Caution: Hunting regulations and ordinances apply to the manner in which all game animals are taken. It’s up to the reader to research hunting regulations that apply in your particular situation. Among other things, the use of silencers, the type and caliber of ammunition, and the magazine capacity of your firearm may be regulated by federal, state, or local laws.
We each have our own reasons for wanting to hunt instead of buying meat at the grocery store. For many of us, those reasons are values that we take pride in passing down to the next generation. But teaching a kid a new task, especially one as serious as taking an animal’s life, can be as stressful as it is rewarding for all involved.
We’re going to break down how to prepare your child for their first hunt. And much of that same preparation can be used for any first-time hunter. The anticipation of a first hunt can be nerve-racking, but with proper planning, your child will be confident to pull the trigger. These lessons come from my experiences with my daughter; all kids are different, so don’t take our specific example as a be-all and end-all.
You can half-ass a lot in parenting, but you can’t half-ass firearms safety. Be truthful about firearms; they’re meant to kill and can be dangerous. If you already hunt, your child has probably already seen a firearm in person, in your home. Either way, start an education session without the gun in the room. Ask questions to see what your child already knows about firearms. Having an open conversation with your child about guns removes the mystery and is empowering to the child.
Next, teach the four main rules of firearms safety:
After the initial information session, bring out the unloaded firearm you plan to use for your child’s hunt. Show your child the gun is unloaded; have him or her visually inspect the chamber after you. Now explain the parts of the gun and how each piece works. With the unloaded gun, while observing all the safety rules, have your child handle the rifle to understand how to use it. The goal is for your child to be able to tell you how that gun works and the safety rules before you’ve even gone to the range or brought ammunition near the gun.
Above: Hunter Education may not be mandatory in your state, but it will educate your child about firearms safety and how to be a better hunter. If you watch over your kid’s shoulder, you’ll likely learn something from the courses, too.
Being your child’s first teacher about firearms safety is imperative so they know they can always ask you questions. But in preparation for hunting, your child should take a hunter education course. There are several courses offered online, tailored to your specific state; for example, we’ve used HunterCourse.com and Hunter-Ed.com. These state-approved online courses make it possible for your child to get a hunting license. The courses are thorough and teach everything from types of hunting weapons to laws and regulations. At the end of the course, your child will need to pass an exam in order to receive their hunter education card. Even though hunter education isn’t required in some instances for minors, we still recommend completing the course — it’s great information and your child won't have to complete it as an adult when they want to hunt. As an adult, most states require proof of hunter education certification in order to get a hunting license.
Learning that your young animal-loving child has decided they want to shoot a deer is surprising. Some children want to mimic their parents and don’t fully understand what hunting is. Be honest and tell your child every detail, even the gross stuff, that comes along with hunting. Make sure they comprehend what they’re asking to do.
Explain why you hunt, such as knowing where your food comes from, the joy of being in the woods, or to bond with family. There are countless reasons why we hunt — talk about them with your child so he or she can have a greater appreciation and understand the hunt isn’t only about the kill.
Above: We cover a lot of topics in this article to help your child become a successful hunter, but it’s your duty to make sure you and your child are compliant with state and federal laws. For example, some states have minimum caliber restrictions for big game, ban the use of suppressors, and limit how many rounds can be in the rifle. Be sure to thoroughly read the laws for the area you’re hunting.
If you’re hunting whitetail deer, show your child pictures of whitetail deer. Using animal anatomy diagrams, explain what a kill shot is and where to aim. From there, have them look at deer presenting in multiple ways; in other words, show them pictures of deer facing different directions, and have them point to where the aiming point would be in relation to the animal’s orientation.
Sometimes animals don’t die immediately from one shot. In those situations, you may need to track the animal and shoot it again. Explain this to your child. The fear of making a bad shot is stressful for many hunters. Explain that it’s the hunter’s job to take the most ethical shot possible and to end the animal’s life as quickly and painlessly as possible. Be honest that the deer may not be dead when you walk up to it; it may be making heart-wrenching sounds. But assure your child that you’ll handle this if this happens. Your child could take a poor shot, and you’ll need to step up to finish the job because your child will likely be overwhelmed with emotion. Explaining all of this is for your child’s mental preparation. In a perfect case, a heart or double-lung shot will be made, and the animal won't suffer.
The hunt doesn’t end after pulling the trigger. If your child wants to hunt, tell him he’ll have to help with cleaning the animal, as well. This is where we opted to show our daughter pictures of dead deer and videos on how to clean a deer. We told her she wouldn’t be expected to know how to do it, but she at least had to be there to help and gain knowledge of how to clean a deer. Soon after our daughter’s first hunt, we used that deer meat for a meal and told the family she had provided meat for supper; it was a proud moment for everyone.
Now it’s time to hit the range. Make sure your child has the needed equipment, including eye pro, ear pro, hunting clothes, etc. Most rifles aren't child-sized, but can be accommodated to fit. When your child gets behind the gun, and you explain eye relief and body positioning, if he or she can’t see through the scope, understand that you may need to fit the gun to him or her.
