"Dad, your fire gun [.50 cal muzzleloader] made my tummy shake !"
I've been raising my twin daughters, Theresa and Natalie, who turn six this fall, in the hunting culture. They have eaten deer meat since they were just past their first birthday, and seen deer butchered every year since they were two. They have watched many hunting videos, mostly for deer and elk, and Natalie has been out hunting with me. I did have to use unorthodox methods to get her out in the field. Two years ago this fall, we were staying at a family friend's place near Hutchinson around halloween, a great time for bow hunting for deer. The girls then and now love everything to do with fairies, and Natalie liked wearing her pink costume with wings. She wanted to go out on the evening hunt, but refused to take off her fairy costume. I realized that an adult male's camoflage shirt, (I had a couple extra) is twice the size of a four year-old, with room for fairy wings to boot. The pink was concealed, problem solved. Natalie stuck it out for 45 minutes in the blind, working the bleat call and watching and listening. She saw my elevated awareness, and my eyes "playing tricks" when I honed in on something I hoped was a deer but soon realized it wasn't. She heard the pheasants, other birds, and distant shotgun fire from duck hunters on a nearby lake. She said "Dad, when are we going to do that ?"
Recently, I took them to the gun range for the first time. As you can see I had to stick with the pink theme. I am having trouble with one of Natalie's future wishes for a deer rifle: a purple stock. I do hope she grows out of it, only time will tell.
Last year, the same weekend and same farm, the girls didn't want to go out due to colder fall weather. But they did come out midday on the day we left, helping me take down my deer blind and we looked at buck scrapes. This fall, Theresa, Natalie, and my wife Paula are starting a new family tradition as the girls enter kindergarten: MEA weekend is "family hunting weekend". It's in the latter period of October, when bow hunting for deer is good, as is various kinds of bird hunting.
In 2005, I started taking a friend's son hunting when he was thirteen. After coming with to support his son a couple years later, the father started hunting.
Recent research led by Mark Damian Duda for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, suggests that an adult, usually a parent, investing their time in helping a young person learn hunting skills is one of the most important factors in whether a person becomes a future hunter. The study suggests that a large swath of us hunters who don't think it is "worth it" to invest their time in teaching youth in their lives to hunt. While there are many factors in the decline of hunting that need to be taken on through political alliances and social support structures, the lack of mentoring is something that we can have an impact on easily, right in our own immediate or extended family or circle of friends.