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How young is too young?

Prince George playing
Photo: © Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Public outrage. You would think we’d be used to it by now. This week the Royals were the target of keyboard warriors everywhere. Why, you ask? Because they took their son, George (aged 5), on a grouse hunt. An English tradition going back for generations. As far as we can tell, George wasn’t handed a firearm and pointed in the direction of the nearest grouse. He was just accompanying the adults along on a hunt.

Obviously, the news has come with mixed reviews. Some maintain that it is an age-old Royal tradition. Others are describing it as barbaric and deplorable.

Their reactions got me thinking. What age is it ok to introduce children to hunting?

First, let’s start with a caveat. It is important that parents always abide by local laws and regulations. Please check with authorities in your area on the relevant laws regarding minors and firearms.

I believe that children should be introduced to the culture of hunting long before they are ever handed a firearm. Hunting teaches our kids valuable lessons about responsibility, survival, respect for nature, conservation, and the value of life.

It’s also one of the best ways to enjoy quality family time together. Added bonus – it is free from the distractions and pressures of modern technology.

My experience

Jack with backstrapJack is four and a half years old and has been coming with us on hunting trips since he was a toddler.

I introduced Jack slowly to the sound and atmosphere of hunting by bringing him along to the range where he stayed in the car for the first few times. Then we moved on to short trips to the farm for some crop protection shooting (trips lasting no more than 2-3 hours).

He had no issues with the noise of the rifles at the range or the farm (hearing protection is very important – we use the camo Baby Banz earmuffs for Jack).

Mincing venison I will be honest. I was a little worried about how he would react to seeing us break down the animals. Thankfully he had no issues at all seeing exactly where his food comes from. He even wanted to join in helping us clean and package the meat for the esky.

I have always made a really conscious effort to teach Jack about the realities of eating meat. I’ve explained to him from a young age that the beef or pork or lamb that he eats comes from an animal that was once living. This is an important part of instilling a sense of respect in our kids for the cost associated with eating meat.

One thing that society is failing to teach adults and children alike is the cost of living. I don’t mean the price of your daily latte. Unless you subscribe to the ‘energy of the universe’ diet where you survive (read: starve) on air and good vibes (not recommended by doctors everywhere), your food choices have a cost to animals and the environment. Yes vegans, this includes you too.

Growing vegetables requires flat, cultivated land free from the pesky eating habits of herbivores. Those animals are cleared off the land then poisoned, trapped and shot when they try to return #rabbitslikekaletoo.

I digress. No matter the age you decide to introduce your children, it is important to read their cues.

What to look for in your kids

Here are some of the things that I have looked for in Jack to decide what stage he is ready for:

  • Interest – some kids show a keen interest in hunting from a very early age, long before they head out into the great outdoors. Others take a bit longer to warm up to it. Jack was begging to come along from the moment he could put together the words to ask.
  • Patience and obedience – start small. We took Jack to the range first because it gave us a good idea about how long his interest would last without the potential of ruining a good hunt. Start with something small where you can call it quits if it all gets too much for your little one.
  • Physical stamina – while kids have a lot more energy than adults, they can also tire more quickly. Like above, start with some short walks and build from there. The last thing you want to be doing on a hunt is carrying out your kill and your child.
  • Stuff and things – this has nothing to do with your child’s abilities but it is important. Make sure your little one has a good, comfortable pair of boots (I have a pair of Hi-Tec ones for Jack – they have a removable sole allowing them to fit for longer!) , warm clothes, some hearing protection (like these) and SNACKS!!! Bring all the snacks.

Jack and I in South AfricaWhatever age you decide to introduce your child to hunting, remember that slow and steady wins the race. There’s no point taking them on a massive trek into rugged backcountry in the dead of winter if all it’s going to do is leave them with a bad experience. You’re better off taking them along on smaller hunts first and listening to their cues about when to call it a day.

Play it by ear, make it an enjoyable experience, and you just may have found a lifelong hunting buddy to share your passion with.

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