December is the heart of deer season in Alabama. Weekends and Christmas break make December a perfect time to introduce older kids to deer hunting. I say older kids because younger kids find it harder to sit still for any length of time and they are certainly not ready for the recoil of deer calibers.
When it’s time to introduce kids to deer hunting, the parent, grandparent or mentor can recognize the tell-tale signs of both physical and mental maturity. Physically, the youth should be able to comfortably shoulder and shoot the rifle without undue physical strain or flinch because of excessive recoil. Mentally, the youth should be able to demonstrate patience and constantly be aware of keeping the muzzle of the rifle in a safe position.
Guns and Ammo
The choice of gun is entirely up to the youth’s guardian. Obviously, lower recoil rifles with shorter stocks are easier for younger hunters to handle. I’ve always enjoyed shooting lever action 30-30 rifles like the Winchester.
With the production of the LEVER Evolution 30-30 bullets by Hornady (www.hornady.com) the effective shooting range of the rifle has been doubled because of the bullet’s flat trajectory and newly-designed pointed tip. The 30-30 is naturally low on recoil and some of the shorter stock models make this rifle an ideal first deer gun.
Equipment for the Hunt
The choices for hunting equipment are limitless and you can burn up a paycheck with one visit to an outdoor store. There are a few essentials that can make a youth hunting trip comfortable and pleasurable for both of you and leave you with enough money to pay a taxidermist if you get lucky.
A hunting blind is ideal cover to help conceal younger hunters’ movement. Ameristep (www.ameristep.com) makes an effective pop-up blind called the Doghouse Blind that will comfortably allow two people to hunt through a number of shooting portholes in the sides. Your local Co-op carries many of these blinds that set up in a couple of minutes and the cost is under 100 bucks.
For hearing protection and sound enhancement, Walker’s Game Ear Power Muffs (www.walkersgameear.com) allow you to detect each other’s whispers, and they automatically shut off at the instant of muzzle blast. These are especially handy when you are trying to communicate to your partner a deer is in the area and hearing is a sense you want to preserve.
Primos (www.primos.com) makes a Mono Pod Trigger Stick that quickly raises and lowers through a trigger mechanism on the handle. A "V" yoke at the top of the stick cradles the forearm of the gun and steadies the shot. This is especially handy for younger hunters with newly-acquired shooting skills. The unit will adjust from 31 to 64 ½ inches, and price is under $60. The stick adds extra accuracy through added stability for hunters of any age.
Both the adult and the child can benefit from a quality pair of optics on the hunt. Being able to tell whether the deer is a doe or a button head spike is critical. Nikon (www.nikonsportoptics.com) carries a line of binoculars and scopes that are accurate, user friendly and help bring the action much closer. The Nikon Monarch ATB (All-Terrain Binoculars) 8 x 42 does an excellent job of delivering low-light performance through a large objective lens. Twist-up eye cups also allow for viewing while wearing glasses.
One way to improve your chances of a harvest on the hunt is with the use of scents. Deer use their nose more than any other defense. If you can put the right scent on their trail, you might be able to get a buck to come in for a closer look. Code Blue (www.codebluescents) carries a line of deer, cover and game scents that just might put the wind working in your favor. For deer, Code Blue uses the scent of only one animal in each bottle that is marked with its own registration number.
Ready for the Hunt
Once you’ve gotten outfitted for the hunt, spend considerable time on the range with the youngster. That first deer hunt is not the time to shoot the gun for the first time. The youth should have fired the gun enough times to feel fully confident with accuracy. Take the time to have the youth well-prepared for a one-shot, ethical harvest.
Once the shooting techniques are established, familiarize the youth with a hunting scenario by setting up the blind and hunting seats in the back yard to practice shouldering the gun and becoming comfortable with the equipment well in advance of the hunt. On the hunt is no place to learn how the equipment works. This can lead to frustration for both of you. Build excitement for that first hunt by practicing on the range, crawling in and out of the hunting blind, and using binoculars and other hunting equipment well before the hunting day.
Alabama is a hunter-friendly state for youth hunting. If you don’t have access to private land, there are plenty of wildlife management areas across the state offering great hunting as well as convenient camping sites. In addition, many of the wildlife management areas have target ranges, planted food plots and wheel chair accessible hunting areas.
Finally, know the regulations of the area you will be hunting. In Alabama, kids under 16 can hunt if they are accompanied by an adult and that adult should at all times stay within arm’s reach of the youth while in possession of a firearm. According to a National Wild Turkey Federation report, youth hunters are the safest hunters in the woods when accompanied by an adult.
Visit the website www.outdooralabama.com for seasons, bag limits and safety regulations. If you take the time to plan the outing in advance, the hunting experience will be a pleasant memory for both of you.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.