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Hunting for Tradition: When Should I Let my Boys into the Woods?

Each fall, as the air gets crisp and the days get short, I can sense a feeling of excitement radiating from my husband. While I am excited about sweaters and apple crisp, he is looking forward to hunting season.

Hunting is a tradition in his family; one that he has participated in since he was a child. Come November, there is nothing he would rather do than put on camouflage gear and head out with friends and family into the woods.

It can be expected that my husband will spend the weeks around Thanksgiving hunting, making me appreciate the term “hunter’s widow.” He’ll get up before the sun, pack his gear and some trail mix, and be sitting in the woods by about the same time our two boys are creeping out of bed. Before our older son, E, became a school-ager, he would notice his dad’s absence in the morning and simply ask, “Where’s Dad?” I’d explain that Dad was out hunting, and he’d give a nod of understanding, moving onto questions about breakfast and play dates. But since last year, E has become very interested in joining his Dad on his hunting adventures.

This has triggered the conversation between my husband and I about when we should allow the kids to hunt.

Both my husband and I were exposed to guns at a young age. He started hunting with his uncles and grandfather as a kid, and my grandfather taught my sisters and me to shoot cans in his backyard when I was about my son’s age. So, why am I so hesitant to let our six-year-old come into contact with a rifle? First off, I was waaay more mature at that age than my son is. Second, times are different. My grandfather also let me sit on his lap and steer the car, but nowadays I’m pretty sure I’d be locked up for not having my son in the back, strapped into his age-appropriate booster seat.

fish, dad, boy

They love to fish!

Getting back to maturity- I don’t think our son, E, is ready to use a firearm in a safe, respectful way.

As my husband and I discuss this, we agree that it would be a good experience for E to go hunting as an observer with Dad. This way, he can get a sense of the preparation involved, the care hunters take with their equipment, and the appreciation for nature one must have to sit quietly surrounded by it for hours on end. As with any youth hunter, E would eventually need to enroll in a Hunter Education course. There is no age limit for Hunter Education in Vermont, but their website does state that the materials are geared towards kids reading at the sixth-grade level and above. Thinking about E hunting when he is 12 years old gives me much more confidence in his ability to be a safe, thoughtful hunter.

My number one concern is safety.

I think it’s fair to say I’m a worrier. Not only do I worry about my son’s ability to carefully carry and operate a firearm, I worry about all the other hunters in the woods. However, I was pleased to read on the VT Hunter Ed FAQs page, “Hunting is safe and getting safer. Hunting accidents have decreased more than 80 percent since hunter education began in Vermont in 1958. In 2012, Vermont fielded 75,000 hunters but recorded no hunting accidents.”

I have come to the conclusion that when our kids are ready, the benefits of hunting will outweigh my fear and uncertainty. Here are some of the compelling reasons why I will eventually  support my kid’s desire to learn to hunt:

  • Time with Dad: They will get to spend quality time with their dad, in an environment where there are minimal distractions. Even for my husband, his fondest memories involve hunting.
  • Conversations about food sources: It’s important for our kids to think about where their food comes from and how it ends up on our dinner table. Hunting has brought up conversations about other sources of meat, and why I personally prefer venison to factory farmed meat.
  • Lessons on ethics: All good hunters know and teach the ethics of hunting, and I expect my husband and me to enforce that there are laws and regulations in place for multiple reasons. Many of those reasons are to respect the animal population, whose habitats you are entering.
  • Firearm safety: If (and I do say “if” because I’m still hesitant about this) our boys are ready to go hunting with a firearm, they must absolutely follow every safety rule. There will be no room for error, or they will lose their privilege to handle a gun. Safety first!
  • Love of the outdoors: My husband and I love living in Vermont, because of all of the nature that surrounds us. When he is out in the woods, he is mindful of his impact on the environment. He follows the, “leave no trace,” principle and also expects that our boys will not litter, or disrespect any plants or animals.

Our boys will be taught safe and correct handling of firearms. Just like when they learn to drive a car, it is essential that they practice hunting under supervision, and demonstrate that they will handle their firearms properly at all times.

man hunting field

As our kids get older and show an interest in hunting, I look forward to the time they’ll get to spend together with my husband in the woods.  It will also mean a lot to my husband to get to share a family tradition with his sons.

Does your family hunt? What are some of the tips you have for youth hunters?

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