I killed my first deer when I was 11-years-old while sitting in a hang-on stand 6-feet off the ground. My dad and brother sat below me on the ground and served as my “spotters” for the morning. The hunt took place on November 5th, 1988, during Tennessee’s juvenile deer hunt. It was my first trip to woods in pursuit of deer.
I remember a number of people questioning my parents about me hunting at such a young age. Hunting deer at the age of 10 or 11 seemed young in those days.
Things have certainly changed, however. My kids all killed deer at an earlier age than me. My oldest boy was pretty proud of killing his first deer at the age of 9. That was, until his youngest brother killed his first deer at the age of 6. And like they did with my parents, I’ve had critics question whether 6 was too young for my child to be hunting. My answer usually goes something like this – “Not every 6-year-old is ready to start hunting. If yours isn’t there yet, no problem. Keep them out of the woods.”
How young is too young to start hunting? Below is a look at some things to consider before the first hunt.
Age is Not the Important Factor
The truth behind my smart-mouth response to other parents mentioned above, is that I don’t believe that a particular age should be defined as when a child should start hunting. Six-year-old kids are not all the same. The same can be said for ages 7, 8, 9, or 10. But just because your child isn’t mature enough to start hunting, doesn’t mean that is the standard for everyone else.
You have to consider the physical and mental abilities of that particular child. What’s going on in their noggin’? Are they able to understand what they are doing? Are they mature/obedient enough to follow basic safety guidelines and instruction from a parent or guardian? Is the child physically able to handle the situation when the opportunity presents itself? Can they reach the trigger, or see through the scope? Or, are you just gonna aim for them, and have them “help” with squeezing the trigger?
There should be some basic mental and physical capabilities in place. It’s more about their personal development than it is a particular age.
Do They Know What They Are Doing?
Does your child know the seriousness of the task at hand? Do they realize they are about to take a life? Hunting can provide a great opportunity to help your child better understand life and death. They need to know life is sacred – and fragile. Some critics will say hunting teaches kids to be “killers.” I personally think it helps them to have a greater respect for life.
There needs to be some serious conversations about what hunting is all about with your young hunter. They need to consider the cost of a real hunt versus the video games and virtual hunting they’ve done to this point.
Does your child understand what the hunt is all about?
Do They Want to Be There?
The number of kids that get hauled to the woods against their will each hunting season might surprise you. Does your child actually want to be on the hunt, or do you have to drag them to the woods, kicking and screaming? Have they expressed an interest or desire to take the next step, from tagging along as a spectator, to wanting to pull the trigger for themselves?
I don’t let my kids call the shots on whether or not they go to church, or school, but I don’t force them to go hunting. Sure, I’ve talked them into it when they were feeling tired or lazy, but I don’t demand them to go hunting. Your child will express a desire to go and hunt when they are ready. As hard as it is, it’s important to be patient here. Forcing the issues will always do more harm than good.
Is the Hunt About Them, Or You?
Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, the trend of kids hunting at a really young age is nothing less than a dad trying to fill a void in their own life. Worse yet, it’s often an ego trip. They want their kid to kill a deer quicker than all their friends, and they’ll often go to ridiculous efforts to make sure their deer is always the biggest buck in town.
It’s not unlike the obnoxious little league dad or soccer mom that’s hell bent on their child outshining every other child on the field. For this parent, it’s no longer about the child. It’s about the parent living and looking good through their child.
Let’s be honest. We’ve all been guilty of this to some degree. I’ve had times when I was more focused on capturing the hunt on film than I was helping coach my kid through the process. Social media can bring out the worst in us in a hurry. Don’t drop the ball here. Maybe it’s time for a reality check. Who is the hunt really about? You, or your child?
What are the signs that the hunt is more about you than your child?
- You force your child to hunt.
- You brag on how you helped your child succeed.
- You give your kid the leftovers (cull bucks, crappy gear, gar hole stands).
- You’re the center of attention in your father/son selfies.
- You worry about what others think about how your child hunts.
- You’re more concerned with posting social media photos and stories than you are living in the moment with your child.
What Other Hunters Say About How Young is Too Young
We surveyed some of our bowhunting friends on social media with the question, How young is too young to start hunting? You can check out that post right HERE.
Here’s a look at some of the responses and numbers we received for feedback…
My buddy, Crispin Powley, of GSM Outdoors, shared the experience of his son, Fisher, killing his first deer prior to his 3rd birthday. That’s right! Just 2 1/2 years old! But before you start casting stones, you need to hear the rest of the story. Here’s what Crispin had to say…
I was going to shoot a doe for the freezer and my son, Fisher, wanted to go with me. He’s always shot with me, starting with a BB gun, then a .22. I’d also let him shoot a scoped AR a few times, so he knew how to use a scope early on. We got in the blind and were eating, drinking, laughing, and not being very quiet. We (Fisher) actually ran a couple deer off first thing by moving his chair around in the blind. About 45 minutes into being there, a doe walked out into the food plot. I eased the window open and got the gun pointed out.
At that point Fisher says, “Let me shoot him.” To which I reply, “Not yet, bud. You can’t even wipe your own tail.” He followed up with, “I can hit him.” I decided in the moment that if he missed, he missed. But I wasn’t not going to give him the opportunity. I got him in my lap. I shouldered the rifle and got her in the crosshairs. I then let him put his arm over the stock so he could reach the trigger and I let him have the scope. I asked him if he was ready, and when he said yes, I flipped the safety off. He immediately fired, dropping the deer in her tracks, 30 yards away.
Is 2 1/2 years old too young? Heck, I don’t know. Maybe. He loved hunting in that moment and he loves it now. He’s shot about 8 bucks since and a few does. Maybe it was reckless in terms of potentially wounding the deer, but based on how much he’d shot at targets, I really felt like he’d hit her. I think experience, in a favorable, controlled environment, is the best teacher and confidence builder.
Bottom line – every child is different. Only you can decide when your child is ready to hunt. Aside from age restrictions put into place by state wildlife agencies, the parent’s discretion is the best call on how young to start their child on his or her first hunt.
What about you? What are your thoughts on the best time to start taking your child hunting? When did you start hunting? Comment below, and let us know what you think.