At a young age, my parents took my brother and me camping, fishing, and on long nature walks. When we visited my grandparents’ dairy farm, we were expected to spend more time outside than inside—and we loved it. I know, without a doubt, that this is when I started developing a strong conservation ethic. I can’t imagine a childhood that didn’t include some kind of introduction to the Great Outdoors.
Today, I still really enjoy camping and hiking, I have a deep respect for farmers, and I have a soft spot for those who are passionate about fishing and hunting.
Some of the appeal, obviously, revolves around the thrill of the catch or hunt, but I think part of the appeal is just being away from the usual mundane tasks of everyday life (work, deadlines, appointments, chores, tasks), and taking the time to sit still and appreciate the sounds of the birds, the changing leaves in the woods, the smell of the air, and catching glimpses of wildlife in their natural habitat.
My husband isn’t a hunter, but my dad and brothers are bow and rifle hunters, and—just as my sons are learning to throw a ball and swing a bat thanks to the patient coaching of their dad, they will have a chance to learn the ropes of hunting from their grandpa and uncles, should they choose to carry on the age-old family tradition. (At ages 3 and 6, it’s too soon to tell if they’ll be interested.)
But what if you don’t have the luxury of being related to die-hard hunters? What if you kind of like hunting, or you think your kid might kind of like hunting, but you’re not completely sure?
This weekend (Sept. 21-22), both adults and youth can bypass the license requirement for hunting small game in the state of Minnesota during “Take-A-Kid Hunting Weekend”—as long as they comply with open seasons, limits, and other regulations. This is the perfect opportunity for adults who might not be serious hunters, or adults who only hunt big game, to take a kid out in the field in pursuit of squirrels, pheasants, or rabbits.
Most hunters become hunters after being invited to hunt, which is sort of the point of this weekend. (According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, for every 100 hunters lost to aging or other dropout, only 69 young hunters are taking up hunting. For the sake of the future of the sport, it’s important to pass along the tradition whenever possible.
If you don’t own good hunting land (or know someone who does), the great state of Minnesota has millions of acres of federal, state, and local public land that is open to hunting. According to Outdoor Central, “Generally, state wildlife management areas and state forests are open to public hunting, as well as some scientific and natural areas. Federally owned national forests and waterfowl production areas, and portions of most refuges are open to hunting as well. Good sources of information on public hunting lands are the DNR’s Public Recreation Information Maps (PRIM) available at many sporting goods stores. The maps can be ordered online at www.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/prim.html.”
Important tips to remember when taking a youth hunting for the first time:
Talk it up. Generate excitement. Explain the hows and whys of hunting.
Let young hunters help with the planning and preparation. This can be part of the adventure.
Get them out on the rifle or archery range in advance to help build their confidence.
Have them practice walking with an unloaded gun, muzzle control, and being aware of what’s beyond a target. Safety first. Always.
Pack plenty of food and water.
Make sure they are dressed comfortably and the firearm fits properly.
Don’t baby them. Reiterate that getting up early to hunt is a privilege. Teach them responsibility.
Stay positive. If it’s their first time using a bow or shooting to kill, patiently coach the shot. Young hunters want (and need) coaching.
Teach that the enjoyment of the hunt—and sharing the experience—is part of the magic. The memories will last a lifetime.
Resident youth under the age of 16 are never required to purchase a small game license, but youth over the age of 12 are required to have a Firearms Safety Training Certificate. Youth under the age of 14 must be accompanied by a parent or designated guardian while hunting.
For more information about hunting and trapping regulations in Minnesota, visit the 2013 regulations handbook.