How Old Should a Kid Be To Hunt?
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, April 4, 2009.)
I remember well the opening day of buck season when I was six years old. Dad brought home a 10-point buck. I was ready to begin hunting then, or thought I was.
Hunting is about more than killing,
so we don’t need to introduce weapons
the first time we take a young person to the woods.
The question, “How old should a kid be to hunt?” doesn’t have an easy answer. The legal age for buying a license in many states is 12. In some states it’s younger. More and more states have started mentored hunting programs which set no minimum age, but allow a youngster to hunt under close supervision of an adult before he or she reaches the age of eligibility to buy a license.
Mentoring programs are a positive development. I wish we had mentored hunting in Pennsylvania when I first caught the bug. Now we do, and it works this way:
A licensed adult hunter can mentor a young hunter on hunts for antlered deer, spring gobblers, woodchucks, squirrels and coyotes.
The trip to the deer stand, calling location or shooting position is an opportunity for instructing the child. Only one firearm is permitted and the adult carries it. He hands it to the youth only when in a stationary position.
In the case of a turkey hunt, when the gobbler is responding to the caller, the youth takes over the shotgun. The adult keeps him within arm’s reach, coaching as the gobbler approaches.
Mentored hunting will help to cement the bond between parent and child. One of the things that most good dads have going for them is that Junior admires Dad and wants to be like him.
Build on this natural affinity. Make all your trips to the woods interesting, not too long, and explain everything you can. Teach respect for the property owner, the land and the animals it supports.
Hunting is about more than killing, so it’s not necessary to introduce weapons the first time we take a young person to the woods. Lots can be taught before the child is ready to shoot. When he’s ready to begin shooting, do it in a non-hunting situation, and remind frequently of the danger of weapons.
Teach the rules, and “test” the child by asking questions. Ask “Do you remember the rule about where to point your gun?” Also ask the why questions, “Do you know why that’s a rule?” Affirm every correct response, and use wrong answers as a teaching opportunity. Praise him for learning. Correct gently when he shows evidence that he has not learned.
Everyone knows that hunting sometimes involves death, so an introduction to hunting must address issues of life and death. That’s good. I’m convinced that in our modern video-game world kids understand issues of life and death much less than they once did.
My opinion is that video games seem to teach a casualness about death. Maybe that’s why I personally can’t get into video games about hunting. Plenty that is on television also conveys a lack of respect for life. Maybe that’s why I’m not a big fan of crime shows. It seems odd that we have a culture where parents often insulate their children from the concept of real death, yet permit so much gratuitous exposure to digital death.
Some parents want to rush things. Sometimes we want something for our kids that they are not ready for, and we’re doing it for ourselves even more than we’re doing it for them. That can be true of many activities, not just hunting.
There is no age at which every child is ready to hunt, so don’t assume a child of a certain age is ready. When a child expresses an interest in hunting, the parent should evaluate constantly, and bring him along a little at a time.
Don’t overwhelm the youth, and don’t let him take hunting for granted. Intentionally set the stage so that he yearns for hunting, and begins to see it as a privilege and a responsibility, and not just a right.
Maybe I was ready to begin at age six, maybe I wasn’t. One thing is sure – mentored hunting’s answer to the question, “How old should a kid be to hunt?” won’t be the same for every child.