When I think back to my first Wisconsin deer hunts, a full generation ago now, it is in some ways a wonder that I came back for more.
Part of my persistence can surely be attributed to sheer Bohemian cussedness. Armed with a single-shot 12-guage and the burning desire to shoot a deer, I probably would have hiked from Lafayette County to Superior and back if it meant putting my tag on a whitetail.
The first year, it rained. And rained. And rained. And we sat out there for almost all of it. Each day at noon we’d drive into the laundromat in Belmont, peel almost everything off, throw the drenched clothes in a dryer, watch the small-town world go by outside until everything was dry, then go out and brave the elements again. After three days (who can remember the three-day season in southern Wisconsin?), even I was happy to be done.
The next year, another Wisconsin weather personality showed up: Bone-numbing November cold. A big fat zero on opening morning, and not much more on the following two. My discount store boots cracked in bitter air, but I definitely preferred the cold to the rain.
Somehow, I don’t think many of today’s kids would have gotten through it, or wanted to go again. That makes me sound like an old coot, but I’m not quite (yet). There is just a different reality today. Kids are different -- not better or worse, just different -- and we have to take a little more care when easing them into a pursuit as demanding as deer hunting.
The key is very simple and straightforward: In every aspect of the hunt, consider and plan for the comfort level of the young hunter and the fun they will be having. If you make decisions around this base, you have an excellent chance of hooking that youngster as a hunting partner for life. That should be your bottom line.
With that goal in mind, here are ten smart ideas to implement as you take that young sportsperson along for the hunt.
Kids take the responsibility of making a clean kill seriously. So get the out to the range a few times and build their shooting confidence. Focus on the easy 25- to 50- and possibly 75-yard shots that are the bread-and-butter of Wisconsin whitetail shooting. Don’t worry about long-range pokes.
Spend on quality clothes and footwear that fit.
Proper gear pays for itself in comfort, warmth and attitude. With so many miracle fabrics available today, along with excellent boots, there’s no reason to skimp and let a young hunter suffer. Pay special attention to good gloves and handwarmers.
Take them scouting.
Make the young hunter a part of the preparation and planning. Get out for a small game hunt on the land you’ll be deer hunting. Look for whitetail trails and whitetail. Show the young hunter the stand you’ll be using. Better yet, have them help choose the site. Plan secondary strategies together.
Make the hunt about them.
Consider leaving your own rifle or shotgun at home or camp. Concentrate on the young hunter. Be there with them, helping them through the questions they will have. You’ve shot a lot of deer of your own, and will have plenty more chances.
Hunt for short periods.
Most adults have a hard time sitting still … imagine how hard it is for a kid of 12, 14 or 16! Plan your day around short sits of a couple hours at the days’ most productive times (early morning, around noon, and late afternoon). Take relaxing breaks in between, in town or at camp.
Eat and drink plenty.
Food and drink go a long way toward any young hunter’s enjoyment. Don’t feed them crap! Granola bars, fruit, cheese, jerky, a sandwich, juice … they’re all so much better than high-sugar candy and pop. A thermos of hot chocolate also does wonders for the attitude of a young hunter on stand, in a blind or taking a break.
Enjoy, and laugh.
Take joy in the parade of nature you’re certain to see. Geese or sandhill cranes migrating overhead. Squirrels playing. Weasels hunting. Mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, creepers and downy woodpeckers working the woods. Make the hunt about something more than killing a deer.
Be a coach.
Young hunters need guidance. Be there for those high-pressure moments when a deer appears and a shot is imminent. A few soft whispers won’t hurt anything and will help everything as the young hunter prepares to shoot.
Misses are okay!
Never judge or berate a miss. Misses just happen. There will be other opportunities. Assure the young hunter that missing is part of the game, and that learning from a muffed shot is a necessary step toward their first (or next) deer.
Involve them in the success.
Good, solid kills are actually more likely than a miss. Young hunters are patient and excellent shooters. Have that young hunter approach their kill with you at their side. Treat the moment with reverence, respect and happiness all rolled into one. Let the novice do the field dressing, or at least participate.
Deer or not, celebrate the hunt.
Base the success of any hunt on time spent together as family (or friends), and not dead deer.
The simplicity of taking a young hunter deer hunting bears repeating: Make sure they’re comfortable and having fun. And if you need any further reason to sacrifice a little and do it right, think about this: Consider it in an investment in who might or might not be taking you hunting when you’re old.