I'll start by stating that I'm no expert here, nor did I sleep in a Holiday Inn last night, but I have introduced a few kids to hunting with generally positive results. My experiences consist of a solid mix of lessons learned the hard way and the rewards of seeing big smiles painted on the faces of a few kids. As someone that was taken into the woods at a very young age, it's deeply important to me that we continue to pay it forward. I'm hopeful my insights below will help a few folks along the pathway into the outdoors.
Step 1 - Get Outdoors. The first priority should simply be getting a kid outside (hunting in mind or not!). Taking them from behind the screen to blasting ducks in an ice cold duck blind at day break will feel like going from Zero > Mach1 and is less likely to produce the long term result desired. By simply exposing them to the wonder of nature, inquiring minds will do the rest as they get exposed to fresh air, the mysteries of nature, and the curious critters they see. I started by taking my daughters on "hikes" which consisted of going on walks on our family farm while letting my dogs get some off leash conditioning. I realize not everyone has access to a family farm but there are public lands, state parks, national parks, and a lot of opportunities to get outside for anyone with a true desire.
Step 2 - Dogs. Proper introduction to a good ol' bird dog is a gateway drug for so many of us uplanders and waterfowlers. Just turn 'em loose, the dogs always know what to do.
Step 3 - Maintenance & Prep. Ever pattern your shotgun or dial in that rifle before season? Do you clean your gun(s)? Will you be putting in a food plots or hanging stands? Perform maintenance on your gear and equipment pre-season (think conditioning boots, sharpening knives, repairing e-collars, packing up gear totes, etc)? If not, you should for numerous reasons and take the opportunity to do it with your kid(s). Exposure to various aspects of hunting outside of the actual hunt provides an extremely beneficial opportunity to educate the next generation on safety, proper maintenance, let them ask questions now vs in the blind/field, talk through what they can expect, and so much more. You'll be surprised at what they'll pick up outside of the actual hunt.
Step 4 - Practice. How often do you train your dogs? Do you practice shooting clays? You now have a kiddo that's used to being outside, enjoys the company of a good ol' bird dog, and is familiar with the tools of the trade. Start putting the pieces together in a non-pressure situation where you still control the variables. My favorite options here are pointing dog drills or retrieving drills. For pointers, I'll plant pigeons, work on steady, and run through the drills a few times with the kids actually getting a bit hands on (maybe helping plant the pigeons or helping hold the lead) and not even use a gun (maybe a cap gun for the dogs sake). For retrieving drills, you'd be surprised how many kids love to sling retrieving dummies or accept a bumper out of a dogs mouth. Ultimately, use the same practice you leverage to prep yourself and your dogs to get the kids ready as well.
Step 5. Hunt. Hunting doesn't have to equate to filling the tag. At this point, you're investing in what we all hope is many years to come of outdoor pursuits. My youngest daughter went hunting with me for an entire season and never carried a gun. The next season she carried a gun but never fired a shot. For her path, these were necessary steps to transition from Practice to punching tags and filling game bags that built her confidence. The third season she bagged her first whitetail (doe), killed her first whitetail buck (Missouri 8 pointer), shot her first chukar (planted), and shot her first duck (wild). In my opinion, the investment was well worth it.
Step 6. Field to Table. The end game should be involving the next generation in a tradition that maintained life for our ancestors. Ensure they are involved in the processing of game, prepping it for the table, and help them understand the full circle that is hunting, you'll be amazed at how fulfilling it is to everyone involved.
Please keep in mind, these steps are in no way comprehensive and leave quite a bit up for consideration. I made plenty of mistakes, pushed a bit too hard at times, and encourage everyone that goes down this path to have patience...we should be focused solely on the long game here. One might wonder, well how old do they need to be? My kid is extremely scared of dogs due to an incident so what do I do? Well, folks there is some thinking required, we're the adults after all and the creator gave us common sense to use. Only you can answer some of those questions and each kid is going to be different, have unique needs to consider, and may require some creativity. Having said that, I firmly believe where there is a will there's a way and we owe it to those that passed this down to us to find a way forward.
I want to be clear that even if you follow these 5 steps, you may not end up with an extremely passionate hunter...and that's okay as well. Each kid is different and has unique interests (and those will change throughout their life). In the end, it takes all types for the world to go around and forcing it is much less likely to result in a positive outcome. You've now planted the seed, let it prosper on it's own, and attempt to nourish it on occasion. It may spring to life now, down the road, or lay dormant until the next generation comes along but you've planted it and you've spent some quality time with a kid.
You may change their life but you may also change yours along the way. Until our bird dogs cross paths in wide open places, chasing wild birds, always stay #huntredi!
Heath Seiner, Co-Founder @ Hunt Redi
(picture below is my daughter, as a pre-schooler, wrapped up in my camo coats in a folding chair on her first "deer hunt" in Missouri. We saw a bobcat and her cubs playing in the field that she still remembers and a doe being chased by a buck. She asked me not to kill the mommy deer, which I respected at the time. She's now tagged her first whitetail doe and buck, bagged ducks, taken a wild turkey, and downed upland birds. Truly thankful for the memories then, now, and those to come.)