How To Get your Kids Ready for the Upcoming Hunting Seasons
By Ryan Graden
As much as summer months bring the warmth that we have been longing for, it also means that our hunting seasons have come to an end. Sure, there still other things to do in the outdoors. It doesn’t mean that we have to become summer hermits. However, stepping into the timber with a firearm or bow must wait for a few months. That is, unless, you are ready to get a head-start for the next season.
I come from a family that has a long heritage of hunting. I am the fourth generation of hunters (that we know of) in my family. My four daughters (Yes, I said four!) are the fifth! Summer months we spend in preparation for the upcoming hunting season. I’m proud to say that my daughters are ALL accomplished hunters! Most of that is due to our time on the range during the summer warmth. Especially when they were young. Shooting became a time to hang out with dad. They had my undivided attention and I had theirs. We made many great memories while having these shooting outings. However, there was a purpose behind all of it. Preparation is key to success.
Iowa, among many other states, has done an excellent job in getting the youth seasons established so kids get the first chance at hunting during the deer seasons as well as the turkey seasons. Knowing that these seasons are actually just a few short months away, it would be a great opportunity to use the summer months to get your kids prepared for the coming youth season. If you are thinking about getting your kids involved in the hunting seasons or shooting in general, here are a few things that you need to think about. It’s worked for me and hopefully, it will work for you too!
Where to begin?
First off, whether you have a son or a daughter, shooting can be a GREAT sport for them to get involved in. Not only does it take practice, patience, and concentration, it will also become a great time for you to spend with your child! For me, hunting success aside, shooting with my wife and daughters has given me memories that I will never forget!
If you have younger kids, I would suggest beginning with a smaller gun. Something that will not “kick” when it is shot. BB guns, pellet guns, or a .22 caliber rifle is a great place to start. Also, no matter what gun you use, bring along ear protection and eye protection. Some of us laugh at the idea, but you won’t think it’s so funny when you suffer from it down the road. Once hearing is lost, it can not be recovered, so keep safety in mind while practicing.
When you have the protection and gun chosen, spend some time getting used to holding the gun. For me, we started my daughters at age five. We’d head out to the back yard and use a BB gun to begin their practice. I showed them where the gun needed to rest on their shoulder. I should them where their supporting hand and arm needed to be. I showed them where to rest their cheek so they could aim. And during all this, we never fired a shot!
Kids need to respect the weapon, and not fear it. Going “through the motions” with them is very important to their success in shooting. Once I could see they were comfortable holding the gun with good posture and pose, we then began to “pull the trigger”. We would do this without a round being loaded!
Practicing a deep breath, and slow squeeze was key to their shooting accuracy. Without the gun being loaded, and thus the gun not kicking, they were able to pull that trigger without any fear or counter-action on their part. This is a practice method that some of us adults might need to revisit from time to time too! I always told my girls, “Let the gun surprise you”. That is still a line I share with them when they are about to take a shot at a deer today!
I feel I need to mention, during all this early training, MAKE GUN SAFETY VERY IMPORTANT! With my girls, we always made sure the gun was pointed in the right direction and the safety was on. We’d check to make sure it was on over and over again. Our standing rule was that if I saw them doing anything unsafe, we were done for the day. By showing me they were safe, they “earned” another shooting time with dad. I am proud to say, my girls are VERY conscious of it when we go out hunting now that they are older. They take it very seriously because we took it seriously when they were young. It did not matter what they were shooting.
Take the Next Step
Now that they know how to hold a gun, know how to pull the trigger, and are feeling comfortable and safe with all their safety gear, load the gun! You should still be using a gun that does not kick for this step. Put some rounds into the gun and talk them through the same things you had just previously covered. Place a target at about a 15-20 yard distance. Remember, targets do not need to be fancy. We would then back up, get the gun set up, and take off the safety. Again, even with the small caliber guns, we would talk about squeezing the trigger and keeping our aim true. Even the BB guns and pellet guns give a small “bump” or “sound” when you shoot it. Kids need to feel a small reaction so they are better prepared for larger ones when the time comes.
This would be a great time to begin reward them with different types of targets to shoot at too. If they are demonstrating respectable gun safety and they are showing their growing accuracy, put up more than a box or a piece of paper. Balloons make excellent “moving” targets and the wind blows them around. Pop cans or something that “breaks” is always fun to shoot at too. Again, never forget safety in these situations.
Onto Something Bigger
As kids are growing more and more comfortable with what they are shooting and their ability to hit the target they are aiming at, you need to introduce something larger with more power. Now, this does not mean you put a weapon in front of them that is going to knock them on their rear! You need to know your child and what they can handle.
Smaller caliber shotguns, legal caliber rifles with spring loaded stocks, and muzzleloaders are all great options.
For us, I stared the girls on a 50 cal. Muzzleloader. It was perfect! Most adult hunters would use over 100 grains of powder for a deer hunt with a muzzleloader. I would load 30 grains for the girls. It was perfect amount for them to use for their deer season. Enough to kill something at about 50 yards. And yet, it wouldn’t knock them over. With a larger caliber weapon, you still need to get out on the range and go through the same things you did with the smaller calibers. Get them comfortable holding the gun, aiming with accuracy, and squeezing the trigger. You will want to move your target farther down range too. Shoot round after round until they are comfortable and accurate enough to handle the upcoming youth season.
All this practice could be done in a relatively small amount of time. You’ll just need to use your good judgement. If your child is doing well, move them forward in preparation. If they need a little extra time, use it. Do not ever take somebody into the timbers when they are not confident in what they are doing.
Talking it Through
Now that your youth is prepared with their weapon, the next most important thing is shot placement. It is very important for them to know how to use a weapon, but it is just and important to know where they need to be aiming if they are going on their first hunt.
When I was at this point in training my girls, we would look through hunting magazines that had pictures of deer. We would start with the “broadside” pictures of deer that would be on the pages as we thumbed through the articles. I would talk about where they should aim if they were shooting at this deer. Physically pointing out the exact spot to aim at. I would move to another picture and ask them to point to where they should aim.
Once they got the idea of where the vitals where, we would move on to tougher pictures. Pictures that showed deer quartering away, or quartering towards. First deciding if you could take an ethical shot at that position. If so, where would you aim. Playing this game could also be done on a smartphone! I would pull up pictures of deer on my phone and have them point to their target areas in the same way. We’d even do this in the blind or in the stand when we were going out for hunts. I wanted their brain to “default” to this practice when they finally saw a real target. I’m glad to say, it worked over and over again!
Practice Makes Perfect
Now that you have gone through all this preparation, keep doing it. I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect”. Well, it’s true! The more you repeat something, the better you get at it. If you want your kids to be ready for what’s to come, take these summer months to practice and practice!
Make your preparation time a great time with dad or mom or both! Let’s face it, unfortunately, kids don’t always get our undivided attention these days. Work, school, extracurriculars often take too much of our time. Making time for outings like these will be long-lasting in their impression on your kids. In addition to that, working hard and having success will build something deeper in your kids as they grow into adulthood. They will know how good it feels to make a huge effort in preparing and thus, one day, having the success that was a result of their preparations.
So, get out there, get ready, and always make it fun. Good luck!