I will never forget my first hunt. The leaves had begun to fall from the trees and the brisk fall air of Western Upstate New York was crisp and smelled of the harvest. I had been invited by a friend of mine and his father to join them on a squirrel hunt. I had just taken my hunter safety course, and was chomping at the bit actually to get in the woods.
The place we hunted that day was a piece of flatland on the Niagara plateau covered with 40-year-old hardwoods and soft pines. I was situated between two fields full of cow corn that were currently being cut by a combine harvester. Most of the leaves remained on the hardwoods, and the day was slightly overcast. I carried a Marlin semi-automatic .22 that my dad kept in the closet for varmints and the occasional rabid fox or coyote spotted in the area.
We hunted most of the late morning, had a hearty lunch, and hunted again all afternoon. I failed to bag a single squirrel, but I was hooked on hunting. A couple of weeks later, I bagged my first squirrel and started to feel like I was quickly becoming a member of the hunting community.
Education and Preparation
I have always believed, and back it up with many experiences, that if you want to raise a hunter, start them young. Take them with you in the stand when they begin to show an interest.
Yes, you will have to shorten your hunts to accommodate the attention span of a six to nine year old, but it is worth it. Every hunter we train and raise up, is one less anti-hunter out there.
When the child is old enough to start hunting, it is time for them to take their hunter safety course. Like all really good things in life, these are almost always free. Most courses last two to four days, with three to four hours per session. Almost all states require new hunters to take such a course.
After they have completed their course, take them hunting regularly. Hunting successfully and safely is learned by doing it under the care of an experienced hunter. Pay close attention to the young hunter, and as they will make mistakes, gently correct them. Never shame them, but be firm on safety matters. They will need to learn from you several aspects of hunting: game tracking, stand hunting, shot placement, and field dressing and meat preparation.
As a child grows, it is often best to purchase used hunting clothing yearly for them, and only buy them new hunting clothes when they have finished growing. Purchase them a good pair of boots often, as footwear is necessary, especially if you are going to be walking any distance.
What firearm should you purchase? Initially, consider a rifle chambered in .22. This should be any child’s first firearm. Teach them marksmanship, safe gun handling, and take them squirrel hunting with it.
Next should be a child’s first game rifle. There is much debate as to what caliber should be a child’s first, and I have long said that a child under nine years old should stick with either a .223 (yes, it will take a deer), a .7mm-08, or a .243. A larger rifle should be given as the child grows. For our own kids, we have chosen the .223 for first deer rifles, and a .308 when they get bigger.
Next, purchase a shotgun with a bird barrel, and perhaps a slug barrel for those who hunt in states that don’t allow big game hunting with rifles. I always start youngsters out on a .20 gauge youth shotgun — usually a Mossberg 500 or a Remington 870. As they grow, the Mossberg 510 (500 youth model), can grow with them with the addition of an adult stock and forearm. If you have some tall boys in your family who can handle a .12 gauge, then around the age of 15-16 they should be ready for a full-size shotgun.
What firearm would you recommend for a child? Share your tips in the section below: