Your Child’s Premier Outing

By Ryan Graden

So the time is finally here! You’re thinking the kids are old enough to go on their first hunting or fishing trip. Or so you hope!

Just remember, their first experience might make or break any future times in the timber. If it goes well, you can be certain that they will be begging for more. If it doesn’t go well, it might be a very long time until they give you another chance. So what do you need to be thinking about to make sure the time you spend together is going to encourage another expedition outside? Hopefully these thoughts will help you in your planning.

I have four daughters that, without a doubt, have me tied around their “little fingers”. I had always hoped to have a son that I could create memories with in the outdoors. The same type of memories that I have from time in the timber with my father, uncles, and grandfather. I didn’t think it was possible with a little girl, but I was FAR from wrong! Now, 12 years after I stepped into the woods with my first of the four daughters, I can honestly tell you that I have had some of my best memories and hunts with these ladies. These outings have been able to continue because I’ve taken to mind the things that had to be thought about in order to make those times successful. Listen closely.

What’s The Right Age?
That is the question! But it’s an important one to think about. You don’t want the experience to be too much for them. However, you don’t want to wait till they are at the age that the outdoors, hunting, and fishing wasn’t part of their upbringing. There is not a magic number. I believe that you have to make your best educated guess with the child that you’d like to take with you. You have to know their personality and abilities. Take time to think this through.

For my daughters, each one was different. The oldest was so interested in being outside and the animals that daddy would bring back from hunts, that I could tell she was just itching to have the experience. But with my other three daughters, it was much later. Somewhere around five maybe six years old.

You have to be the judge. Bring up the idea. If they seem excited about it, maybe they are there.

Where You’re Going
My oldest daughter was a little over two when I took her on her first squirrel hunt. I knew that the likelihood of being successful was slim. But the time that we’d have together would far outweigh any success that we were looking for.

With little legs, Rylee could not handle the rough terrain that I could on a normal hunt. So, I had to think through the list of areas that I knew she could handle. Something that would be perfect for a little girl on her first hunt. Something that would not be too defeating that might lead to frustration on both her part and mine.

There was a public hunting area that was a little more remote than most. It rested on the bank of the Des Moines River and was easy to walk to. It didn’t have the deep, steep ravines like some of Iowa’s public timbers. They were gentle, with very little underbrush. It had lots of shade, and some wonderful old logging roads that made it easy to walk. For her little legs it was a perfect area to visit. She didn’t spend her hours tripping over the topography. She could run, jump, skip, and play as we looked for bushy-tails in the treetops.
The point being, make sure the area that you hunt is matching your child’s age and ability. I wouldn’t suggest a Colorado pack mule trip to be their first experience outdoors.

The Conditions Outside
Not all of you are probably going to take your two-year-old into the woods like me. But no matter what age they may be, you have to be wise about the conditions that you’ll be experiencing when you are out in God’s creation. A horrible day of weather could absolutely ruin a first outing so bad that they will NEVER give you another opportunity to take them on a hunting or fishing trip.

The state of Iowa is doing things right by offering youth seasons for deer, turkey, and pheasants. Most of these seasons allow these youth to get out when the conditions are still gentle with fair weather. The deer and pheasant seasons tend to still be posting positive weather forecasts which makes it a great experience for your child. Like I said, be cautious and prepared for those “not so nice” conditions that we adults often hunt in.

When weather turns cold, consider hunting in blinds or well-constructed elevated stands. Have a heater in the stand. Bring some granola bars, pop, snacks, and maybe even an electronic gaming device (Please don’t get the idea that I’m pushing these!) All these things will bring you to a great experience with your children when they are on their fist outings with you. Avoid rainy days and extreme conditions. Whether they are carrying a weapon/pole or not, you’d be wise to provide these creature comforts.

What Are You Using?
I would assume that this is something that everybody would think about, but I feel the need to mention it nonetheless. If you have decided that your child is old enough to use a firearm for a hunt, make sure that the firearm they are using is appropriate to their size and age.
For my daughter’s first weapon experiences, we started with the good old .22 caliber rifle. The power was there to harvest a squirrel or rabbit, but it didn’t knock them on their backside in the process. Remember, a loud-booming gun to a young one could scare them into fear of it! Don’t risk it. Use ear and eye protection so they feel secure and safe. It is good practice anyway!

When my girls were old enough for a youth hunt, I knew that they could not handle a shotgun slug. It was just too much for their small frames. So, from the advice of a friend, I had them practice with a muzzleloader. It allowed me to reduce the amount of powder and still give us an effective range of up to fifty yards with the same killing power. I’m proud to say that all four of my girls are successful deer hunters. The youngest harvested her first doe last year at six-years-old with my 50 caliber CVA. The shot was perfect!

Success Of The Hunt
When you are taking your child out for their first hunt, I would advise you to take it seriously, but also have the “relaxed side” of your personality ready. The most important thing about getting them out in the timber, is the time that they will get to spend with you. Think about it. Most of us adults live and thrive in an ever rapid world where undistracted time with these kids is few and far between! A hunt or a fishing outing with them gives them a chance to have you all to themselves!

So, when you’re out in the blind, teach them how to be quiet. Teach them what to look for. If you’re fishing, teach them how to cast, how to reel, how to fish in different cover. But if things go wrong, somebody moves and spooks the animal, their line gets tangled or snagged, make it into a silly moment. Laugh! Shrug it off! Create a memory and keep a light-hearted attitude.

My cousin has a 4-year-old that loves to be out with her daddy on hunts. It’s great that she desires to be in the Iowa timbers pursuing the many different opportunities that it gives her. But truthfully, at four-years-old, I think they take more “silly-faced selfies” in the blind than pictures of the surrounding scene. That is truly how it should be!

Have Fun
Although we as hunters and fishermen/fisherwomen can take our hobby very seriously, time with your kids and the memories that you can make are WAY more important than the success of the hunt or fishing trip.

I am glad to say that all four of my daughters look forward to hunting seasons. They plan with me. They talk about their upcoming outings through the off months. They remember silly things that happened when we are hunting together in past seasons. They are now interested in other types of game and fish. They look forward to new things and dream of what they might do with their kids someday.

That’s how it should be! I am a fourth generation hunter because my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather did things right with their kids. My daughters are the fifth generation of hunters in the Graden family. The plans for the sixth generation have already been shared with me. It warms my heart to know that they get it. They see the importance of passing things on. What more could I ask for?

So hopefully, in another 10 years or so, I’ll be writing to you about my grandchild’s first hunting/fishing trip. To be continued!

Good luck!