Passing on deer hunting tradition to the next generation of hunters
Being a youth hunting mentor to your kids is a mix of entertaining and teaching. Remembering to make it fun will help them take a continued interest.
By Shawn Lentz | PUBLISHED August 22nd, 2022
Back when I was my son’s age if someone had told me that I’d be passing on the legacy of hunting? I would’ve quizzically peered at them through the bangs of my burgeoning mullet while squealing off a crappy riff on my Sears & Roebuck guitar. In those days, I pledged my allegiance to the Gods of Metal.
Even though I grew up fishing and camping during summers in the North Cascades, hunting wasn’t part of our family tradition.
Like many of us kids from the ‘burbs of Marysville, Washington, I straddled the line between small town existence and dreams of big city life. The sleepy little farming community was already giving way to cul-de-sacs and housing developments. Hunting, it seemed, went out along with the next chunk of ag land scheduled for the chopping block.
Days were spent on BMX bikes, neighborhood hide-n-seek, and learning not to choke on Camel straights. The time between was filled-in with Donkey Kong at the local pizza joint, dodging wayward lawn darts, and roller-skating. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘70s and ‘80s were a kick-ass time to be a kid. But I don’t recall ever hearing one hunting story from anyone I grew up with.
Through the twists and turns of life, I tapped into my inner meat-getter in adulthood. Now, fourteen years into my hunting journey, I can pass on what I’ve learned as an adult-onset hunter to my son. That's the great thing. No matter what age you started, you can teach your kid to hunt as a youth so they may grow up with it.
Most of the red meat we eat comes from elk or deer, and it’s not unusual for me to process it in the kitchen. In addition, scouting trips, deer camps, turkey hunts, and trail camera checks are often a family affair that he’s always been a part of. So he’s essentially grown up immersed in it.
Teaching your kids to hunt can be joyful and gratifying. It can also be maddening and annoying. And that’s just one trip! Here are a few nuggets I’ve obtained as a father, told through the eyes of someone who didn’t start hunting until their 30s. They’ve become my guiding principles that I meditate on when I feel the aggro-daddy edge coming on.
Let Them Decide When They’re Ready
For example, I bought my son his first bow back in 2016. The summer of 2021 was the first time he used it. Even though he’d lined-up shots hundreds of times on his game’s virtual bows, he didn’t seem to care too much about shooting the real thing at first. He simply wasn’t ready. This was proven by our comedy/tragedy hunts early on. If the Griswolds were a hunting family, we’d surely be their doppelganger.
When I say “let them decide,” I don’t necessarily mean asking them outright. I mean, observe. Take little hunting trips and see how they go. Gauge interest. Kids are all over the place. Sports, YouTube, TikTok, Xbox–there are so many things competing for their attention. They don’t always need Ritalin. Sometimes they just need to grow out of it.
Let them set the pace while you present opportunities to experience hunting and the outdoor adventures that come along with it. See how they take to it. You’ll know when to move on to the next step.
It’s Not About the Inches. It’s About the Pounds
Of delicious, truly organic, free-range table fair, that is. Youth hunters need to know that there’s much more to it than the rack size. In this author’s opinion, a field-to-table lifestyle–where putting meat in the freezer is the focal point–is a much more worthy pursuit. That should be the emphasis.
If you get a toad in the process, it’s an even bigger bonus. That’s my hunting ethos and what I teach my boy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a doe or buck, cow or bull. If it’s legal and we’re hunting an area with healthy male/female ratios, it’s “whichever comes along first.”
We don’t harvest animals to impress the basement-dwelling keyboard warriors on forums and other platforms. And luckily–even though he grew up with the soul-sucking disaster we know as social media–my son is astute enough to know these people (or bots) don’t matter anyway. I love that he’s naturally resilient and lets stuff like that roll off his back.
It’s Youth Hunting, Don’t Forget to Have Fun
As dads, we want our kids to soak up every piece of hunting and woodsman minutiae that’s ever been thought of. But the thing is, we’ve obtained what we know over years. Trying to squeeze that into the undeveloped frontal lobe of a youth hunter during one season? That’s like–well, have you ever seen a Twinkie get filled?
Some of us tend to get overly serious about things when it’s not required. Hunting is one of those things. Without a doubt, it’s essential to raise a good ethical hunter that respects the animals they hunt. When the moment comes, taking a life to feed our families should be taken seriously.
I mean, those of us that hunt aren’t psychopathic mutilators raising little mutilator Mini-Mes. I should clarify. Admittedly, outliers exist that are an embarrassment to our ranks. However, most of us have a deep love and admiration for animals, including those we hunt. That can be a hard thing to reconcile. It’s an even harder thing for folks outside of hunting to understand. Just ask the ones holding little “meat is murder” signs while they chew on a hamburger. They’re really confused.
Yes, the act of harvesting an animal should be taken seriously. Maybe, it should even hurt a little bit. But there’s also time to have fun and enjoy your kids’ company. Indeed, limited vacation days while trying to fill the freezer can amplify frustrations that come with the quickly draining hourglass. Like sports or other pursuits, there’s room to be a patient teacher who understands that hunts will get messed up. That’s the process of learning.
Learn. Execute. Screw-up. Correct. Rinse and repeat. Hopefully, in the end, you have a nice luxurious sheen, or at least a deer hanging from your meatpole.
Teach. But also make lasting memories. Preferably ones that don’t involve you “being a hemorrhoid,” as my wife is fond of saying. I’ll admit it; sometimes, I can be wound up tighter than my old mullet in a ponytail.
If you remember anything, remember this. Time goes fast, excruciatingly fast. One moment, that toddler fits perfectly in your arms as you place them in their car seat. Then, in a heartbreaking instant, you wake up to more gray in your goatee, your bones are achier, and your kids have morphed into something that nearly resembles an adult.
Maybe they’ll continue to hunt, and maybe they won’t. If you micromanage and act like a jerk in the early years, you're ensuring the latter. That’s not laying the right groundwork. Don’t forget to have fun. Because at some point, the fun-time memories are all we’ll have. Soon, those days will be gone, and unlike a hemorrhoid–you can’t get them back.
Shawn Lentz is a full-time copywriter, outdoor writer, and former Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish hatchery specialist. He’s written for online and print publications such as Pelican Outdoor, Wide Open Spaces, Boone and Crockett Club’s Fair Chase Magazine, deerhuntingguide.net, and more. For more info, go to www.shawn-lentz.com