How to Prepare Your Youth & Keep Them Interested

By Travis Roundy, February 2014

As I interact with other hunters from around the country I’m often asked if my kids are interested in hunting. It’s a legitimate question, and I’m happy to reply that all six of my kids are not only interested in hunting, but they are also excited about hunting! I’m writing this article from a hotel room in Colorado during my daughter, McKenna’s, first out-of-state Mule deer hunt.

It’s no secret that kids today don’t have the same opportunities to hunt that we did back in the day. Many of us grew up hunting small game and the critters that lived on the hill behind our houses. We couldn’t wait to get home from school to grab the .22 or the shotgun and head for the hills. We even took our guns to school and kept them in our lockers so we could go rabbit hunting after school with our buddies. Sadly, those days are gone forever. Youth nowadays really have to be taught to hunt and taken to the field by their fathers, families, and/or friends who care enough to show them the “hunt.” I’d like to share a few ideas that have worked for our family to prepare our boys and girls to hunt and to keep them interested throughout their youth.

Kids love to do what their parents do, and when they are very young it’s a good idea to involve them in at least the preparation for your hunt and the return from your hunt. Have them help you pack your gear and load it in the truck, and then when you return let them help unload the truck and give them the duty of carrying the important stuff, like the antlers from your big buck. Take photos of them with the buck, bull, or whatever you’ve tagged so they can remember it. Kids really don’t remember events from ages 1-8 very long, but a photo will keep the memories alive forever.

Take your kids on scouting trips when possible. Many times we hunt areas close to home where we can include the kids or the whole family in the scouting. One exciting way that we have discovered to include everyone is to place trail cameras out in the forest. Each kid has a trail cam and gets to check the card back at home and see what they captured on camera.

Shed antler hunting has been our most productive and possibly the very best way to keep the kids excited about hunting. When Nicole, my oldest daughter, was about 4-5 years old I would carry her on my shoulders through the sagebrush, looking for antlers. I would spot an antler ahead of us and then walk past it so she could find it. It was way more exciting to see her find the antler and jump down off my shoulders and run over to pick it up than any of my solo shed hunting trips had ever been. I have done the same with all the kids over the years, packing them on my shoulders or holding their hands and walking by sheds so they could pick them up. Now we hunt sheds and all but the youngest two are off and running to pick up the most and biggest sheds before the rest of the crew can find them! It’s quite a sight to see eight of us packing our sheds back to the truck after a long hike.

Take your kids shooting and teach them about guns and gun safety. I like to give my kids a BB gun and help them learn to shoot with it. Some of my friends won’t let their kids touch a gun until they are 12 years old, but by then the kids don’t care about hunting or shooting; they’ve moved on to video games and iPads, and the window of opportunity to introduce them to hunting has diminished. Help them take a state sponsored hunter education course as soon as you think they are ready. A few states allow youth of any age to hunt big game as long as they have passed a hunter education course.

Youth tags and preference/bonus points are cheap in several states. I like to sit down with my kids and ask them what their goals are for their hunting careers. It amazes me how each kid is different and how each one has a different animal that they would ultimately like to harvest. It’s kind of like planning for college because if you start early you can give your son or daughter a big advantage if you help steer them in the right direction. My daughter, Nicole, wants to hunt sheep and started applying for sheep points in several states as soon as she was old enough to meet the age limit to apply. Heather and McKenna don’t care to hunt sheep but would like to hunt elk and deer, so we apply them for points in several states where the points are cheap. McClain is interested in every species he can possibly apply for, so we decided to apply for everything we could afford in as many states as we could that have youth pricing. Each kid takes an active part in deciding which hunts they apply for, and we also have a deal where each kid pays half of the application costs. If they have a little “skin” in the game, it keeps them in tune with the process, plus it helps their old man to be able to afford a few of his own hunts! As a side note, these kids have drawn several great tags in five different states over the last 6 years and have taken some good animals home, along with some tag soup to boot!

Once a kid draws a tag and we go on the hunt, I always let them decide what they want to shoot. Many times people accuse me of only letting my kids trophy hunt and that I’m “ruining” them by making them pass on animals that aren’t huge. I’ve always told them that they drew the tag, so they can decide which animal to shoot. I will help set a realistic goal for the area and help scout and hunt, but if they want to shoot a 2-point, that’s their choice. I’ll help take photos and help pack it out. Most of the time the kids have a friendly competition to see who can bring home the biggest buck or bull. The only time it gets complicated is when the teenagers all have the same tag and we spot a big buck to stalk. Then Nicole says that since she’s the oldest she should get to shoot it, but Heather says that since she hasn’t killed a buck that year she should shoot it! McKenna says that since she hasn’t killed a deer at all she should shoot it, and McClain says he’ll shoot it no matter what size it is!

Kids love to be successful on their hunts, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way we want it to. I like to remind them that some of the best hunts end up with the animals winning and the hunters taking a beating. We just finished a hunt in Colorado with Nicole and Heather not filling either of their tags for the second year in a row. They found a couple of big elk sheds during the hunt, but besides the good memories and the knowledge they gained, the sheds were the only trophies they took home. As a father I cherish the time I have spent with each son or daughter alone in the field hunting. It creates a special bond between the two of us that is like no other.

This year I’ve spent a good deal of the fall hunting with friends, family, and alone. I can honestly say that the time I’ve spent with my kids pursuing big game across the West has been totally awesome! We’ve taken some great animals, and we’ve also been shut out on a few hunts. I consider it a great reward for me to be with these kids as they become hunters in their own right. I hope that they will always hunt and pass along their hunting heritage to the next generation.