Hunting is a privilege, a tradition and to many families, a legacy. It’s one of the best ways to unplug kids from the internet or video games and spend quality time in the outdoors. But there are right ways and wrong ways to introduce them to this great American pastime. Here are few guidelines that might help.

Take a hunter safety course.
Nothing beats learning the basics from experts through a hunter safety course. Besides, if you want to hunt, it’s the law. In Illinois, anyone born on or after January 1, 1980 is required to pass the Illinois Hunter Certification program in order to buy a hunting license. In fact, most other states require proof of hunter safety training in order to hunt in their state or province. In Illinois, there are two ways to receive the required Hunter Education Certificate— by taking a two-day on site course led by certified instructors or taking a combination of online course followed by a field day. It is the policy of IDNR that youth under the age of ten must be accompanied to and during the safety education courses by an adult or guardian at least sixteen years of age. Mere attendance of a safety education training and taking a written test will not guarantee the passing of this course. Multiple criteria such as mental and physical acuity, the ability to demonstrate and recognize safe procedures, attitude and the maturity level of each individual student will be a factor assessed by the instructors in the final certification process.  After either course — online or the instructor-led on site classes— the students are required to take and pass a written exam. Although the online course is sufficient, youngsters stand to receive a more comprehensive experience by taking the instructor-led courses, where they can ask questions and interact with instructors. Although there is no required minimum age, I recommend waiting until they are at least twelve years old, any younger and they may not retain as much. A list of classes and a link to the online course can be found on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website.


Start kids off with a low caliber gun.

Let’s face it — recoil is simply a part of shooting. But a quick way to turn a kid off of shooting is by starting them off with a gun that kicks too hard. It’s better

6-year-old Rachel Stefanich gets ready to do some shooting with a .22 caliber rifle which is a great "low recoil" starter gun. Starting kids off with a heavy recoil gun may cause "flinching" that could take years to correct.
6-year-old Rachel Stefanich gets ready to do some shooting with a .22 caliber rifle which is a great “low recoil” starter gun. Starting kids off with a heavy recoil gun may cause “flinching” that could take years to correct.

to start with a low caliber, like a .22. They can get used to the report, or “bang”, without associating it with the “kick”. With shotguns, start with a .410 or a 20 gauge. Semi-automatic shotguns typically have even less recoil that a pump. Over time, you can increase the caliber and gauge with their comfort level.


Don’t start too young and make sure they are ready.

I took my kids on many hunting trips long before they carried a weapon. I wanted to introduce them to the basics like watching for game, looking for signs, and most of all practicing safety. Never stick a weapon in their hands and take them out for a “crash course”.  When game appears, the adrenaline starts pumping, increasing the chances for a mishap. This “situational” training, along with hunter safety courses are the best form of experience they can have prior to putting a weapon their hands.

Be patient.
Another great way to turn kids off of hunting is by yelling and scolding them the entire time. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to correct bad habits or worse, bad behavior. Just remember that this is a learning experience, and it’s supposed to be fun. Make sure your expectations go hand in hand with the goal. By that I mean taking your kid can result in a blown hunt, so be sure you are ok with that. That’s just part of the process. As a parent, if you’re not willing make

Christian Turvey show his son Landon the basics of a 20 gauge Shotgun on the trap range.
Christian Turvey show his son Landon the basics of a 20 gauge Shotgun on the trap range.

that sacrifice, then it might be better to not put your kid in that situation. Kids have short attention spans, and probably won’t sit in one place very long. I always used a ground blind when hunting with my little ones. A blind conceals squirming kids, as well as noise and smell. Also, avoid bad weather days like rain and extreme cold. That takes the fun out of it, fast.


Teach control and safety first
Whenever we fire a weapon, or especially when game appears, our adrenaline starts pumping which can make good decision-making more challenging. It’s our natural physiology and reaction to the situation, and that can take a lifetime to master. Some guys never do. But that’s how many accidents happen, letting our excitement or tunnel vision —when you become so focused on the game that you block out everything else— lead to a bad decision like firing at or towards other hunters without even knowing it. One of the most important lessons in hunting and shooting is mastering situational awareness — knowing the location of roads, building and other hunters. Safety is always the number one priority of hunting. My dad always taught me that you can never bring back that bullet or arrow. That lesson drives home the most important factor in hunting — being 100% clear in thought and knowledge of your target before you pull that trigger.


There’s no greater way to bond with your family than spending time in the great outdoors together. Put kids on the right path of safety and ethics and you will enjoy a lifetime of great experiences that your kids can pass on to their kids.



Enroll in Hunter Safety Courses Now!

If you are planning to get a hunting license this fall for your youngster, you need to get them enrolled in an Illinois hunter safety course NOW. Classes are filling fast. To get started, call the IDNR at 1-800-832-2599 or sign up for classes online at http://www.hunter-ed.com

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