When you have the opportunity to introduce a child to the sport of hunting, it’s best to start small. Pursuing trophy whitetail bucks may be your passion, but long, cold hours on stand and early wake-up calls can be pretty hard on novice hunters. Instead, introduce new hunters to the sport by teaching them to pursue small game—rabbits, squirrels, upland birds and more. These hunts are less demanding and provide more action, and early successes translate to long-term commitment to the sport. If you’re thinking of introducing a kid to hunting, here are five great options for that first trip afield.
1. Bushytail Ambush Many hunters learned their trade by pursuing squirrels, and that’s a great place for kids to start. Squirrels are found in just about every patch of woods from Maine to Malibu and since they are diurnal it’s not absolutely necessary to hit the woods at five in the morning. Plus, in any stand of autumn oaks and hickories there’s likely to be a lot of action as squirrels fatten up for the winter. Bushytails teach patience, which kids will need when hunting larger game, and they make excellent table fare.
2. Preserve Quail With liberal seasons and no bag limits, hunting preserve quail is a great way to introduce kids to the sport. They’ll have an opportunity to watch the dogs work, and you can easily coach a kid on where to stand, how to hold their gun, and when to shoot. Even though wild bobwhite quail populations have been in decline, kids can still enjoy the thrill of watching a covey rise and dropping their first bobwhite on a preserve hunt. And, like squirrel, quail are very good to eat.
3. Doves by the Bucket Dove hunting requires very little equipment—a shotgun, a few boxes of shells, and a bucket upon which to sit are just about all you’ll need. But doves are numerous and generally provide plenty of shooting opportunities for kids, and they are hunted during the warmer months of the year so the weather is usually pleasant. These feathered rockets are a real challenge, but they’re easily dropped with standard .410 and 28-gauge loads, so there’s no need for a kid to carry a cannon. Additionally, dove breasts cooked with bacon, jalapenos and sour cream are delicious.
4. Beagles and Bunnies Every kid likes dogs, and there are few dog breeds more charming than the beagle. These popular companion dogs were bred to hunt, and there is nothing that beagles enjoy more than pursuing bunnies. When the howling pack is in full cry, the trick is to position yourself near the location where the rabbit jumped; the dogs don’t actually “circle” the rabbit, but rather follow the trail as their quarry makes a wide loop that usually ends up about where it starts. As the chase grows closer and the dogs get louder, young hunters need to be prepared to make the shot, because the rabbit will likely be on the move. This is a great hunt for kids because parents or mentor hunters can coach youngsters as the dogs work out the trail.
5. Crow Calling These feathered pests cause havoc in crop fields, so it’s easy to find a place to hunt crows. Liberal seasons mean you can hunt during the best weather, and very liberal bag limits mean that kids can keep shooting as long as the birds keep coming. Crows are relatively easy to call, and most reed calls don’t cost more than $15. Until you’ve been in the center of a frenzied mob of dive-bombing crows don’t underestimate how exciting this hunt can be. Help the young hunter get set up, start calling, and get ready for a quick response. Sometimes the first bird will arrive within seconds of your first call.
Parents and mentors: How were you introduced to hunting? What, if anything, do you wish had been done differently?