Did you hear that? Hey Daddy! I’m hungry. I’m cold. Hey Daddy! Are we leaving soon? What’s for lunch? I’m hungry. Look! Shoot! And the list goes on…. Hunting with kids is an entirely different animal. They talk, they wiggle, they cough, and if you don’t watch it, they’ll elbow you and point out that deer you “didn’t see” walking towards you. I love hunting with my boys, but it definitely presents some different challenges. If you are willing to take on those challenges, you will be rewarded with wonderful memories to last yours and their entire lives. I wanted to share a few tips to help out Dads who might be considering hunting with their kids. Use them, tweak them, or add your own. There are no hard and fast rules. The most important thing is getting them outside and spending some time together.
• The first order of business is keeping them warm and dry. There are so many more options for kids hunting gear now than when I was a kid. Keep in mind; if you are tricked out in all the cool camo, they are going to want some too. While you can drop some serious coin on youth hunting clothing, I’ve found that with my growing boys, an insulated bib and a quality jacket goes a long way. If upsized slightly, they can layer underneath and use them for at least a couple of seasons.
• Muck boots are a godsend! We hunt a lot of river bottoms and nothing will end a hunt quicker than cold, wet feet. When paired with some quality merino wool socks, they will keep those piggies toasty all day!
• DON”T FORGET THE ORANGE! Invest in a hunter’s safety vest that fits THEM. You don’t want to stop every twenty yards to put it back on because you let them use your extra large vest. Ask me how I know.
• Make them a part of the hunt. Talk to them about where you are hunting and explain why you are setting up in that location. Take the time to explain the movement of your game and how it determines your setup.
• Invest in or build your own blind. While not always my favorite method of hunting, a pop up blind is a great way to cover up the wiggles of the younger hunters. They will tend to keep them warmer and allow them to munch on snacks as well. If you have a place to put up a ladder stand, they are great options for bigger kids. Just be sure to USE A SAFETY HARNESS!
• SNACKS! I’m pretty sure I could get my kids to hunt as long as I wanted, as long as I have an Orion Cooler stacked full of goodies! Seriously though, their metabolisms are burning calories way faster than ours and they need more snacks throughout the day. Burning through those snacks help keep them warm, too!
• Let them do stuff! Teach them how to blow calls, track animals, or use the rangefinder. It’s ok if they don’t get the call right or even if they spook the deer. There are lots of deer out there and you are here to have a fun experience with your kids!
• That brings us to my final tip. HAVE FUN! Building from a base of fun, you will instill a love for the outdoors that you can share with them for years to come.
Some of my fondest memories are hunting with my Dad. Getting up insanely early and donning all my camo, riding in the middle of an old single cab Ford between my Dad and his hunting buddies, trying to finish a giant biscuit at the local Hardees, and nodding off on the drive to the mountain. These stand out in my mind and take me back to a much simpler era of my life. My Dad was old school. Most of the time we hunted on the ground leaned up against a big white oak with me tucked down inside a sleeping bag. I’m sure my Dad could have killed more deer without me tagging along and wiggling at the worst possible time. No doubt I spooked more than one deer without ever knowing it. The truth of the matter though, was that the deer were really not the primary objective. I did not realize this until I had sons of my own, but the true goal was time in the woods as a father and son. Through his patience and willingness to miss a shot just to have me there, my Dad instilled in me a love of the outdoors. He taught me how to look for sign, pay attention to the wind, and track a wounded animal. I learned to shoot, build fires, be patient, and endure really crappy weather to achieve our goal. My Dad taught me early on what it was to be a woodsman. I want to encourage you to get your son or daughter out there with you. They are the next generation of woodsmen who will be responsible for this great land we are blessed with. Get them outside and teach them to love it early!
~ Nathan Ball