Are you considering hunting with kids for the first time? Use these tips to make hunting with kids less stressful for an awesome first hunt.
Hi friends! My name is Chantal and I’m a mom of two, personal trainer, and wife to an avid hunter.
After coming home from another deer hunt, I decided to sit down and write this post. I normally wouldn’t write about hunting with kids (or hunting at all) on the blog. But recently, I’ve had a change of heart about what my blog should be about and I now feel like family wellness & bonding is actually an important part of overall health.
I’ve said it before, but part of being healthy is finding healthy hobbies that exercise your body & mind, as well as nourishing your soul. For kids, part of growing OUT of a vicious cycle of unhealthy habits is having healthy habits modeled by important role models.
In other words, it is your job as a parent or family member to model healthy behavior if you want your kids to live healthy lives once they enter adulthood.
It’s not meant to be some crunchy, whimsical crap.
It’s meant to say that everything we do – every decision – accumulates. What we do for fun, what we value, time spent in nature, etc. all contributes to overall wellness.
Chances are that if you’re already an outdoorsman (or outdoors-woman), you already see the value of time spent outdoors. Now you’re ready to share that with your kids (or maybe grandkids) and you just need some help getting started.
Our 4th Year Taking Kids Hunting
We live in Central Oregon now, but both my husband and I grew up near the coast range in the Western part of the state. Our state has always been a recreational paradise, but I did not grow up hunting.
My husband, however, started going hunting with the men in his family from about the age of six. He hunted both deer and elk pretty much every year after that – and never stopped.
Now that we have children, we have sort of branched out into our own hunting party. We hunt as a family and have tried many new units in Oregon in the last few years.
Our kids are currently 6 and 2, so although they don’t truly hunt, we still load the kids up and take them almost every time.
During general season hunts, sometimes my husband heads out alone, but we have at least one big, weeklong hunt with the whole family each year.
Most years, it’s been most appropriate to go deer hunting with kids.
That’s because in Oregon, elk season usually means loads of snow in the units we hunt (and heavy rain in the ones we don’t). It’s just not super safe or easy for us to hunt elk with kids in November here.
So most of our big hunts have been late September or early October here in the Pacific Northwest. (Once the kids are both a little older, we’ll be able to take them on big Eastern Oregon hunts with snow no problem.)
And though our kids aren’t shooting any big game, they are along for the exposure and learning experience.
Call it one big camping trip if you will – but with more than family fun as the goal.
Family Hunting Trips Are For Learning
Obviously, regulations will vary from state-to-state, but both of our kids are still too young for an actual youth hunt here in Oregon.
But that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn to stalk, track, shoot, and learn lots of other hunting-related lessons.
We just got back from a general season archery hunt here in Oregon. Since archery is generally significantly more difficult than rifle hunting, we were pretty at peace with the fact that hunting with the kids would be rough.
During early season archery, we typically see drought conditions – meaning lots of noise.
So, as difficult as it was to keep quiet (we hike a lot), we used this time to teach the kids about finding sign, tracking, and keeping quiet.
We also brought along a target and our daughter’s bow so that she could practice at camp during downtime.
Along with that, we were able to teach our kiddos about the animals, animal calls, the forest overall, and general hunter etiquette. Though we weren’t successful during this hunt, we were able to teach the kids what to do in various situations, as well as test their abilities as hikers and helpers. 🙂
If anything, taking kids hunting from a young age helps them learn so that they’re ready for future hunts, and it gets them interested. It gives them that hunter’s itch, if-you-will.
So. Onto my tips for hunting with kids.
Hunting With Kids – 11 Tips For Family Hunting
My goal with sharing tips for hunting with kids is to help your family time be more enjoyable and less stressful. If that’s your goal, this list is perfect for you. If you’re looking for regulations or your goal is to have the *perfect* trip resulting in a huge trophy buck or bull, maybe it’s not for you. While having a great time and filling your tag is possible, my hope is that you can see family hunting as an opportunity for way more. 🙂
1. Safety First
In my opinion, head-to-toe camo isn’t necessary most of the time. But you still need to make sure that your kiddos are safe. Be sure to pack hunter’s orange clothing, vests, or hats for each of your kiddos. While it’s not always required (like during archery season in Oregon), it’s just the safest thing to do. Especially when some seasons and tags overlap.
