Kenneth Kieser: Remember safety first when introducing youth to hunting
You recently purchased your youth a firearm. Now comes the fun of shooting and hunting with that boy or girl while considering responsibilities and phases of a new gun owner.
Gun ownership must start with hunter’s education classes provided free by fish and game groups like the Missouri Department of Conservation or Kansas Parks and Wildlife. Even youngsters who never plan to hunt but only shoot targets are required by law to take these classes, and for good reason. Many hours were spent in developing this professional design for firearms safety.
Classes taken, it’s time for practice and the phases of shooting to begin. The first pull of a trigger can be frightening for a child. The simple pull of a trigger that creates an explosion caused by exploding gunpowder will often make a beginning shooter flinch. This is the reason for the required plugs that protect hearing and makes it less startling.
After the first bullet or shotgun shell is fired, the new shooter will relax and let their firearms safety training take over. Then they can focus and carefully pick their targets before inhaling a deep breath and squeezing the trigger. Shooting glasses are welcome too, especially when some residue accidently kicks back in the shooter’s face. This has only happened to me a couple of times in 60 years of shooting, but the glasses were good protection, and besides, they look cool.
The next phase of improving as a shooter requires enjoyable hours of target practice. This, too, is important to ensure that later your youth will be capable of the all-important one-shot kill instead of wounding a bird or animal so it can suffer and later die a terrible death. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s a fact of life and why proficiency with a firearm is important.
Your youth will soon develop a familiarity with their rifle or shotgun, so now it’s time to hunt. This is an anxious time for most young shooters who are sharing an adventure afield with their adult. For some this may be the most adult activity they have tried in their young life.
The youngster should be fully aware of dangers their firearm can cause after pulling their trigger and sending a life-threatening bullet or shot at several thousand feet per second – the main reason why professional firearms training is necessary.
The first hunts will be about the experience and hopefully taking their first wild game. Adults should acknowledge the first kills with praise like “well done” or “good job” – something positive.
I remember shooting my first wild rabbit and holding it up for an older family member. His comment, “What do you want, a medal?” That sarcastic comment was not encouraging and I still remember it about 59 years later.
You now have a hunting partner for many positive outings. Remember your youngster is a beginner, so keep an eye on his gun handling. Occasionally a shooter who has become too comfortable with their firearm will make mistakes, some fatal. So be aware and watch.
The next phase of hunting may be focusing on trophies. They may discover that the young gobbler called a jake or the young buck with small antlers was nothing compared to the bigger species their buddy shot. This is an important time when the adult must explain that any deer or turkey provides good meat for the family and there is nothing to be ashamed of in taking a younger or smaller bird or animal.
We live in a competitive society where sports in school identify youth. Races, wrestling matches or other tests determine if a boy or girl will earn their varsity letter and proudly display it on well-made jackets. Even grades in some classes are part of competitions in schools, called grading on the curve. Competitive spirits are created in scholastic settings and there is nothing wrong with this.
However, that mindset has absolutely nothing to do with hunting. This sport is not about shooting the biggest or the most for bragging rights.
I once saw a man get shot in the face by a friend who rose up and shot at quail too quickly before making sure of a safe shooting lane. His ambition was to shoot the most birds for later bragging rights. Fortunately, the shot man was not seriously injured, although it’s a miracle he wasn’t killed. He had some skin ripped on the edge of his left cheek that was cleaned up at the hospital, ending the friendship.
On another hunt, I saw a very good hunting dog killed. We had to physically grab the dog’s owner to stop him from seriously hurting the shooter. That dog had slept beside his bed every night since it was a puppy. Tears were shed and the shooter left without hesitation, his only wise act that day.
Hunting is about enjoying the experience and doing it right. What you harvest is not important. How the hunt is carried out is, especially when you have good dogs working. There is no room for fast, brainless shooters on a hunt.
There are many phases for a hunter or shooter. The trick is to be safe and enjoy the good, clean outdoors.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.