I recently wrote about all the things I did wrong when my oldest was first getting into hunting, and how he didn’t want to hunt anymore (Check that out here). [Side note: I asked again just before the AZ Draw Deadline for deer about a youth hunt they run in an overpopulated area with a 90% success rate, and he actually got really excited and asked me to put him in for that tag. We’ll see if he actually draws it, but hope is not lost for my oldest…of course, that’s a post for another time.] On the other hand, my middle child (the 6-year-old) has been all about hunting for years. He is constantly asking when he can go, if he can come with me, when we’ll go scouting…the kid just wants to be in the outdoors. Now, as a squirrelly boy who can’t sit still through a single meal, he’s not exactly ready to come out on a hunt just yet. But, hanging game cams can be one of the easiest ways to get a little guy outdoors (as long as the hike isn’t too grueling).
So, a few weeks ago the whole family headed up to the woods for some much-needed R&R, and I made a plan to take Gibson out with me to hang a couple cameras one morning. We both had a terrific time out there together, and here are the 4 things I believe I did right to make this a success…
Keep it short…and take breaks
The reason this particular cam-hanging session was the perfect trip to take my little guy with me was that I was intentionally targeting an area close to the road. Typically, I’m a big believer in getting deep into the backcountry to find those unpressured and undiscovered animals. However, in this particular area, I always seemed to be running into big bucks close to the road while on my way deeper in to find elk. Since I’m using these cams to scout for the early season archery mule deer hunt, I wanted to see if I could pattern any of these big bucks that I used to see. This made it so the total round trip was going to be under 1.5 miles of fairly flat terrain…virtually any healthy 6-year-old can make that trip!
That being said, it’s important to intentionally slow your pace for his little legs. Even when I thought I was walking particularly slow for me, he would still be falling behind (that could be because he’s 6, or because he is by far our slowest child when we go anywhere). So, I just did my best to keep at a pace where we could walk side-by-side and it didn’t seem that he was jogging to stay caught up. Additionally, we had to take a handful of breaks on this journey. Ordinarily, it wouldn’t even cross my mind to stop for a break on a hike that short, but I have to remember that for every 1 of my steps, this little dude is taking 3…he’s going to get tired. So, whenever he asked, we just posted up for a couple minutes. Yes, it slowed everything down, but what’s the hurry? I’m out in one of my favorite pieces of forest on the planet with my son whom I love dearly…I was happy to just take my time and soak it in. It’s easy to slip into that “get it done” mode us men love so much, but I think it’s crucial to make the top priority enjoying the memories with your son…hanging cameras is just a bonus.
Give them stuff
No, I’m not talking about bribing your kid to get out in the field with you (though that may work from time to time). I mean give him some things that make him feel like he’s a legitimate part of the hunting team. For Gibson, my old day-pack with a half-full water bladder was all he needed to feel like a genuine woodsman. Once I showed him how the straw worked and that he could get a drink whenever he wanted, he walked a little taller – feeling like his first chest hair was going to sprout any second. For your kid, it could be some boots, a pocket knife, your old hunting hat…anything that is new and exciting to them and makes them feel like they’re not just tagging along but are part of the mission.
Another great idea is to give them a job. For Gibson, he was the poop guy! His job was to look for scat and point it out when he saw it. This kept him engaged and looking the whole time we hiked, and created tons of teachable moments. He got pretty good at picking out elk vs. deer scat, if it was fresh or old, and it felt great to have him already logging away these lessons that will serve him well in a few years when he can have his own tag. These also led to other woodland lessons as we looked at game trails, picked apart tracks, and just talked about animal behavior and how to determine what they’re doing based on what you can see in the woods around you. He was just soaking it all in, and it made it so he never once complained of boredom.
Okay, this one you can’t have full control over, but it will really help your kid enjoy the trip if he can experience the excitement of seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat. We hadn’t traveled far when we spotted 3 deer walking along just 50 yards ahead of us. We stopped and watched them bound away, and Gibson was simply amazed. When we arrived at the watering hole I wanted to check, Gibson almost stepped on a tiny snake (it wasn’t venomous…everything’s fine). Based on how many times he told the story to anyone who would listen, I would say that was the most memorable part of the trip for him. We also turned up some javelina, saw a couple squirrels, and another couple deer as we drove back out.
One of the mistakes I made with my oldest was taking him on too many trips to areas I had never been in before. I hadn’t done the scouting to know if these were going to be target-rich environments or not, and I think missing that excitement contributed to his frustration with hunting as a whole. As he put it, “all we do is walk a million miles and never see anything!” On this trip with Gibson, I was heading into an area I had been in hundreds of times, and knew there would be wildlife everywhere. If it’s at all possible, get your little guys and gals started in areas where you know they’re likely to see something. It may not be a giant buck or whole herds of elk…but to a little one just getting started, seeing anything with four legs (or no legs, as was the case for Gibson with his snake buddy) will be extremely exciting.
Remember they are kids
I’ve written about this before, but whenever your kids are involved, the actual hunt has to become a secondary priority. Making sure they enjoy themselves, learn, and make memories with you is way more important than finding that buck of a lifetime. So, while I reminded Gibson to talk quieter a few times, I didn’t harp on him every time he forgot where he was and started talking at full volume. When he was messing with the game cam I had just hung, I didn’t tell him to stop because “he was using up all my memory card space.” No…I was just glad to see him enjoying it, and I’m actually looking forward to the footage of Gibson sneaking up on the camera when I go check that card later.
If you’re out there with your kids, have the mindset that the primary win for the day will be that you all enjoy nature together and make some memories. Any productive hunting activity that happens that day is just an added bonus. If you can get into this headspace, you’ll be much less likely to be frustrated with your kids because they’re just not keeping up or you couldn’t get over to that last ridge you really wanted to check out. Make this trip about them, and you can always squeeze in a solo trip later where you make the hunt your first priority!