Are We Making Things Too Easy For Youth Hunters?

Are We Making Things Too Easy For Youth Hunters?

Just a shade over thirty years ago, I started bowhunting whitetails as a clueless 12-year-old. We didn’t have youth seasons then. Or pop-up blinds. Or, trail cameras of any style, let alone models that would beam deer recon via satellites right to a device in our pockets. We didn’t have the type of good gear that keeps you warm, quiet, and safe. There were some box blinds on the landscape, but they were mostly concentrated in the Lone Star State. Crossbows weren’t much of a thing, either.

Today’s world of youth hunting is drastically different. At the risk of sounding like I’m in a ratty bathrobe on my lawn, shaking my fist at the sky and screaming for the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn, I find myself wondering if we are making things too easy for young hunters.

My twin eleven-year-old daughters have killed seven deer, and seven turkeys, between the two of them. At that age, I wasn’t even legally allowed to hunt turkeys or deer in my home state of Minnesota.

I wrestle with the reality that I’ve set my girls up for nearly assured success, and that bothers me. It also bothers me when I watch outdoor television and see young hunters passing 130-inch bucks while waiting on a real hitlister, all while spouting the same inane platitudes they’ve picked up from their parents (and the broader trophy-hunting crowd).

The question is, why should any of this bother me, or any of us?

Youth Complaints

If you want to hear a group of folks go out of their way to complain about youth hunters, look no further than the waterfowl crowd. Youth duck seasons, typically held before the traditional openers, have caused plenty of strife in that world. The general consensus is that youth seasons push the ducks out, leaving the rest of the waterfowlers to pick over the scraps.

Youth hunts have invaded the spring turkey woods and the fall deer woods, too.

As the father of a couple of middle-school-aged children, I listen to the arguments against youth hunts with plenty of bias in my heart. They remind me of school referendums that involve raising local taxes to fund education. The dissenters are almost always folks who don’t have young kids, while the supporters do. While raising taxes is a far different issue from some 10-year-old shooting a few wood ducks before older hunters get the chance to post up in the cattails, there’s a broader question at hand about how we might be prioritizing youth too much.

This might seem crazy, but framing that question another way can help contextualize it. Are we making it too easy for young hunters to have success in the field?

Everyone Gets A Trophy, But Should They?

When my daughters were first getting into organized sports, the leagues all followed a similar rule. No one wins, no one loses. The games, whether tee-ball or basketball, were all for fun. There was no scorekeeping. It always sucked. Because even six-year-olds understand that with nothing at stake, it doesn’t matter how well they do.

As soon as they started keeping score and trying to win, the whole dynamic changed. There is something gene-deep in us that makes us want to win. To work toward a goal and achieve it. Without that struggle, it’s easy to languish. Even though I’ll probably get crucified for this, I believe that’s one of the biggest issues with society. We generally don’t have to challenge ourselves to get better at things, so we don’t.

What does this have to do with hunting? Well, if success is all but guaranteed, what is it going to mean to you? Not as much as it would if you had to earn it.

Well-Earned Rewards

In a past life, I worked for an outdoor magazine where I got plenty of invites to do media hunts. I was obligated to do a couple a year, and when I did, I saw a world that was alien to me. Whether it was Texas whitetails or Kansas turkeys, the hunts were mostly all the same. The lowest skilled hunter in the industry would have had a hard time not filling a tag.

The goal wasn’t an amazing hunting experience. It was to put some of the voices in the hunting industry in a situation where they would kill. Then, theoretically, they would help sell products around those filled tags. The motivation was pretty simple and it had very little to do with the spirit of the hunt.

With our youth, oftentimes, our motivation is to produce success as easily as we can. This makes them vicarious victims of our own egos, and it’s dangerous ground. As soon as my daughters killed their first deer without burning a calorie, I felt this creeping realization settle in. I had set them up to take a deer’s life without understanding hardly anything that goes into a hunt. They didn’t appreciate it, and I could tell.

The following year they shadowed me in the woods throughout the summer, setting blinds and cameras, swatting mosquitoes and deer flies. That process has expanded over the last couple of seasons in my attempt to give them a glimpse behind the curtain, so to speak. It has been a lot more fun to watch them struggle a bit, as crazy as that sounds.

I think you’re supposed to give at least a little of yourself in a meaningful way if you’re going to kill an animal, whatever your motivations. I feel the same way for my kids, even though my ego wants them to have as much success as possible.

This is a weird dynamic, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Introducing youngsters to the outdoors, whether that’s hunting or fishing, is awesome. It just is. But it comes with some responsibilities beyond the usual suspects. It can be as easy as us making everything perfect to ensure success or something that involves some effort and an uncertain outcome. As hard as it is to embrace the latter, it’s probably best for our kids.

After all, we don’t want to hand over the keys of this whole thing to a generation that doesn’t appreciate it. That might not be the end of hunting as we know it, but it certainly wouldn’t portend anything too positive for the future.

Plus, we wouldn’t be doing them any favors.

youth hunting

If you want to check out more articles about the spirit of hunting, give these a read: How Hunting Helps Veterans, 8 Reasons Why You And I Love Whitetail Deer, and Are The Good ‘Ol Days Of Whitetail Hunting Over?

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