Hunting with kids is an entirely different animal. There are two very important things we must all remember. First, it’s all about the kids, not you. Second, no matter how mature you think a kid is, they do not think like an adult. Let’s look at the first one; it’s the one that takes some getting used too. There is nothing worse than someone telling a kid to tuff it out when they are freezing, hot, bored or whatever. I will give some personal examples of how this plays out and can be a sacrifice on your part, but will pay huge dividends later. My son Epi and I went fishing one fall afternoon; we drove an hour to the lake, launched the boat, and started fishing. Epi was about seven, 15 minutes on the water he got bored. I gave him some snacks and hoped for the best. But a few minutes later he said he wanted to go home. I turned the boat around, loaded it up and we headed for home. He still loves fishing. Another one that just happened last year, we got up early and headed to the deer stand. We snuck in the woods and got in the stand just before dawn. We weren’t there minutes and he started fidgeting, I thought it was odd because he has been deer hunting many times. He said he just wasn’t feeling it this morning. So without question we went home. He just told me the other day that he is looking forward to deer season this year. Had I made him stick it out, he may have been done with deer hunting for a while. If you want to guarantee your kid will never hunt again make them stay in the woods when they don’t want to be there.
Kids do not think like adults. I must remind myself of this all the time. I have been hunting with Epi for 11 years, so I sometimes forget he is just a child. He is ate up with rabbit hunting and once he sees the rabbit his entire focus is on harvesting the bunny. He gets aggravated with me constantly asking is your safety on, or watch where the muzzle is pointing and so on. I still don’t let him very far from me when we are hunting. If we have guest on our hunts I stay right next to him the entire trip. He is starting to come into his own and thinking he knows more than he does. This past trapping season on opening day we were setting a creek for coon and beaver. I told Epi that the creek gets pretty deep and to stay close to me. I started making a set and he decided to walk down the bank to a beaver slide. I yelled at him to stop and get back to where I was. As soon as those words came out of my mouth he hit a hole and went in up to his chest, filling his waders with cold November water. I got to him in about two big steps and yanked his butt out and threw him on the bank. I got him undressed and in the truck to warm up. Needless to say our day was over. I asked him why he went where I said not to. He just said it looked like a sure spot to catch a beaver. Kid thinking, he never thought about anything, except catching a beaver. They don’t think about consequences. I don’t care how smart they are, how much they read. Kids do not have the life experience to make sound decisions in the woods, or anywhere else for that matter. You must remember this at all time. It’s our job to keep them safe.
Two years ago we were rabbit hunting over our hounds when a winter storm caJoeme through. The wind was strong and it started sleeting. We had only been hunting a short while and the hounds were pounding a rabbit. I kept asking Epi if he was doing ok, he would just give me a thumbs up. Every time I looked over at him he would just smile. Finally out of the corner of my eye I saw him shivering. I asked him again if he was ok, this time I could see his cheeks looking pretty cold. Again, he said he was ok. I looked at him and told him I was pretty cold and getting hungry. I wasn’t, but I knew if it was my idea to quit he would be ok with it. He looked at me and said, “Since your cold we should go in.” I could see the relief on his face. As they get older you are going to have to be the one that needs to quit or go in. This helps them keep their pride. They don’t want you to be disappointed in them. Speaking of cold, I spare no expense when it comes to outfitting the boy. Even though I know he is going to outgrow his boots and cloths by next season, I make sure he is well equipped with gear that fits him and is appropriate for the conditions we are in. We have all been on hunts in our lives with the wrong gear; it makes for a miserable trip. Don’t put a kid through that. Let them experience that when they are grown and do it to themselves.
At what age should we allow them to carry a firearm? There is no one answer for that. It all depends on the child. What training they have, and how well they listen. I know some men that should not be allowed to carry a firearm in the woods. In my case my kids have been raised around firearms and shooting. They all knew at an early age to respect a firearm. I started by letting Epi carry an unloaded BB gun while hunting when he was five. I tried to teach him how to carry it in the field, to be aware of where the gun is pointing at all times. I always told him to act like it was going to fire at any second. When he was seven I purchased a Rossi Mini, 410 single shot. He carried that unloaded for several years. If a rabbit was coming his way, I would load and cock it for him and help him hold it. I did this until he was 10. At age 10 I gave him a Stoeger over under 20 gauge. This was a huge step for me because an over under has no hammer, so the gun is locked and loaded as soon as you close it. That first year was nerve racking for me. I know it has a safety, but I never trust any safety. This year I purchased a Remington 870 20 gauge for him. We shoot lots of clay birds in the off season to hone our skills.
