felt a bit more hesitant that day.
After my dad had my gun all set up, he looked at me and said, “Okay Jos, you ready to take a shot?” I was not so sure about that…
“Dad, why don’t you take the first shot?” I said. So, he took the first shot, and the second, and a third. And I decided I was not in.
I told him, “Dad, I don’t think I want to do this.”
“What do you mean Jos?” He said.
“I don’t think I want to hunt on the trip anymore,” I responded.
We went back and forth for a second, and after several questions asking me what was going on in my head, he figured out that I was scared to shoot this bigger gun, so I no longer wanted to hunt.
He took it like a champ on the outside, but on the inside, he was crushed. He had been so excited for me to start hunting; that was his dream. But instead of making me participate or getting upset with me, he rolled with it and didn’t force or guilt trip me into shooting. He had to remind himself of the advice he had given to other dads and take it himself.
Flash forward and we go on our three-week African safari. I had been joining on stalks and watching my parents as they
took their animals but wasn’t participating in the hunting.
Then we got down to the last few days…
“Dad, I want to shoot a Warthog!” I announced.
“Jos, that is great! But you’re not going to be able to shoot your .22. You need to use a bigger gun,” he said.
“Well, I don’t want to shoot a bigger gun, but I want to shoot a Warthog,” I countered.
“Sweetie, that is great, but you will have to shoot a bigger gun.”
We went back and forth like this for a bit, then my dad asked our PH Becker, “Becker, correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t Jos need to shoot a bigger gun to shoot her Warthog?”
He responded, “Well, I actually have a .22 Hornet with a suppressor on it. If she is a good shot, she can shoot a Warthog right between the eyes and it will work.”
So, my dad made the plan with Becker for us to go practice with the .22 Hornet, and then we went on the hunt.
We were sitting at a watering hole when my Warthog showed up. Once he turned to face me, I aimed between his eyes and dropped him on the spot! In classic warthog he lept in the air and landed on his back in the mud with his feet in the air.
As we approached him, Becker said to me, “Josie, let’s put another one right behind his shoulder, just to make sure he is dead.”
At this point we were out of the blind where my chair and rest were, so my dad took a knee in front of me so I could use his shoulder as support, and Becker took a knee behind me so I could sit on his leg to shoot.
I shot the second time, and it was officially game over! Cue the celebration beginning and the capture of two of our favorite family photos.
What is the point in me sharing that story? As I mentioned in the story, my dad was dying when I said I didn’t want to shoot on ourtrip. But instead of making me shoot anyway, he patiently waited for me to say when I wanted to participate, and when I finally did, it was on my own terms and in a way that I was comfortable with.
You may find yourself in the same place, and you will need to wait with kindness, patience and love until your children vocalize their comfort and confidence in shooting. They will let you know.
I hope this blog helps you avoid these three mistakes when introducing your children to hunting. At Family Expeditions, we want the outdoors, specifically the hunting, fishing, and wingshooting communities, to be ones that facilitate family bonding and the creation of amazing memories together!
Be on the lookout for the continuation of this series with topics such as:
Why should you start introducing your children to the outdoors and travel when they are young?
How can your relationship with your children improve by spending time with them in the outdoors?
Are you wanting to start traveling internationally with your children? Here are some of our top recommendations for first trips with your kids: