By Chris Larsen
As parents, nothing is more gratifying than passing on knowledge to our children. The “aha” moment when I see them begin to master something has literally brought tears to my eyes. Teaching them to follow in our footsteps as hunters is just as important as teaching them to tie their shoes, ride a bike, and drive a car. It’s our tradition and our culture. It’s a part of us they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I didn’t push hunting on my children. They would see me return from outings and start asking questions. Eventually, the question of coming with would enter the conversation. They planted the seed. I just cultivated it. A hunter safety course is the logical next step and then introduction to the field. Here are some great tips for getting started.
The first time a young man or lady goes pheasant hunting should be pressure free. Let them accompany your hunt as an observer. This will allow them to experience the hunt without fear of shooting poorly or doing something wrong. They will be able to see how the hunt works and what it’s all about in a stress free environment. If a youngster is really excited, let them carry along a toy gun or unloaded shotgun. The first outing can serve as an opportunity to practice safe gun handling.
On the day of their first actual hunt, the focus should be on the young hunter. Don’t bring any hunting buddies and leave your gun at home. As the lone hunter, the youngster sets the pace of the hunt. With just one gun in the field, the risk of a shooting accident diminishes greatly. As the mentor, you should walk behind the hunter and give constructive advice. But remember, make the experience fun and lighthearted. Don’t over-critique your hunter. The object isn’t to get your limit today.
A hunting preserve is a great place to start a young hunter. Success isn’t guaranteed. But experiences with birds are far more common and you can keep the hunt from getting too long. You may like to hunt all day but a few hours is more than enough for a rookie pheasant hunter. Let the preserve manager know your situation ahead of time and they can help make the hunt a little easier.
Use a well trained dog. If you don’t have access to a dog, most preserves offer use of a dog for a reasonable rate. A great dog will give a young shooter time to prepare for the shot. If you’re flushing birds on your own, pheasants are often out of range by the time a novice will be ready to fire.
Emphasize safety. The great thing about a first hunt is that bad habits have not yet formed. A young hunter is putty in your hands. Teach them not to shoot until the “rooster” command is given. Be sure the dog is out of the shooting lane. Unload the gun before crossing fences and ditches. These things are easier to teach than correct.
Witnessing your son or daughter be successful and happy while hunting is one of the best experiences of your life. But you can still be a mentor if you don’t have kids or your kids are already well on their way to becoming life long hunters. Invite a neighbor, niece, nephew, or grandchild along for a hunt. The first time hunter doesn’t even have to be a kid. One of the fastest growing demographics among hunters is adult first timers. Be a good mentor, no matter how old your protégé is.