When I turned 11, I didn’t realize I was in for the longest year of my life. The wait until 12, which was the legal hunting age in my home state of Minnesota back then, was torture. I wanted to hunt in the worst way, but it wasn’t like my dad was going to take me to a state with a younger minimum age requirement.
This was pretty standard for a long time in the deer world. Now, there are quite a few states with no minimum age, which leaves it up to the parents to decide. I’m all for that and took full advantage of it when Wisconsin did away with its youth restrictions.
My twin daughters started deer hunting a full three years before I did, and while it has been a fun ride, it has also been a real learning experience for all involved. The lessons are many, but three stick out to me as the most poignant.
I’ve taken a lot of people hunting for the first time, and it has gone a variety of ways. I wanted them all to have success, but not in the same way I wanted my daughters to succeed when they started deer hunting.
It became a mission of mine to put any legal deer within 20 yards of them. What I didn’t realize in that single-minded pursuit was that they didn’t care nearly as much as I did. I wanted it so badly for them that I overlooked the fact that the whole experience was new to them, and not just a mission to kill as quickly as possible.
This meant a lot of things. For starters, it meant working around their schedule, their tolerance for boredom, and their willingness to handle the weather. In other words, even if there was a cold front in late October, it didn’t mean anything if they had school, or simply didn’t want to sit for four hours in sub-freezing temps.
We catered our sits to warmer, more pleasant weather during whatever weekends we had free. While my girls are pretty patient with hunting, they are still young. All-day sits weren’t going to happen, and I needed to think in terms of three or four-hour time frames at most. In so many ways, it became clear that when it was time for them to hunt, it was time for me to simply guide them. Once I did, it became a hell of a lot of fun.
I’ve personally bow-killed probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 125ish big game animals. Even with a resume like that, I screw up all of the time. I still get buck fever, I still miss, and I still get busted.
I needed to remind myself of that, often, when I started hunting with my daughters. As bad as I wanted them to succeed, mistakes were inevitable. Some they made, some I made, but they happened on every hunt.
Some cost us deer, some didn’t. But they happened, and they’ll keep happening. It sucks in the moment, but the truth is, the best hunters aren’t made from easy success. They are made from failure. There might be nothing more valuable in creating a lifelong hunter than several years of mostly screwing up, punctuated by a few sweet moments of success.
Acknowledging that is a great step toward not putting more pressure on kids to succeed. It’s hard not to step in and do everything possible for them, but it’s worth it to give them a safe amount of autonomy in their close encounters with deer. And if they screw up, let it go.
I started scouting with, and taking my daughters on my deer hunts, long before they actually hunted. I wanted them to learn about the process of being a hunter. Every blind we set up, camera we hung, or bit of sign we found, was a lesson in and of itself.
When we hunt together, the lessons come in many forms. How and when to move, what certain sounds mean in the woods, and what to do when a shot isn’t perfect. The list is endless, and it’s an amazing thing to be a part of, especially if you’re at the stage of your hunting career when so many aspects of a hunt are almost second nature.
This extends far beyond some of the obvious aspects of deer hunting, too. For example, if you put some level of your trophy standards on a young hunter, the potential for a bad hunt rises. Let them decide for themselves, before the hunt, but also when a deer walks in. My daughters talk a big game about deer, but when any legal deer is in front of them, they go from selective to bloodthirsty. There’s a lesson there, and it’s a good one for all of us to experience.
While I’ve learned these things from my twin girls, I’ve also learned something else about deer hunting with them—I enjoy it more when they hunt than when I do. I know that probably sounds crazy to some, but it’s true.
It’s also true that hunting with them has reminded me of, and taught me, so many important lessons.