By Katie Purcell
A hunt or fishing trip inspires joy and memories that last well beyond the excursion. The lure of serenity and solidarity drives many of us to the woods or water. But it is often the camaraderie – the sharing with others our passion for the outdoors – that we value most.
Introducing a youngster to these activities can be rewarding and fun. With a little effort, you can make lasting memories and help create the next generation that cares about conservation.
Just last year, my daughter had her first official hunting experience. She was almost two at the time and already loved the outdoors. So my husband and I decided that a short wood duck hunt on our north Florida deer lease would be just the right opportunity to get her acclimated.
My dad came, too, and he and I set up on a creek bank, facing the water. My husband sat behind us about 30 yards away near the edge of the woods. Donned in her knit hat, boots and warmest footie pajamas with camouflage coveralls over the top, my daughter sat with him; and we all awaited the ducks.
A few hoots from a big owl and the faint whistle of wood ducks in the distance kept her occupied as the day began to break. We were fortunate enough to have a few groups of birds cup their wings and drop in. Whenever my dad and I shot, my husband covered her ears and made sure her ear protection was in place. She was far enough away that the noise didn’t spook her, but close enough that she could see some of the ducks flying in. She had a blast!
After about 20 minutes, the morning rush was over for the ducks, as they had all found places to settle down for the day and feed. My dad and I unloaded our guns, removed our head nets and ear protection and invited my daughter over to take a look. She was fascinated by the beautiful drake and carefully held up each one to examine its colors and plumage. She even wanted to carry two of the ducks back to the truck. Our first family hunting experience was a positive one and with these tips, yours can be, too!
Safety is always priority number one when outdoors. Hunting is a safe activity and you can keep it that way. Store all of your gear safely and securely. Brush up on safe firearms handling and responsible hunting strategies by taking a hunter safety course or join your child when they are taking their course. FWC offers information about hunter safety requirements and courses.
Make it fun
Focus on the fun and enjoyment of the experience. Make sure kids are comfortable – warm, cool, and well-fed! Involve them in the preparation and process. Help them lay out their clothes the night before and pack their bags. Also, the FWC and other conservation organizations have joined forces to offer mentored youth hunts that are safe, educational and affordable. Check out MyFWC.com for more information on the Youth Hunting Program of Florida.
Take your time
Stop and look at raccoon tracks. Pick some wildflowers. Examine that spider web covered in dew. If you’re not in a hurry and keep your focus on the experience, everyone is sure to have a great time!
But don’t take too much time!
If your youngster is like mine, she has a short attention span, so plan accordingly. Bring along snacks and toys or games, depending upon the age of your little partner. Encourage patience and observation skills, but don’t push it if he or she is getting restless or losing interest. There’s always next time!