Taking a child hunting for their first time is a special rite of passage. It takes some planning so that everything goes off without a hitch. You want their very first experience to be a fond memory and not an emotional scar.
Preparation can and should begin early. Bring your budding outdoor enthusiast out in the woods while you are shed hunting, scouting for stand sites, checking trail camera was or even planting food plots. Make it fun, you’re enthusiasm and excitement will be contagious. Use this time together to talk about deer biology, tracks, what deer eat, when they move and what scrapes and rubs are. Kids are like sponges and they will soak up the knowledge quickly. Lead by example and practice what you preach. He respectful of nature and your child will follow suit.
Try to expose your kids to the experience of blood tracking, field dressing and going to the processor. Be mindful that some children are sensitive, so don't make things traumatizing. If they are grossed out let them walk away. If there are fascinated, roll with it. Use this as a teaching experience. While field dressing try to see where the shot went, show the proper placement. Look at the stomach contents to see what they have been eating and discuss this information and how it can help you with hunting locations on your next outing. As soon as your junior hunter is pumped up about all these hunting activities then going out on actual hunt seems like the next logical step.
Safety should be priority #1. Teach your child that guns and bows, even toy ones, should never be pointed at any one. They should only be pointed at target or the animal you intend to harvest. If you are using a gun, going over location of the safety and the trigger are imperative. The child's first exposure to the weapon should not be in that stand, it should be well before on the shooting range or similar setup. Even if the child will not be the one harvesting the animal, it is important to teach the basic safety concepts of the weapon being used.
On your first time choose who will shoot; the child, the adult or neither. Depending on the child's comfort level just opting to sit in that stand and observe nature may be the first step. We want the first experienced the fun and keep them coming back for more. We want them to be excited, not horrified. And of course we all know that not every hunt ends with an animal on the ground, that is an important lesson to be learned. Choosing an appropriate stand site is important and safety issues should be considered. Younger children may not have the coordination to climb a ladder safely. You may not have a fall arrest systems suitable for a little body. The safest choices would be a ground blind or a closed shooting house. There is no chance of falls out of the ground blind and movement can be concealed. A shooting house is good at concealing movement and sound but at times the windows are too high for a little one to see out of. That can really put a damper on the fun, so be sure your mini hunter will be able to view the action. If they are going to be shooting be sure they will be comfortable enough to shoot through those windows. A well-positioned gun rest could mean the difference between a well-placed ethical shot and a devastating miss. If gun hunting out of the ground blind consider shooting sticks, but be sure to practice at the target range with them before the hunt.
Time of day is a consideration. Perhaps our wee one is not an early riser. Trying to get them out of bed at dark 30 might sour the mood. And afternoon hunt will avoid those struggles. Depending on age, darkness may be a phobia for some kids and even some adults. Be sure to take this into consideration, don't wait until panic sets in and a great experience is ruined. It may take just a good flashlight or a hunting buddy to come pick you up at that stand in a vehicle or you may need to slip out of the stand before dark. Whatever the solution, know ahead of time so everything stays fun and positive.
Weather conditions must also be considered. A child isn't likely to tolerate sitting still in extreme temperatures. Mild weather is the best. Make sure that you and your mini-hunter are protected against the elements whether it be wind, rain or mosquitoes. Be sure to plan ahead.
Behavior in that stand should be discussed and practiced. Talk about whispering, being quiet and careful, and possibly writing to communicate. Bring the amusements for you to your children that are quiet, electronic games set to silent, books, pencil and paper. Have snacks and drinks in quiet containers and avoid crinkley bags. Try to stick with smells like peanut butter and fruit. Who knows Doritos may repel deer? Make sure to have them take a potty break before you leave and be mindful of fluid intake.
Be sure to keep things relaxed. Don't force them, keep things fun and be flexible. Kids burn out and so do we, so know your limits and those of your child. A little preparation and flexibility will keep the first outing a wonderful experience and help to shape the next generation of hunters and conservationists.