Holding your Kids’ Attention When They Are YoungPosted by Tom Keer
When my daughter and son were younger, they both wanted to be firemen. That passion came about after our local Fire Chief Joe and his crew visited their school. The demonstration included an inspection of the fire truck, the helmets, the axes and pike poles, and the siren. I thought about the impact the fireman’s visit had upon them, and the revelation came to me to break down that visit and incorporate a similar series of demonstrations into my hunting tutorials. Several years later, it’s been working like a charm.
Make it Tangible. What was it that made the fireman’s visit to my children’s school so motivating and inspirational? It was problem/solution program that was easy for them to grasp as in a fireman puts out a fire. Try and explain that you’re a marketing expert and you’ll watch their eyes glaze over.
As you go through the process of teaching hunting to kids, always make each event tangible in a way your child can understand. Here are some examples that might inspire them to get really excited about bird hunting.
Reinvent Yourself. Step outside of the teacher role, move away from the occasionally authoritarian position of a parent, and become more of a mentor. Out in the field is where the magic happens. It’s where the dog that a child perceived as a “pet” becomes a mythical hunting creature. It’s where a father, an uncle or a friend makes shots that will be discussed for decades and passed down as a part of a tradition. Show them about flora and fauna and how it all works together (seeps mean moist soil, earthworms like wet soil, woodcock like earthworms, and the like).
A child going hunting with you is really a sign that they admire you and want to spend more time with you. You can bust your pals being late and give them grief when they miss a shot, but say that to a kid and they’ll stay at home and play video games.
Reward good behavior, correct bad behavior. The easiest way to get a child to routinely perform well is to reward their good behavior. Kids like the praise and a simple compliment lets them know they’re on the right track. The flip side is a bit more difficult, and that is how to handle something that isn’t right.
Many of us hear a comment like “you missed that bird because you stopped your swing.” The operatives in that line is “missed the bird” and “stopped your swing.” Children get confused about what to do. They watched you hit the flushing grouse so they know the goal is to hit the bird and they didn’t. Say “next time, swing through the bird and squeeze the trigger.”
Another common source of tension is lost or broken gear. Take a deep breath and avoid the “you shouldn’t have been goofing around with those shooting glasses, they’re not a toy.” Replace those sentiments with “next time, pack an extra pair of shooting glasses.” Tell them what you want them to do and when they do it, praise them.
Pre-Hunt Scouting. As all hunters know, finding new coverts to replace the lost or overgrown haunts is an ongoing exercise. We’ll add mountain biking and orienteering to the mix. Riding down logging roads or on paths through the woods is a family favorite. When we find something that looks good we’ll name the covert and mark its location on a topo map or store it in a GPS for future reference. The combination of biking and orienteering is fun for all, and it ties the kids into the hunting process that occurs later on. Finding birds in their coverts brings the process full-circle.
The Hunt. Hunting with kids is very different than hunting with buddies. Carve out a shorter period of time for the kids, with maybe a half-day or just a few coverts. Also pick coverts that are suitable to their aptitudes. I make sure that they have clear shooting glasses and clothes that fit properly. A pair of adult-sized boots worn with three pair of socks will chaff a child’s feet and he won’t want to go again if he has blisters.
After birds are down I’ll task each of them with marking the downed birds and for sexing the birds (they run for the grouse tails and always carry a dollar bill for woodcock beaks). We’ll examine the wear patterns on the woodcock wings, check out the crop of a grouse to see what they’re feeding on, and then snap a few pictures to commemorate the hunt.
Post Hunt Activities. The time after the hunt traditionally teaches responsibility, and I also use it to set up the next hunt. Most of the time the kids will want to bee-line it to the phone to tell their friends about the day, and they’re allowed to do that after the dogs are patched up and fed, the guns are cleaned and stored, and the birds are cleaned. We split activities based on disposition. My daughter picks the feathers for winter fly tying or for use in Christmas ornaments. One time she made a Halloween mask out of grouse and pheasant tail feathers that was the hit of her class. My son loves to get dirty, so he handles the bird cleaning. We turn this part into a biology lesson and go through the various organs and their functions. The highlight was retrieving a woodcock with an earthworm still hanging out of its bill which revealed the total process.
And then comes the cooking. We’ll always prepare a few favorites, but the season is long enough to experiment with a number of new recipes. Lastly we print out photos that they shot and place them in an album of the season. The photos don’t just chart the birds and the dogs. Our kids can see themselves grow up before their own eyes.
If you make hunting fun, odds are pretty good that in a few years you’ll have built in hunting buddies who will go from dawn to dusk. And if they’re better than you in all aspects, well, then you’ve done your job right.
Tom Keer is an award-winning writer, columnist and blogger who regularly writes for over a dozen outdoor magazines. He owns The Keer Group, a full-service, outdoor marketing company and hunts and fishes with his wife and children. Don't hold it against him, but he's a setter guy. Visit him at...