bobbyMy 5-year-old son just received — from his grandpa, my dad — my Daisy Red Ryder BB gun that I first got when I was about his age. And, he got a hand-me-down little compound bow and arrows from my teenage nephew at the same time. Of course, this made me super excited and had me dreaming about taking him to the deer stand with his BB gun to chase away squirrels.

Him, though? Well, Bobby wasn’t nearly as excited as me. We’ve gone out with the BB gun and the bow and shot at targets a few times, but it’s always at my prompting. And, when I asked him if he wanted to go sit in the deer stand with me … he very politely declined. The call of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars Rebels is just too strong in this one.

But, that’s OK. He asks me to go outside and play football or baseball, or to walk around our property and feed the catfish in the pond — when he’s ready to do that. And, I’m confident that he’ll get into hunting on his own time-frame. Or, maybe he won’t, and my disappointment at that would be really insignificant compared to the mental damage I would be doing if I forced him to participate in something that he just doesn’t like.

Don’t write me off as being weak just yet — we have our fights when I make him eat his vegetables. I’m not going to let him decide he doesn’t like something without trying it first. But, I’m going to take the approach to some things that I really care about — like hunting — that doctor’s take in the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no wrong.” After that, the real question will be: When he’s ready, how will I make sure he likes it?

BB Guns, .22s, and Soft Recoil Pads

Listen, there is no room for macho with kids who are new to hunting. The fastest way to make any experience unenjoyable is to make it physically painful. So, start kids off shooting with a BB or pellet gun. Let them get deadly accurate. Then, move them up to a .22 rimfire rifle — and put hearing protection on them. Let them get deadly accurate. Then move them up to a small center-fire rifle.

A .223 will kill a deer dead-right-there. A .243 might give a little more margin for error. Shot placement is critical, and the more your child flinches at recoil, the less likely he or she is to aim small and miss small. We even made an infographic about caliber selection where we grouped some light-kicking rounds.

Even rifles and shotguns with light recoil can be too much for a lightweight kid to handle comfortably. In those circumstances, there are plenty of soft recoil pads that can be swapped onto a stock to further reduce the kick. Pain serves no purpose, so for a child, try to eliminate it altogether.

Interactive Target Practice

You know why video games are awesome? They move and blow up and — well, they’re exciting. You know why generations of kids shot glass bottles and left messes all over back-40s and public land around the country? Yeah, because they “blow up.”

You have to start kids with target practice because you need them to be confident that they will be successful. But, you can’t just make them shoot paper, because that’s not very exciting. Thankfully, there are tons of options outside of glass bottles — spinning targets, bouncing targets, “bleeding” targets, shoot and see targets, and of course, clay targets.

Early Success

There is a reason why most hunters traditionally have started hunting small game — plentiful shooting opportunities. I didn’t start my son off fishing for bass. I started him with a worm and bobber for panfish, so he could be successful and experience the fun of the sport. And, I won’t start him hunting in the deer blind. He’ll sit next to me in the woods for squirrels, and we’ll have a 20-gauge and target loads with a nice soft recoil pad for doves. Why not a .410 for even easier shooting? Remember, success is the key, and I want him throwing several hundred 7 ½ pellets out there at those doves for a better chance at connecting.

Actually, as soon as he masters his Red Ryder, I’ll move him up to a pellet gun and he can keep the starlings, grackles, and squirrels out of our garden. I already know that if he considers something “hard to do,” he’s unlikely to keep at it right now. Hunting isn’t known for being easy, but increasing the chances of success early on can be done.

A Hunter’s Education and Educating a Hunter

Of course, I’ll want him to pass his Hunter Ed course sometime early on. That’s something we’ll do together, and I’ll be talking about it as a rite of passage — not like it’s schoolwork or a grind. We already spend a lot of time reading tracks when we’re out in the woods — he’s a dinosaur nut, so we always have our heads down looking for fossils, anyway. I think that’s a key to getting kids interested in hunting, too — make it relatable to another hobby or interest of theirs.

