FRANKFORT – Kentucky offers youth hunters an assortment of special seasons in the fall and winter months.
In the mind of a young hunter making the transition from observer to participant, these opportunities to hunt deer, elk, furbearers, small game and waterfowl are milestones never to be forgotten. As such, adult mentors know it falls on their shoulders to deliver a safe and enjoyable experience that leaves their young companion wanting to return to the field another day. It can be a lot of pressure.
Three experienced hunters and mentors – Capt. Richard Adkins, Derek Beard and Mark Marraccini – have developed strategies through the experience of teaching their own children to hunt. The following is an assortment of their tips.
– A child should be confident in their ability to make a good shot when the opportunity presents. Taking them to a shooting range ahead of time establishes a comfort level, allows for repetition and instruction in a controlled environment.
“If you just want them to develop good, strong shooting fundamentals, you can do that with a pellet rifle or a .22 rifle rather than hurrying them into a loud centerfire rifle,” said Marraccini, executive staff advisor for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The fundamentals will transfer. The young shooter will not feel the recoil in a hunting situation and he’ll barely remember the noise.”
Stress safe handling of any firearm. Adkins, the training section supervisor for the Law Enforcement division of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, wants his children to be as adept as possible with the firearm that they will use in the field. To that end, consider utilizing dummy rounds for practice.
“I want them familiar with that gun,” he said. “That way there’s no confusion.”
– Consider starting young hunters off small and work up. Squirrel hunting is the perfect introduction because it teaches woodsmanship and hunting skills that will translate to larger game animals. Utilizing a rimfire or small caliber rifle for squirrels will help hone marksmanship.
Review the rules and regulations before going afield. The annual Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide is available online at fw.ky.gov and wherever licenses are sold. It provides information about license, permit and hunter education requirements as well as dates for youth hunting opportunities such as the youth-only firearms weekend for deer, scheduled Oct. 8-9.
– As any parent knows, kids can have the attention span of a fruit fly and expecting them to sit still for extended stretches is unreasonable. A ground blind allows for some freedom of movement and protection from the elements.
“I’m a firm believer in ground blinds for kids and use ground blinds all the time for kids,” Adkins said.
Setting up a stable hunting rest in the blind will help a young hunter steady their aim by guarding against the muscle fatigue that can set in quickly when the gun is shouldered.
“I think it’s imperative that they have some kind of mount to put the gun in so they can shoot accurately,” Adkins said. “It allows me to secure the gun so it’s like shooting off of a bench. I’m a big proponent of them because they increase accuracy and increase safety. It was the best money I ever spent for them.”
– Comfort is key. Consider letting them sleep in and hunt in the afternoon. Either way, do not forget the snacks and drinks. Beard and his children have made it a tradition to stop at a gas station on the way to their hunt location.
“They can buy anything they want, within reason,” said Beard, who is the Bluegrass Wildlife Region coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “My oldest likes getting a Big Red soda and some Sour Patch kids, sunflower seeds and chips.”
– Dress them appropriately for the weather. Wet clothes and cold toes and fingers can make for a miserable experience and end a hunt quickly.
“If their mittens have Snoopy on them, they’re probably not the right pair of gloves for them to wear on a hunt,” Marraccini said. “If their boots are made for just keeping their feet dry while they’re waiting for the school bus, they may not be the ones they need to be wearing when they’re sitting in a deer blind and it’s 30 degrees.”
– Kids love technology and it can serve a useful purpose when hunting.
By watching a YouTube video, Beard learned how to build an adapter that allows him to mount an iPhone to a riflescope. The larger screen makes it easier for his son to see through the scope. A video app allows them to record the hunt through the scope.
An iPad or similar device loaded with games or books can help kids pass the time in the ground blind.
“I can load games on it and he’ll play games for hours,” Beard said. “We can sit there and have competitions back and forth with the iPad. It keeps both of us entertained.”
– What may be routine for an experienced hunter can captivate a young hunter. Take time to point out how the woods come alive at daybreak or after you settle into your position. Identify sounds, animals, plants and trees. Explain why you’re hunting a particular spot.
“Those small things will go unnoticed sometimes, and then they become appreciated once they are pointed out,” Marraccini said.
– Involve your young hunter in all facets of the hunt. They’ll feel invested in overall experience. Take them on a scouting trip. Run through the pre-hunt checklist with them. Let them help cook the chili back at the barn because the social aspect of hunting can be just as much fun as the hunt itself.
– Keep it fun. Every adult mentor wants to see a young hunter succeed and leave the field with a smile, but success can be measured in ways beyond whether an animal was harvested.
“Don’t overdo it,” Marraccini said. “Make them want to come back tomorrow.”
Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.