The Michigan DNR has been encouraging youth to hunt and developing new incentives to entice youth hunters to help slow the decline in hunters overall. If you are taking a young hunter with you on opening day of the Michigan firearm deer season (November 15) that’s great but the safety and comfort of your young hunter should be of great concern to you.
There has already been one unfortunate incident this fall in Michigan where a young hunter accidentally killed his father. Young hunters may lack the physical strength, mental and emotional maturity to safely handle a weapon. Each child is different and there is no magic age when all children are ready to hunt: it depends on the individual. If you are mentoring a young hunter make sure he has plenty of practice time on the rifle range with you observing and evaluating his skills before you take him into the field.
Get a gun that the youngster can safely handle. Too often kids are given hand me down guns to begin hunting that are too big for them, or have malfunctioning parts. That’s an accident waiting to happen. Also the clothing a young hunter wears into the field should fit him well, no too long sleeves, no hats falling into the eyes or gloves where the fingers are too long.
Young hunters should always wear hunter orange, even around camp. Children are generally smaller than adults and may move impulsively through brush, crawl on the ground or do other things that may get them mistaken for a deer. An orange cap should be worn at all times and a complete orange outfit wouldn’t be unwise. Teach young hunters that they should never sneak up on another hunter or pretend to be a deer to fool them. We can see how badly those games might turn out but a child sometimes doesn’t think about consequences.
Make sure that young hunters dress appropriately for the weather; it’s generally advisable to dress in layers. If a child is cold and wet he or she won’t enjoy hunting and neither will you. Check that duffle bag or backpack before you head out to hunt to make sure appropriate clothing has been packed. That includes footwear; athletic shoes aren’t the best hunting shoes.
Young hunters need more sleep than older hunters to be at their best. Hanging out around the campfire is great but send the youngsters off early to get a good nights sleep. Tired kids are more likely to make mistakes or forget important safety rules. Also make sure they have a good breakfast and food throughout the day to keep them alert and functioning well. Good hydration is also important. Make sure they carry water.
Never miss an opportunity to stress hunting safety rules with young hunters. Make sure they never point a weapon at anyone, even if it’s unloaded. Teach them how to correctly carry a gun and make them do it right. Talk about looking behind the prey before shooting. Also talk about what to do if they get lost, injured or someone with them gets injured.
Young hunters should probably be in front of a group when walking and hunting. You can keep an eye on them and others aren’t so likely to be injured in case of an accidental rifle discharge. Until they are experienced hunters they shouldn’t be left alone in blinds or in hiding. Kids are notorious for doing stupid things when they get bored or scared.
When dressing game make sure kids wear rubber gloves, as you should do also. Never make someone drink blood or eat the heart or any other ritual involving raw meat or blood. This is a good way to get a disease or parasite and to turn kids off hunting all together.
Kids are not little adults. They think differently, are distracted more easily and may not have the physical stamina or strength of adults. Keep the first hunts short and easy so they enjoy hunting and stay focused and alert. If the young hunter gets emotional after a kill, respect the feelings. Teasing or forcing a child to do something he or she doesn’t want to do (unless its safety related), is the wrong way to get them to be a life long hunter. Time and experience under an understanding mentor produces the best hunters.
Set a good example for kids as you hunt. Don’t trespass, take animals that are not in season or that you don’t have a license for. Learn and obey hunting rules. Don’t shoot at signs or other objects. Don’t litter. And certainly do not drink and hunt. Treat hunting as a serious sport, with important rules, and not as play.
Hunting with a mentor, either a parent or other interested adult is a great way to introduce kids to outside sports and give them a respect for the environment. Bring your child with you but be vigilant about their safety and the safety of others.