Don’t be afraid to get the young ones into the nitty-gritty of hunting, either. Bobby likes to watch me skin squirrels and breast out doves — he thinks it is “gross,” but he kind of likes gross. He likes seeing the heart and other organs, because it was all theoretical to him before he saw it in person. And, he’s an avowed carnivore, so he knows we’re eating the deer or squirrel or doves that daddy killed. He knows exactly how they get from field to plate, and if he’s not squeamish now, he probably never will be.

The bottom line is — I love hunting and I love my son. I want my son to love hunting. But, no matter what happens, I’ll always love my son. More — I’ll always love my son, more. As long as he never becomes a <shudder> … vegetarian.

There are some topics in this world that divide people so strongly that it’s hard for people on opposite sides to have a real conversation about them. Those topics tend to be things people feel very passionately about — religion, politics, college football teams … and hunting.

Hunters know one thing about anti-hunters: They don’t want us to hunt any animals, ever. We love hunting, and we can’t stand the thought of someone taking away our opportunity to do it. On the other hand, anti-hunters know one thing about hunters: Hunters kill animals, and they don’t want that to happen — ever.

Now, why anti-hunters don’t want any animals to die, ever, is a much more complex story. It’s pretty safe to say that most of them don’t understand the natural world the way devoted hunters do. Anti-hunters probably haven’t seen the violent way predators like coyotes, bobcats, and wolves bring down their prey. In fact, it is safe to say that anti-hunters rely on some timeworn myths when they react so negatively to hunters.

1. Hunters have an unfair advantage, and animals are defenseless.

Modern rifles do allow hunters to kill animals quickly and humanely at hundreds of yards. However, in the whole world of hunting, most hunters must get much closer. And, while humans are out hunting game animals for three or four months of the year, other predators hunt their prey every day. So, prey animals have gotten very good at detecting and avoiding predators. These animals use very keen eyesight, hearing, and smell to avoid predators, and they can detect them at unbelievable distances.

African hunting dogs have the highest success rate in the entire world for catching their prey. They are successful 80% of the time. Compare that to one of their cousins, the wolf, which is another effective predator. Their success rate is somewhere around 10%. Almost all large ground predators — from bobcats to lions — will have a success rate of 5-30%.

Now, most people would assume — anti-hunters and hunters alike — that humans with modern technology would be much more successful hunters than animals. But, they would all be wrong. A recent study in Indiana showed a 20-22% “harvest per effort” rate in state parks for firearm hunters. That rate falls to 8-10% for bowhunters. Over the course of an entire white-tail hunting season, success rates will vary by state and region, with between 50-80% of hunters harvesting a deer, according to the Quality Deer Management Association.

But, those are statistics for an entire hunting season; wild predators would starve if they were only taking one prey animal over the course of months. Clearly, wild animals can successfully avoid human hunters most of the time.

2. Hunters don’t like animals.

It does seem strange, if you’re unfamiliar with us, to think that hunters could both love animals, yet shoot them and eat them. Hundreds of years ago, feeling affection for animals was probably a luxury that most people couldn’t afford. People were too busy hunting and gathering to think about or subscribe feelings and emotions to animals. They just saw their next source of a meal.

However, as we developed farming and ranching practices that could provide more than enough food for our families and society in general, free time allowed our minds to wander. People began to hunt animals for more than just food; it was an adventure, a return to our roots and nature, and for some, a competition for bragging rights. Somewhere in there, a few people began to think maybe hunting wasn’t right.

But most hunters today still have a deep love for the beauty and just plain awesomeness of animals. In Europe, a tradition began of giving harvested animals a “last bite” to show respect and thankfulness to the animal. Native Americans were particularly reverent about hunting, and their practice of thanking and asking forgiveness of the animal in prayer has carried on with many American hunters today.