Here are my suggestions on firearms and kids. The single shot 410 is lite and easy to carry. However, being so small and lite, it packs quite a kick for a little kid. A single shot has a hammer that is hard for them to pull back. It will smack them in the face on the recoil if they don’t hold it right. If a shot can’t be made they have to release the hammer. I have witnessed the hammer slipping off a child’s thumb and firing the gun. Lucky it was pointed down and out. The over under did not have a hammer, just the safety and I already covered that. The down fall of the over under was that we could not put a sling on it. We could never find a good way to attach the sling to the front of the gun where it would stay and wear comfortably. Speaking of slings, put a sling on your rabbit guns. This will help your kid tremendously. I don’t care how lite the firearm, it gets heavy after a while, and when it gets heavy things start going downhill. This leads me to the last point on this matter. Make sure your firearm has a sling and is comfortable, because by the end of the day you will be carrying your gun and theirs. Not to mention all the rabbits and every deer skull, cow skull, deer shed, turtle shell, fossil rock and turkey feather in the country. Epi has his own little natural history museum in his room. All gathered while hunting, and lugged back to the truck by yours truly.
Kids love to eat every 10 minutes, make sure you’re prepared. That means you have more food and drinks in the truck than most grocery stores. At the beginning of the season I take Epi to Wally World and let him do some shopping. He picks out what snacks are going in the truck and what drinks he wants; it’s all part of the experience. October to March if you get hungry just find my truck and it will have enough snack cakes, chips and jerky sticks in it to keep you alive for a while. There will be a cooler in the back full of bottled water and pop too. What goes in must come out, be prepared for this as well. TP and wet wipes are a good thing to have. When he was younger, extra clothes were also brought, including an extra coat. I also always have dozens of jersey gloves in my truck, nothing worse than cold hands. The one thing not allowed, is any kind of electronic devise. I take my phone, and that’s it. Epi knows where to find my phone in case of an emergency. Although most places we hunt we can’t get a signal.
That brings us to what happens in case of an emergency. One of my biggest fears is something happening to me, and Epi would be stranded out in the middle of nEmileeowhere all by himself. It’s not an easy subject, but teach them what to do, or show them where to go if something happens to you. Last year I taught Epi how to drive my truck well enough to get to safety if need be (he’s 13 now). I always tell him where to go in case of an emergency. I tell him my keys are in my right pocket and the phone is in my chest pocket. And that if anything happens to me, you just get yourself to safety. As he gets older it’s not as big of a concern as it was when he was a little guy. I learned years ago when trapping, to always let someone know where you’re headed and when you should be home. Miss Kim is sure good at keeping track of me, especially when her baby is with me. One minute pass the time I say, and that phone is ringing.
When hunting with a kid it’s not all about the harvest, it’s about the kid. It’s about the time they spent with you. It’s the entire experience of the day. We have rituals, starting with the shopping trip the day before. Then the morning of the hunt Epi will help make our sandwiches for lunch, he will fix me a coffee in a traveling cup. He gets the dogs from the kennel as I put on the e-collars and load them up. We always stop and get a breakfast to go in one of the towns on the way. When we come home we stop and eat at the same dang place every time. These little things are all part of making memories.
I’m going to leave you with one last story. In 2010 Epi and I went to Western Kansas and stayed in a cabin. We were going to meet two other Beaglers and hunt for 4 days. The hunting conditions were tuff, very dry, unseasonably warm and extremely windy. The other two beaglers went home after the first day. Epi and I stayed the entire four days. The first day Epi shot his first rabbit ever, he did it all by himself. That was the only rabbit harvested the entire trip. Oh we hunted some, but mostly we drove around looking at the country side, walking around the lake or hanging out at the cabin. To this day Epi will tell you it was the best hunting trip he ever had. It was also one of the best I ever had. I use to guide hunts, and from time to time folks will ask why I stopped. I tell them, because I would rather hunt with my kids than get paid to hunt with a stranger. Epi and I hunt every weekend during the season. We spend all of Thanksgiving and Christmas break hunting and trapping. My oldest son Jacob even joins us on occasion. Get your kids out there folks; make some memories for them, and for you. Take every chance you can to spend time with them, in a flash they will be grown and gone. I hope when I’m gone my boys will take their boys hunting, and tell them how their grandpa use to take them hunting with him. I hope they teach their boys all I taught them. And always remember the times we spent together in the field.