By Todd Amenrud
For those hunters who have helped introduce a youth to the sport of hunting, you know the great feeling you get when you can see the joy in "their eyes" like you can remember in "your own." I have been looking so forward to the day I could take my daughters with me, and several weeks ago I had the opportunity to take Veronica, my oldest (seven), with me on a whitetail hunt. Hopefully she would some day come to love the skill, the camaraderie, the tactics and the sport of hunting as much as I. If you want them to stick with the sport, I believe it’s important to start them off right.
First, a long story: I purchased a .22 caliber youth rifle for her a little over a year ago. Some may think that’s young, I do not. Let me add, for some children it may be too young. Some kids mature faster than others. Safety is obviously the absolute most important part of the whole teaching process at that age. But with close adult supervision, I believe you mold customs that will last a lifetime.
I am very lucky to have a good friend, Bobby Cole, vice president of BioLogic, who has a daughter a few years older than Veronica. They both enjoy hunting together and, if success is any measure, I’d put little Jesse Cole up against any of you. You should see the trophies this young lady already has to her credit. I very much value the wise advice I have received from her father on everything from gun calibers to child psychology. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance.
One of the most important details is to never push anything onto your kids. I love to hunt, my brother could care less - he’s into ATVs and cars. Even though my father is a true outdoorsmen and lives to hunt and fish, my brother just didn’t inherit that part of it. He got my dad’s need to go fast in a motorized vehicle. While we practice shooting bottles and balloons with her .22, we talk about hunting and she would inquire from time to time if she could come along. Last year we had two tentative dates set and as each time grew near, she determined playing with a friend that Saturday was more important than going huntin’ with dad. She just wasn’t ready.
This year we set a date and I could tell she was serious. Two days before our scheduled date we started our plan. In preparation, I let her help put together our gear. My fanny pack had a rattling bag, my extra bottle of Special Golden Estrus and a pruning saw exchanged for a "Game-Boy," candy bars and a Junie B. Jones book. I wanted her to have a good time even if we didn’t see a thing.
You may have seen the bumper sticker, "Teach your kids to hunt and you won’t have to hunt for your kids." I believe this to be true. There is no doubt in my mind if they get hooked on hunting the chances of them getting hooked on much less appealing activities is dramatically reduced.
I purchased several Big-Buddy ladder stands and I’ve had them set up in good spots for over a year waiting for this time to come. This way we could sit together but yet still have the advantages hunting out of a treestand gives. And although I am a bowhunter at heart, we hoisted a gun up the treestand that day. I use the gun season around my home property to help thin out the does. I also wanted us to have the best possible chance for her to be subjected to success. I was hopeful through this experience she might understand what makes me feel so excited about this thing called "deer hunting."
I can remember going with the "big guys" when I was a kid. My dad would sit me in a spot and say, "Don’t move, I’ll be over there a couple hundred yards...sit here until I come back for you." I would sit there for hours and freeze my little toes and fingers solid. Back when I was twelve years old we didn’t have disposable hand-warmers and high-tech boots. I don’t know…maybe freezing your toes is a good thing, because I sure wanted to go back every year - I absolutely fell in love with the sport of deer hunting in spite of freezing my little digits. I didn’t want her to be uncomfortable in any way. It was a perfect November day, but we were very well prepared with everything necessary to spend a comfortable afternoon regardless of the weather conditions.
We had action right away. As I was glassing down the ridge, Veronica said in a nonchalant voice, "Dad…there’s one." Both my girls come glassing with me during late summer and they’re great at spotting deer, so I knew she wasn’t kidding around. It was a single doe.
At that time I asked her, "What are we hunting for today - a big buck or a doe?" She said, "Anything but a fawn." 170 yards away through brush, and although walking slow and stopping, it wasn’t a shot I wanted to chance with a 12 gauge slug-gun even with a Nikon scope that is dead on. I wanted this "kill" to be as "clean" as possible for her first experience. I told her, "It’s early, let’s wait and see if we can get one to come a little closer."
Twenty minutes had passed and since we had early action it was easy for us both to keep alert. She used binoculars and my Woodland Whisper hearing enhancer to help keep her attention and seemingly to help spot the next two whitetail. I am a grizzled veteran who has made a living out of hunting whitetails and my seven-year-old daughter was making me look silly that day - she obviously has a gift for spotting whitetail.
This time it was a doe with a fawn. Again, it was a fair distance and they were moving at a good pace so I didn’t take the shot. At this time Veronica said, "You can shoot anything daddy, even a fawn, I just want to get one!" She wanted to bring pictures back to her 2nd grade class. (Now the story comes out!) With the anti-hunting message that gets passed around at many schools, I thought that would be great! But I told her, "No, we’ll hold to our standards, just be patient."
During the next ten minutes we saw several more does and fawns that all would have been a "fair poke" for the ol’ 12 gauge slug. "Veronica, I hear something coming behind us," I said in an excited but quiet voice. A doe and a fawn came running into view. They were moving fast but this time they would come within 30 yards of us. I said, "Plug your ears I’m going to shoot." I put the crosshair on the doe’s shoulder, did the ol’ deer bleat – "maaaa" – the doe stopped and I pulled the trigger. It came running right at us and stopped at 12 yards. I’m sure it would have expired from the first shot, but I added another through the chest to make it fast. Our prize lay before us.
I don’t think in her entire life I’ve ever seen Veronica that pumped up. She couldn’t wait to tell everyone! I couldn’t shut her up for the next four hours. This was a very emotional experience for me too because in her excitement it brought back the great times I used to have with my dad when I was her age. Although I have helped introduce many kids to the outdoors and to hunting, in a selfish way this was "by far" the most fun I’ve ever had doing it. I’m very happy to now have a new "best huntin’ buddy!"
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.