At the very least, all hunters understand that we cannot hunt without animals, so that is why we devise so many laws, ethical guidelines and conservation rules to preserve them for the rest of our existence.

3. Hunting is about violence and is a product of a sick mind.somedays (1)

This is one myth that hunters might have helped create recently. We have not been careful about the way we portray ourselves. We have advertising and marketing that talks about “rage” and “weapons” and “attacking.” We have TV shows that show wild, loud celebrations when an animal is killed. That’s not the way any hunter I know approaches hunting, it’s just misguided marketing. The hunters I know seek to limit violence and pain, and their motivation is not the moment of killing, but all the challenges before and rewards after.

Every hunter I know has a brief moment of remorse when they are successful. Taking the life of an animal is serious. It is necessary, and it can bring happiness, but it is never flippant and is not adversarial. Sometimes we should look at ourselves while standing in a non-hunter’s shoes. Are we being respectful of life? Are we using words that should be applied to hunting … or to battle? Hunting is not a battle against animals. It’s not a game. It’s a means to feed ourselves. It’s a natural extension of our predatory instincts and motivations.

4. Hunters and poachers are the same people.

This is the most misguided myth. This is the one about which hunters can be really upset. As hunters, we spend our entire lives learning about hunting ethics and then passing them along to future generations. We intentionally make hunting success more difficult for ourselves. But poachers aren’t hunters … they’re criminals. Because of poachers, anti-hunters want to eliminate legitimate hunting, for example, where elephants are overcrowding. These anti-hunters seem to be blinded by the fact that poachers kill hundreds of thousands of elephants, often when legitimate hunters and safari operators are not allowed to act as police. These anti-hunters don’t seem to equate the amazing conservation successes of true hunters for the past 100+ years with the potential to eliminate poaching.

Just like in the misguided marketing mentioned above, there are always bad apples among our ranks who spoil the whole bunch of us in anti-hunters’ eyes — even if those hunters aren’t poachers: the guys who shoot more than they should, leave their trash in the field, and hunt illegally across fence lines. Anti-hunters don’t know we’re more ashamed of them than they are.

5. Hunting has something to do with misguided masculinity or conquering.

About 25% of U.S. hunters are women, and female participation in hunting is growing faster than men’s. Anti-hunters don’t know that, evidently (and when they find out, they tend to make sexist attacks on them). There is absolutely no difference in the ability of women to hunt when compared to men, and women have historically participated in traditional hunter/gatherer tribes around the world. Bigger, stronger men don’t have an advantage shooting a scoped rifle compared to women, children, or smaller guys. Maybe they can pull a stronger compound bow, but strength doesn’t help them aim straight.

Hunting can be challenging, and many of us like it that way. However, our joy in overcoming the challenges to be successful is not in “conquering” an animal, rather it’s enjoying our ability to be self-sufficient, to provide food, and to put our minds to work at accomplishing a simple, yet hard, task.

Think about why you hunt and why your friends and family do, too. You may never have the chance to convince an anti-hunter that what you do is really OK. But then again, maybe you will. If you get that chance, maybe this blog post will help you. As always, we would love for you to tell us in the comments other myths you’ve heard and how you would respond if you had the chance.

Hunting is a year-round passion, but it’s the late summer and early fall seasons when hunters develop one-track mindsets. It’s the start of an annual ritual and a natural pull to nature that can’t be fully explained but is understood by anyone who loves the outdoors.

As hunters prepare their tools and head to the range for their final practice sessions, we wanted to capture what it feels like to anticipate the return of the fall season. We interviewed Tim Wagner, an avid hunter, outdoorsman, Professional Outdoor Media Association speaker and Outdoor Life Grand Slam Adventure winner, for his views on hunting and why he returns to the hunt each year.

