Old-fashioned advice for young hunters

ON THE OUTDOORS

Outdoors

September 02, 2001|By CANDUS THOMSON

Every so often, a letter or e-mail arrives that allows ye olde outdoors writer (YOOW) to pass along some advice gathered from the experts.

Quentin Sedney sent me a note in June that I saved for hunting season:

"For some time now I have intended to get back into something I did as a youngster - hunting. When I was about 12, I began helping an elderly neighbor repair his decoys in the summer, and place them in the early fall on a farm in Kent County.

"He taught me how to handle myself around guns and we did well goose hunting [we tried deer hunting a couple of times, but his age did not allow us much time and we never had any luck].

"Without getting too long-winded, after he died [my parents did not allow me to keep the guns he left me] my interests expanded and later a job requiring too much time and traveling kept me from hunting again.

"I now have children and [believe it or not] a job which allows me time to pursue some interests. I would like to begin hunting again, and expose my 8-year-old as well. I would like to take the hunter safety courses mentioned in your articles ...

"I have also considered taking a guided trip, however, they are quite expensive. Ideally my son and I would take a safety course together, and then go out with an experienced hunter to see if we both like it, before we dive too far in.

"Do you have any recommendations for the best way to approach this and where to find appropriate resources? I suspect I am not unique in this situation and your advice would be helpful to others as well."

Without sounding too much like Casey Kasem, here's your answer, courtesy of Bob Davis, the National Rifle Association's manager of hunter services.

First of all, he says, there's no "right" age or gender.

"Hunting isn't for everyone," says Davis. "The biggest thing we can do as parents is not push them into something.

"Family involvement is a key component. They can tell you they have an interest in astronomy or lacrosse, but unless an adult is involved, they can't do it."

Davis points out that hunting is not an inexpensive activity. "You start purchasing licenses and various stamps and firearms and clothing ... and that 100-pound deer you picked up becomes pretty expensive per pound."

To throw in my two cents worth, by all means take one of the hunter safety courses offered around the state. The Department of Natural Resources lists the courses by county on its Web site: www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife.

I'm a huge fan of the free course offered by Buz Meyer just outside Crofton in Anne Arundel County. Meyer and his volunteer instructors spend a lot of time talking about ethics and good behavior. They also have a "shoot, don't shoot" field exercise that's a real eye-opener.

Meyer is offering three sessions this fall: Thursday and Saturday; Oct. 18 and 20; and Nov. 8 and 10. They fill up fast. Call Meyer to register at 301-261-6996.

Davis also is a huge believer in the training courses. "It gives an adult a better indication of what a child's interest is. After taking it, you can see if there's still a spark in the child's eye."

If the youngster passes the course and remains enthusiastic, it's time to think about practical field training. When it comes to firearms, Davis recommends a rifle over a shotgun.

"Start with a .22 because there's not as much recoil or noise. You could have a child who's absolutely gung-ho about the experience and you put a 12-gauge [shotgun] in their hands and you positively scare them away," he says.

Look at the youth models being manufactured and evaluate them with your youngster. Listen to their feedback and buy only what they tell you they're comfortable with.

Next, go target shooting. But don't take a child trap or skeet shooting, Davis warns.

"You don't take a child blue marlin fishing the first time. You take them to a pond stocked with aggressive bluegills," he says. "With trap, they can shoot 25-30 times and not hit a thing. Then they're dejected. You want a high success rate."

As the youngster gets better, switch to life-size paper targets with kill zones imprinted on them to reinforce the importance of a clean, accurate shot.

Ready to go hunting? Leave your own gun at home.

Treat the outing as you would your child's first fishing trip. In other words, it's not about the adult bagging and bragging; it's about the kid learning and yearning for more.

Dress them warmly. That means good footwear, gloves and a hat.

Give them a cheap set of binoculars and camera to check out the wildlife. Point out animal tracks and buck rubs.

Let them ask questions. Quietly.

Don't put the kid in a tree stand. Try setting up shop in a ground blind. That will let the two of you move around and make it easier for whispered conversation.

Take along plenty of drinks and cookies.

Buy some of those chemical heat packs. The child may need them (you might, too) and the entertainment value is sky-high.

The NRA has developed educational materials that you can order by calling 703-267-1500.

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