Introducing a youth or a newcomer to the experience of hunting can be every bit as exciting as hunting for yourself-sometimes even more so. Whether your own children and family members or a friend, passing down this grand tradition and its attendant skills to a youth hunter is very rewarding. Many of us remember a father or grandfather teaching us the skills necessary to hunt and shoot as we grew up. I will always remember the skills my father taught me, and the time spent with him afield. To this day, I remember him on every outing. Becoming a mature hunter is about honing those childhood skills to be sure, but it is also about growing to see the importance of passing those skills on to coming generations.
When the time comes to begin a child's hunting experience, the biggest and most important lesson is this: Make it Fun! Veteran hunters are almost inhuman in their ability to endure numb fingers and toes on frosty fall mornings, legions of ticks in the spring, and all manner of rocks, roots, and briars poking into various body parts in pursuit of game. Some even call this torture "fun." Not a child! Taking a child on a hunt is an opportunity for you to ease up and get back to the elemental pleasure of simply being in the woods. This is no time for a long sit. You are on a child's schedule and not one of a seasoned veteran. Remember the attention span of the person you have at your side. It's shorter than your own, a lot shorter. A good rule of thumb is to stop the hunt before they stop having fun. Pay attention to their level of enjoyment and be sure to leave them wanting more, not miserably bored. This will likely mean a much shorter outing than you would typically take on your own, but it isn't about you this time. Make sure that they are dressed plenty warm for the weather also. It's not even primarily about a kill. Life is about relationships, and being able to share the breathless beauty of a sunrise and the heart-hammering rush of a wild turkey gobble with someone else is absolutely priceless. Consider the experience and skills of hunting as a valuable inheritance to pass on, and you can build some fabulous memories in the process.
Many states encourage youth hunting at an early age, however some states do not allow hunting at all until reaching a certain age. When I was an adolescent, Pennsylvania required a child to be 12 before legally being able to hunt. Many states such as Virginia now are more youth friendly and even offer special youth only days to hunt. April 2 marked the youth spring gobbler opener in the commonwealth this year. Many dads, grandfathers, uncles, etc. will take to the woods with their young hunters to assist them in tagging their first gobbler. But proper training for this day should begin long before the first day of the season.
Tim Hoden, a Sheffield native, is pictured during youth mentor hunting with his son, Parker.
Many steps should be taken prior to the actual hunt itself. Days spent at the range shooting should be first and foremost, where gun safety and proper shot placement are reviewed and practiced. Also, simply watching hunting videos will help prepare a newbie for what to expect on a real hunt. Next, it is important for you to teach the art of scouting. Take the child with you on your scouting trips if you can. Showing them what to look and listen for is crucial when it comes to the actual hunt and will help them enjoy the hunt even more. Also practicing the setup situation is imperative. Practice a setup where the youth is sitting in your lap or between your legs so that you can help with gun control. It also helps you communicate quietly to your partner without spooking the animal.
In turkey hunting, teaching someone to use a call can be another way to up the fun factor. Take a look at a veteran turkey hunter's call collection and you'll quickly realize that children aren't the only ones who like to play with toys! The variety of call types alone can be overwhelming to a new hunter, so it's a good idea to start a child with something easy to use like a box or push button call. And let them use it on hunt day! No, they likely won't sound as good as you with your years of practice, but this isn't about you, remember? Can you imagine the thrill a child would feel having their first little yelps answered by a roaring longbeard? Heck, just playing with a turkey call and hearing it echo around the woods is fun all by itself. If you've played this game much at all you know that sometimes that's the only fun you have on a turkey hunt. But, let's not let that secret out of the bag just yet. We want them to keep hunting!