Above: The hunt is more fun than the kill. Even when a hunt doesn’t result in meat on the table, it still makes for priceless memories with your child.
If the rifle doesn’t fit your child, look for ways to adjust the length of pull, eye relief, and cheek weld. Many modern hunting rifles have pieces that can be removed from the buttstock to adjust the length of pull. For eye relief, you can move the scope back in the rings or move the whole scope mount if possible. A consistent cheek weld is important because it'll ensure your child looks through the scope the same way each time. If you don’t have a rifle with an adjustable cheek piece, there are aftermarket cheek pieces that you can attach to it. Or you can just go old school and tape foam on the buttstock. All of these possible adjustments are another reason why AR platform rifles can be a great first rifle for a child to use for hunting. AR platform rifles allow for endless adjustment options that are quick and easy — so much so that you could use the same rifle by just extending the collapsible buttstock.
Resist the urge to gun up for your child’s hunt. You don’t need a large caliber to take down an animal. You need good shot placement and quality hunting ammunition. A rifle with a lot of recoil isn’t fun for anyone to shoot and will likely discourage your child from wanting to hunt. In most cases, your child can have a successful whitetail hunt using a .223 Remington or .243 Winchester and hunting ammunition.
Once you’ve confirmed zero and had your child confirm zero, it’s time to practice shooting from different distances and different positions. Shooting from different distances will help your child understand bullet drop compensation and will help you assess their capabilities. For example, start at 50 yards, shooting at an 8-inch piece of steel or paper target. After you see your child can consistently hit the 8-inch plate at 50 yards, go back another 50 yards and repeat the process. This practice session should be fun and should give your child a lot of trigger time to understand what a good sight picture looks like and how to reduce the wobble zone. When we did this with our daughter, we went all the way back to 200 yards. Realistically, we didn’t expect our 9-year-old would shoot a deer at 200 yards, but she was having fun shooting and doing it well, so the practice session continued. If she couldn’t have consistently hit the 8-inch plate at 100 yards, we would’ve known her capability was 50 yards and not allowed her to take a farther shot.
Above: Hunting with a suppressor has many benefits:
How and where you’re hunting dictates the position you'll be shooting from. Shooting from the prone position, laid-out flat on your belly, is stable and excellent for learning marksmanship fundamentals, but terrain and obstacles dictate that prone shooting is rarely used when hunting. So, practice positions you're likely to encounter. For example, if you’ll be seated, in a blind, and using a tripod, practice that. If you’ll be walking through the woods and plan to set up, practice setting up with tripod or bags quickly with your child. These are dry runs for the main event.
Determine each of your roles for the hunt. Both of you should be scanning for deer; the easy way to do this is to give your child half of the area to scan while you scan the other half. Explain that your child’s main job is to listen to you and pull the trigger when they believe they have a good shot. You should range the animal with a rangefinder, tell your child what the holdover (if any) should be, and adjust the elevation turret for her. The only thing on her mind should be to get the crosshairs in the kill zone and make a clean shot.
Above: Assisting in the whole process helps your child fully understand where meat comes from.
Kids might have unrealistic expectations and think a big buck will walk out immediately. Help them understand that some hunts end without even seeing a deer all day. Because kids need a little more than adults, as far as entertainment and food, starting in a blind is ideal. Hunting from a blind allows your child to move around without startling wildlife. Definitely bring extra snacks and water for the day — the extra roominess of a blind helps. Make sure both you and your child have comfortable chairs to sit in. When you get into the blind, set the gun up and have your child practice shooting positions before it’s time to take the critical shot.
When one of you spots a deer, both of your heart rates will skyrocket. Just breathe and go through the motions just like you both had practiced. Range the deer and determine if it’s at a distance your child could take an ethical shot. From there, have him quietly and quickly get set up behind the rifle. Tell them to wait until it’s a good shot, with minimal wobble, and to go ahead and pull the trigger when ready. These seconds may feel like an eternity while he’s looking through the scope and you’re looking through binos. When they take the shot, you should try to spot where the deer was or wasn’t hit. Your next steps will be determined on the shot.
For the sake of this article, we’ll assume all of that practice and preparation resulted in a clean shot and the animal fell close to where it was shot. You and your child will be emotional and excited — let it happen and savor the memory. Tell them you’re going to wait a few minutes before going out to get the deer; this is so it has time to die. Large animals can take a few minutes to bleed out, and even the nerves firing can be alarming to the child. So enjoy 20 more minutes in the blind, take pictures of his or her shooting position, praise them for their hard work, and make this moment special.
When you walk up to the deer, you should have the rifle in-hand, loaded, and on safe. If for any reason the deer isn’t dead, you’ll need to act quickly to dispatch it. When you find the deer is dead, unload the rifle and start your steps for either field dressing or hauling it back to where you plan to process it.
Teaching a child to hunt is rewarding for you and your child. It’s a lesson they'll keep with them forever. Hopefully, you’ve helped spawn the next generation of hunters. But if not, you’ve at least provided him or her with the knowledge to hunt for their own meal if survival becomes a necessity.