By Jason Herbert

“Dad can we shoot tonight?!”

“Heck yeah, we can, in fact, we probably better,” I replied.

I live to go hunting with my kids and look forward to the memories that we make together each season. That being said just like training a dog, there are things to know before introducing a kid to waterfowl hunting.

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First and foremost, make sure the youth is comfortable around guns. Also, a basic hunter safety course is recommended, and in fact it is required in most States before kids can purchase licenses. I also recommend teaching children conservation and not just hunting. For instance, when it comes to waterfowl hunting my kids, and I also like to build wood duck houses in the offseason to hang up near the pond where we hunt. It goes without saying, but just so we’re clear, I really believe in teaching my children and hunting is about conservation, not just about killing.

Once the kid understands how to safely handle guns it’s time to start shooting in the yard. I have started both of my boys off by shooting 20 gauges. As they grow older and get bigger in size, the kids gradually progressed to a 12 gauge. I personally like to start introducing children to shooting shotguns by simply patterning their guns at a cardboard motionless target. I’ll slap a piece of duct tape on the target and have the kids aim at it from 20 yards out. By doing so, the youth gets the concept of how a shot pattern works. We will also shoot different guns with various chokes so they can grasp the concept of a choke tube as well. once the kid is comfortable shooting the particular shotgun, it’s time to move on.

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Hitting a moving target is a whole new concept, so we start by hand throwing clay pigeons for each other in the backyard. Of course, we practice safety, where the thrower is slightly behind the shooter. We also discuss good and bad shot angles. while we’re throwing clays, I purposely will throw a few too low to offer bad shot angles to teach the kids that not every bird that cruises buy is worth shooting at. This ends up being where most of our time is spent, shooting at clays. I really try to teach the boys to continue to move their gun through the target once they pulled the trigger because the natural tendency is to stop once they’ve shot. This prevents their shot pattern from winding up well behind a moving target.

Once our kids are pretty comfortable at hitting clays it’s time to move on to the next phase getting camouflaged. Usually, in my family, we can’t afford new clothes for everybody so we just passed down old camo. That usually works, but there are some exceptions. It’s really important that every kid has properly fitting rain gear because hunting in the cold rainy fall would be miserable without camouflaged waterproof coat and pants. It’s also important to make sure that every kid has appropriately fitting insulated gear for cold, late-season hunts. Hunting is supposed to be fun and there is so much else out there competing for my children’s attention. I want to make sure that when we do hunt it becomes an enjoyable experience.

Once the kids are good with their guns, and they have appropriate clothing, it’s time to shut up are blind. We usually just take old wooden pallets slap them down on cinder blocks at the edge of the pond in the tall grass. Then we’ll take some steel t-posts and bury them around the edge. Once the posts are set, we string chicken wire all the way around the entire blind and weave in camouflage grasses. Some blinds are better camouflage than others and one could get carried away making a blind. The cool thing is that building blind is really fun for kids, and it helps increase the anticipation for the big event of the first hunt. In fact, when we build blinds, my younger kids that don’t hunt with us yet might even tag along to be part of the fun. Always thinking one step ahead, I want my younger two children to see how much fun the older boys and me are having. I’m hoping that when the older boys are out of the house I’ll still have hunting companions in my younger children that live at home.

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With the guns camouflage and blinds in place, the next step is just a hunt. When we hunt the kids are all about hot cocoa and donuts, so I make sure to have plenty of both before we head to the blind. I also bring plenty of bottled water and other snacks for them to munch on and drink while we’re passing the time. When were hunting and the action is slow, it’s always okay for a kid to get up and go adjust the decoys or just walk around and stretch. I also like each kid to have their own set of calls so that they can practice in the wild or mom can’t hear and get annoyed. In fact, my older son has become a better caller than I am!

This fall we’re going to be working with our new puppy Molly on basic waterfowl hunting, so that should be interesting. The boys like training Molly and they have a good rapport with her, so I know having a dog with us should just enhance the experience of the hunt.

I can’t say enough how much fun I have hunting with the kids. I like watching them shoot birds and miss, have some laughs and share in frustration. What hunting with youth isn’t just about fun, it’s also an exercise and responsible parenting. Teaching the next generation to hunt with proper etiquette is our responsibility as parents, especially because somebody out there passed this heritage on to us too.