1. Who first introduced you to hunting?
Tim Wagner 1

This is going to be the most original answer ever! My dad. I think he gave me a Daisy Red Ryder when I was 4 or 5 years old. We were farmers, so I had plenty of room to explore with it. I graduated to a Crosman 760 pretty soon after that, and there was a five-cent bounty for me on the head of every sparrow and black bird raiding our wheat crop.

2. What was the first game animal you hunted?

My first game animal was a mourning dove — then bobwhite quail, then pheasant — all taken with a 16-gauge single shot made in 1916 that came up to me through my grandfather. We lived in the Texas Panhandle then, and there was no such thing as big game near us — nothing bigger than a coyote. When we moved to Arkansas, I hunted squirrels and rabbits with my Marlin Golden 39M.

3. When did you finally move on to bigger game?

Dad took us deer hunting once in the Ozark National Forest, but we saw hundreds of hunters and only one deer. It wasn’t until college that I shot my first deer, a button buck, and I was out all by myself. That felt good, to accomplish a huge goal through applying everything I’d learned via decades of reading Outdoor Life and listening to my dad. Later, my dad was with me in my stand when I shot my biggest buck ever. I’m not sure that’s a story coming full circle, but something like that.

4. What keeps you coming back to the field each year?

About a dozen different things, really. I’ve loved animals since I was tiny. I can never get enough of watching wild animals go about their lives. Non-hunters rarely believe how much a true hunter loves the animals that he kills. It’s a dichotomy — we know that.

5. Do you ever feel a conflict between your love for animals and your love for hunting?

There’s certainly a conflict inside us about loving, possessing, killing, thankfulness, and yes, even remorse over hunting. That’s also what makes us the best conservationists — we don’t just want to watch animals on a TV program. We want to interact with them, eat them, and enjoy all aspects of them.

6. Other than the interaction you get with game, what else do you enjoy about hunting?

I very much enjoy the strategy and pursuit of game animals. I also love the solitude, the quiet, the reverie of hunting. I like the trophies on my wall for the memories they bring and the pure beauty that has been captured.

And, I and my family enjoy eating wild game. I clean and butcher all of my own game and we make from scratch our own smoked, German venison sausage every year. The self-sufficiency aspect of hunting is also important to me. You just can’t extricate hunting from me — it’s an integral part of me.

7. What is your most memorable hunt?

Tim Wagner

I can’t remember what I watched on TV last night, but I can remember just about every hunt of my 40-year life. In the December 2009 issue, Outdoor Life ran a feature article about the hunt and you can still see the photos and videos online. I see my mounts from that hunt in my home and relive that experience every single day of my life. My son was also born that year, so he’s grown up under the watchful eyes of a gemsbok, impala, and steenbok. That makes me happy.

So, memorable might not be the right word to differentiate it, but there is one hunt that will stand out for obvious reasons. In 2009, I wrote an essay and entered it into Outdoor Life’s annual “Grand Slam Adventure” contest. Out of a couple thousand entries, they chose my essay as the winner. So, I got to take a safari to South Africa and hunt plains game! An editor and photographer went with me, and a videographer joined us for a few days.

8. Even if you don’t use your tags, what are your key takeaways from each hunt?

Well, come on — I always fill my tags! But, yeah, that’s just one of the end goals. I’m more peaceful and fulfilled after each hunt. I’ve found my solace in the outdoors. The world slows down a little for me after hunting. Although I rarely hunt deer with someone else beside me, I’m almost always with a group of family and friends before and after each hunt. So, I always get that camaraderie and fellowship, too. Plus, almost every time I’m out in the woods, I have a new experience. I see animals do something I’ve never seen before, or I learn something that will be useful when I hunt again.

9. What is your ritual before hunting season?

All those things I mentioned above. I usually start growing a beard a month or so before hunting season. This year I started three months early! I check all of my gear and replace anything that is worn out or damaged. I sharpen my knives, sight-in my rifle, and get my camouflage ready. Then I wait another month for hunting season to roll around.

