How bad can it be?
Few outdoor experiences cultivate an impact as powerful as hunting. Wild, primal nature abounds with lessons—enjoying solitude, engaging all your senses, stalking prey, learning to kill quickly and cleanly. Not to mention that sharing insights on life and death with your kids is nothing short of extraordinary. But when you’re young, these takeaways aren’t obvious, and learning to hunt may seem more like a burden than opportunity. Let’s see how the dream matches up to reality when it comes to hunting with kids.
It’s fall in Montana and your boy is finally able to hunt. In the weeks leading up to the season, the two of you pore over maps, excitedly planning your hunt. For 12 years you’ve been waiting, preparing for, and dreaming of this day. And so has he—his excitement throughout his hunter-safety course exceeded your expectations. On opening day, the two of you set off in the dark and bump a herd of deer just before light. You kick yourself for ruining the first opportunity, but your son reassures you that he’s just happy to be out. With the wind at your face and the sun at your back, the two of you climb the nearest ridge. He studies your movements and behavior, building his skills like you did as a young man. Three hours later, just when you think that his attention span is about to expire, you spot a preoccupied three-point a half-mile from the truck. After a quiet stalk, a perfect shot, and an educational field dressing, the two of you grab an antler each and drag the buck back to the truck together. You spend the evening teaching him to butcher. At the end of the day, he grins through tired eyes. Wow, what a cool process, Dad. You’ve never felt more proud and fulfilled as a parent.
After nagging your son for weeks to take hunter’s safety, he reluctantly agrees. While you sift through maps and plan the upcoming hunt, he shares hopes of someday moving to Los Angeles to become a professional YouTuber. You can barely get him out of bed on opening morning and he sleeps the entire drive. When it comes time to hike, he seems more interested in snacks than hunting—you don’t have enough or the right kind, though. Ten minutes into the field, he fidgets with boredom. Despite your desperate attempts to explain the importance of walking quietly, he tromps head-down through every shrub, growing more impatient with each step. Not surprisingly, the morning passes without spotting any game. Exasperated, you resort to driving back roads for the afternoon while your son plays Deer Hunter on his tablet. To your delight, it works, and you spot a nice four-point. Finally, your boy becomes enthused and engaged. You smile and think, Wow, this day might turn around after all! After a stealthy stalk, you get within 100 yards. The buck is broadside at the base of a hill. Lying prone, your son takes a shot and dust flies 20 feet above the buck’s antlers. The deer trots away, inciting a hysterical temper-tantrum in which you are to blame for everything. What a dumb idea, you think, taking my snot-nosed kid hunting. You’ve never regretted your virility more.