Along with that, you’ll want to keep a first aid kit on your person when family hunting. It doesn’t matter if you “road hunt” or hike a lot – things happen, and it’s important to be prepared.
2. Expect Hiccups
This is probably my biggest tip in regards to taking kids hunting. Kids can only stay quiet for so long. Kids can only keep still for so long. And kids will not automatically know what to do out there.
You’ll need to teach your kids how they should behave – but don’t expect them to get it perfect each time. If you’re going in with expectations that are acceptable for adults, your family hunt might be a huge, stressful disappointment.
Remember who you’re traveling/camping/hunting with, and adjust your expectations according to your children’s ages and personalities. You’ll have way more fun if you do.
Furthermore, if you want your kids to want to hunt in the future, you don’t want to ruin the trip with stress.
3. Pack Comfort Items
This might depend on how much time you’re hunting, whether or not you’re camping, and your child’s previous experience outdoors.
If you’re camping and your kids aren’t used to sleeping outdoors, I would definitely recommend bringing along some comfort items for them. A favorite blanket, stuffed animal, pillow, or toy should work. This will help them stay calm and cozy when they hear the coyotes yelping in the night, strong winds blowing in the trees, etc.
I strongly believe that hunting should put kids a little out of their comfort zones, but you don’t want it to be traumatizing. Some kids are more sensitive than others, and your goal is to make family hunting enjoyable and memorable.
4. Don’t Be Stingy With Snacks
We recently discovered that snacks keep little ones quiet and busy while hiking. Lol. (See pics of our two-year old. We found out that he was much quieter, but also slower while eating and walking.)
But on top of that, something about being outdoors all day makes you super hungry – whether or not you’re a hiker. Your senses are heightened and your body experiences many temperature changes throughout the day.
Kids will go through tons of food while hunting, and keeping their little hands busy is super important sometimes. Just be sure to teach them how to properly dispose of their garbage while out in the woods.
5. Consider Warmth
If you’re camping and your hunt is in the fall to winter months, you’re likely to experience freezing cold temps at night. Growing bodies have different circulation and temperature regulation than adults, and that’s something you’ll need to remember.
Not only this, but careful consideration of your heating method is recommended. When we camp with our large canvas tent, we typically use a wood stove to keep things comfortable. It takes a little bit of time for the kids to learn to stay away so that they don’t get burnt, but they do eventually learn.
But when we use our smaller tent for early season hunts, we take the propane heater (we have a Big Buddy Heater). This works super well and feels a bit safer – but it’s also necessary. During drought seasons, campfires and chainsaw use are prohibited. That means that we wouldn’t be able to legally cut up any firewood anyway.
P.S. You can never have enough blankets when hunting with kids overnight. You’ll lose sleep over your kids’ warmth if the tent is cold.
6. Pack Layers For The Kids
Temps can fluctuate a lot in the woods, especially depending on your elevation and season. During our last deer hunt, temps were near freezing at night, and T-shirt weather by 10 AM.
So make sure that you dress your kiddos in light layers so that when hiking or sleeping, they can easily dress up or dress down. They’ll need to be able to easily carry whatever they bring if they’re hiking. If you don’t want to get stuck carrying big, bulky jackets and other clothing, plan accordingly.
7. Know Their Limits
Not all kids will be up for hiking for hours on end. (If they don’t have the proper gear, they’ll tap out even sooner than you think.)
If your kids aren’t used to being in the outdoors except in short bouts, don’t expect them to be able to hunt from dawn ’till dusk.
Generally, the younger the child, the less you can expect out of them. If you have a toddler, I highly recommend a second adult to tag along for family hunts. With that, I also suggest having a baby carrier or pack with you. This can not only give your child a much-needed break, but it will allow you to hunt and hike longer. (And move faster, too!)