Seriously, hunting is a process that starts in August and usually ends in January for me. We’ll have dove season in Texas over Labor Day weekend, and I’ll get to hunt while preparing our property for deer season. My season usually wraps up after New Year’s weekend, when the family gathers to make sausage. So, it’s really that whole season — almost half a year — that I anticipate. Man, do I anticipate it! I’ll start literally losing sleep over it pretty soon, because I can’t stop imagining the coming hunts when I lay my head on my pillow.

I can’t say that I “live to hunt,” because I live for some loves and beliefs that are much grander than hunting. But on my priority scale, right below those eternal priorities, hunting is right there.

You can connect with Tim Wagner on Twitter at @prranch and make sure to follow @Hunter_ed for more updates and interviews!

“The couple who hunts together, stays together.”

Sound familiar? Those words are posted on images and shared in statuses over and over again. However, when you’re out hunting, it’s not always with the person you’re married to — or with any person at all. You’re out there because you love it. But, when you’re not alone, you’re usually with someone you like and want to share a unique experience with.

Ask anyone who hunts or spends time outdoors why they do it, and you shouldn’t be surprised to hear “love” at any given point. With Valentine’s Day near, for the season of “love” it’s fitting to dedicate a post to people who have made hunting and being outdoors a part of who they are.

www.hunter-ed.com

It might be hard to find statistics that confirm couples who hunt together have better odds at staying together, but the stories of couples that do make great headlines. The Grooms, an Ohio couple, are a great example of how hunting brings people together. With bows in hand, the pair tackles the Ohio outdoors — taking turns at hunting the biggest bucks. Kevin introduced Lindsay to hunting while they were still dating, and as the relationship developed so did their commitment to spending more time outdoors.

In 2012, Lindsay tagged her largest buck, a 150-class 13-pointer to accompany her husband’s 170-class buck nicknamed Corncob. The two are never in competition but hunt as a team to fill their freezers each season. As Lindsay sees it, “I’m not trying to get a deer bigger than Corncob in our house. Kevin can have the bigger deer, and I can cook better than him.”

Just as Kevin introduced his wife to hunting, there are hundreds — maybe thousands — of educators and trainers who are working to do the same for the next generation. Bridger Card is one of those young people who have been able to hone their hunting skills because of people committed to the advancement of outdoor sports.

One conversation with him is all you need to figure out that Bridger loves hunting, and there isn’t much that keeps him from being outdoors. Not even the numerous brain tumors, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and surgeries that Bridger has had since childhood can remove the passion he has for hunting.

His dedication inspires expert hunters to come to his aide whenever he needs them. Earlier this year, Bridger and his dad were on a hunt in Wyoming but were running out of time to fill his deer tag. His dad called in help from Adam Eakle, of KSL Outdoors, who brought in his friends to track down a 4×4 buck for Bridger. After firing a shot that wounded the buck, Bridger and his seven-person team tracked him until they found him — the afternoon of the next day. The expertise and persistence of the crew helped fill his deer tag, but this story speaks more importantly to what it means to be a part of the outdoors community.

However, not everyone needs a team or even a person to understand a love for hunting. Sometimes it’s a four-legged family member that’s at your side. Some people believe that dogs are simply tools for humans to use, but for others, that can’t be farther from the truth. What tool gets excited before dawn and is ready to go with very little effort? What tool sits patiently and quietly at attention, waiting for the call to retrieve the day’s prize? What tool is content sitting in the woods for hours, and isn’t disappointed returning to the truck without any tags filled? What tool loves to hunt?

None come to mind.

Hunting with your dog is a rewarding experience on its own. They spend hours on end training and improving their skills with you. They’re consistently eager to please, and when the season arrives, you know exactly what they’re capable of doing. They just might be the best hunting partner you’ll ever have.

Whether you hunt with a spouse, a child, your dad, or a best friend — as long as you take someone you love hunting, you’ll be getting the most out of your time in the field or woods. In the end, a community that hunts together will grow together.