When my wife first told me seven years ago that we were having a baby, the excitement started to build. I couldn’t wait to have a new hunting partner and one that was as excited about the outdoors as I am. I just knew when “he” got here, we had all kinds of things to start learning.
Fast forward a few months and all the planning I had done had come down to this appointment: The ultrasound. When the doctor came in and said, “Congratulations, you guys are having a little girl,” I didn’t know what to say. This obviously wasn’t going to change the way I loved the child, but I knew I would have my work cut out for me if I wanted a new hunting partner, or so I thought. Boy, was I wrong.
From an early age, my daughter was exposed to everything from running trail cameras to butchering deer. She seemed very interested in everything I was doing but didn’t fully understand it all. I knew I had to get a plan together if I wanted her to stay interested. Until she was around five years old, she was exposed to everything in short doses. Anybody that has kids knows how long their attention spans last. The last thing I wanted to do was let her have a bad experience. So, I took everything slowly until she was about age five. From that summer forward, we focused on what we could learn from the outdoors in a fun way. We have done some trapping, fishing, and hunting, along with learning some valuable life lessons along the way.
The summer she turned five was also the same summer that groundhogs decided to try to take up ownership of a family member’s barn. We had just come back from the National Trappers Association conference, where she got to attend some trapping demonstrations and see all kinds of furs. She was excited to get out and trap something, and these groundhogs were the perfect thing. I wanted to teach her life lessons with each adventure we had, not just the skills. This was the perfect way to introduce her to the circle of life. We sat down and talked about what was going to happen when we trapped the groundhogs, how the Conibears worked, and why we were trapping them.
We put three Conibear sets out that first morning and I had a pretty good feeling we would have at least one that evening. I must admit I was a bit hesitant to take her back to check the traps. I wasn’t sure how she would react to the death of an animal. To my surprise, she handled it quite well. She asked quite a few questions but was eager to reset the traps. All and all, we ended up trapping six groundhogs from the property that summer. She picked up on more and more of what I was doing, and each time it got a little easier for her.
Since she was about three years old, my daughter has been out on a boat with me every chance we got. She would watch me fish and couldn’t wait to get her opportunity to try it, too. Once she was old enough, I got her a Zebco 33 and the rest was history. It didn’t take her long to get casting down, then came the distance. She used that rod and reel until she was five. This was when she was introduced to her first open-face reel. The Shimano combo I set her up with was perfect. It didn’t take long, and we filled the boat with crappie and bluegill for supper almost every time we went out. I taught her how to tell the different species of fish in the area we fished: bass, catfish and trout.
As in trapping, I wanted to find a life lesson she could take away from fishing. One hot day out on the water, I found just that: Patience. We sat out there without a bite for well over an hour. She was ready to go after about 30 minutes. I explained how patience can pay off and some things are worth waiting for. Within 20 minutes of that conversation, she caught her personal best biggest fish, a catfish that weighed a few pounds, but to her, it was a giant.
From an early age, my daughter would get mad at me for not taking her to the woods to hunt with me in the fall. As bad as I wanted to do that, I knew the time had to be right. The last thing I wanted to do was rush the process. We have all had those days in the woods when nothing is moving, not even a squirrel, and our patience wears thin. The last thing I wanted to do was bring her along on one of those days. I thought that would turn out to be a terrible experience.
I look at deer season as a year-round approach. With that said, we started with trail cameras. We would hang them and eagerly wait to see what kind of pictures we got. She loved this. It kept her engaged and wanting more. Then, we built on that and started looking for tracks, rubs and scat. She got quite good at identifying sign, I’m proud to say. As summer wore on, we got our blinds set up for the coming fall and patiently waited for that first sit together. It was a late October evening right after a cold front had moved through the area. It was a picture-perfect fall hunt, and it did not disappoint. After watching a handful of does, she got to watch a nice buck work a scrape about 100 yards out. Although we didn’t get a shot, she still had the time of her life.
The last few years, we have spent several evenings in the ground blind studying deer movement, watching turkeys, eating snacks and drinking hot chocolate. Last year she wanted to go with me to harvest a doe over gun week. We hunted hard all week before having a perfect shot the second to last day. This was the perfect time to teach her a life lesson about perseverance. Sometimes hunting isn’t the easiest thing, but it is worth every minute once you harvest a deer.
My daughter turned seven this year and now thinks she is ready to harvest her first Whitetail. Since school has been out, we have spent some time going over shooting and the basics of firearms safety. She has caught on to shooting not only her crossbow, but a .22 as well. This fall, our goal is to harvest her first Whitetail with a bow. I want her first deer to be up close with a bow so she can experience the thrill of the hunt. I have a feeling that with a little patience and a little luck, she will accomplish her goal.
To prepare for the fall of 2023 and for getting her set to harvest her first Whitetail deer, we got her some of her own gear. For a bow, I went with the Barnett TS380. It was almost as if this crossbow was built for kids. With a cocked axel-to-axel length of just over a foot and a collapsible stock, it was perfect to maneuver in a ground blind and easy for her to handle.
I put a Hawke optics crossbow scope on top because of their reticle system. It has crosshairs starting at 20 yards that increase in 10-yard increments up to 60 yards. This is great for kids, especially when you are giving them a ranged distance from which to shoot. I also got her a BOG pod Deathgrip Sherpa. This tripod is rock solid, and it is capable of micro-adjustments, making it perfect for adjusting the bow to her level.
Once we had her bow set up, we moved on to camo. I went with ScentLok camo because that company is one of the few that offer quality products for kids. We went with the youth Hundo Hydrotherm 3-in-1 parka and bibs. I think it will get her through most of the deer season and the start of turkey season, keeping her warm and silent.
While raising my outdoor daughter to be a proficient hunter and angler, I have also tried to teach her some life lessons. Overall, it has worked out well. She has learned a lot of basic skills like baiting a hook, reading deer sign, firearms safety, and even how to process deer.
This effort has also taught me two valuable lessons. The first is that time goes by way too fast. It seems like it was just yesterday that she was born, and now we are preparing for her to harvest her first deer.
The second lesson is that it’s okay to make mistakes. Anyone who has taken a kid hunting or fishing understands this. Prior to taking her with me, I felt everything had to be perfect or I wouldn’t see any deer. I have since learned that’s just not the case.
If you take anything from this, I hope it is how much fun it is to teach a kid about the outdoors. I believe it’s important for the next generation to be engaged in all aspects of the outdoors. After all, they are our future.