*We use the Ergo carrier on our backs for short hunts, and we have a Kelty Kids pack for longer or more intense hunts. I actually chose a brown and orange Ergo carrier knowing that we’d be out in the woods. 🙂 Tip: If you get a baby/kids carrier, get one that can be used for multiple genders so that you can use it longer. You can also find these at consignment stores all of the time!
At the end of the day, the worst thing you can do is make your child so uncomfortable or unhappy that they don’t want to hunt again. If you push your child so far out of their comfort zone that they are suddenly crying or upset five miles away from camp, you’ll have a rough trip. Know when to turn back, slow down, or take a break.
8. Stay Flexible
This goes along with knowing your family’s limits and the personalities within it. We always go into a hunt with big plans, but we almost always have to scale back.
My husband is a huge hiker and loves to get into thick forest and steep draws. But he has learned that sometimes, you have to settle for a road hunt with the kids.
And sometimes, as much as you’d like to be out there in your spot by dawn, carrying sleepy kids through the dark forest isn’t ideal.
After a few days, sometimes you have to make the call regarding whether or not to stay another day.
It’s no longer a surprise when someone gets hurt, pees their pants, has a meltdown – it’s all part of hunting with kids. 🙂
The more flexible you can be, the more enjoyable things will be.
9. Plan Downtime
Kids need time to “just play.” If you’re all business when hunting as a family, two things can happen.
Firstly, this will make the hunt less enjoyable for kids. They will remember this next year – trust me.
Secondly, bringing kids hunting overnight can be stressful and overwhelming if they’re new to it. Kids need time to worry about nothing but having fun, and they need time to rest.
For us, this usually means an early morning hunt, a late breakfast and playtime. It’s then followed by a mid-day hunt (usually when we road hunt so the little guy can nap) with lunch or snacks on the road.
Then, we head out for an evening hunt after downtime and dinner before dusk comes about.
No matter how you spend your days, be sure to give everyone plenty of time to play in the dirt, play cards, or simply rest. 🙂
10. Use Every Opportunity
We believe 100% that our annual family hunting camp is a good experience for our kids, so we allow them to miss school for it. Whether or not your hunt is successful, it will be a learning experience every time. We know this is true for adults as well as kids.
So if you’re hunting with kids, it’s okay to take it seriously, but it doesn’t have to be all about that trophy.
There are so many learning opportunities, but here are just a few:
- Teach kids about tracking scat/sign
- Talk about different calls and noises
- Teach about habitats and the typical behavior of the animal you’re hunting
- Take time for target practice with a bow or pellet/BB gun
- Teach kiddos how to start a fire & gather kindling
- Learn about foraging & safety
If you’re already a hunter, I’m sure you can come up with plenty of learning opportunities other than these. Just have fun with it and involve the kids, and you’re golden.
11. Make It Screen-Free
If your goal for hunting with kids is quality family time and a great learning experience, consider making your trip screen-free. It might sound hard, but kids will adapt if you make this choice.
The first day, they are busy helping to set up camp or pack, and they are typically pretty occupied. The second or third day, they might get bored, but they’ll survive. Kids naturally find ways to entertain themselves when they’re outdoors, and I promise it will be good for them.
To make it easier, be sure to pack something for your kids to do outside. For us, it’s typically a dump-truck or tractor toy, some dinosaurs, maybe some digging tools, classic slingshots, pellet guns and/or toy bows with arrows.
That’s it! Kids will just as soon play with rocks and sticks, too. Don’t even bring the iPads, and that will help as well.
There you have it folks – my best tips for hunting with kids.
If you still need help getting your kids into hunting, or simply want to introduce them to it, here are a few good products to check out:
- Kevin Lovegreen Books – Hunting Stories for Kids
- Kids’ Archery Set/Compound Bow
- Camo Hiking Boots for Kids
- Kids’ Safety Vest & Hat (HiVis)
Do you have any other tips on how to get kids into hunting or family hunting in general? Share them with me below!