Taking Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Hunter Education course with a child or spouse is one way to set the stage for a lasting family hunting partnership.
Some parents may start even earlier with backpacking and camping trips, big game scouting trips and other good excuses to have fun in the outdoors while teaching young people the basic skills they will need as hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. Montana's general deer and elk hunting season closes Nov. 28, the general pheasant season closes Jan. 1.
Hunters with children say, regardless of their experience level, that many new questions occur to them when planning the first few formative trips afield for a child. How do you create early hunting experiences that will form a life-long love affair with hunting and the Montana outdoors? The role of hunter-mentor can be overwhelming at first, so we asked a group of FWP employees who have mentored young hunters for advice.
Keep It Simple
Scout for trails of varying lengths with good rest spots. Allow youngsters to set the pace. As one FWP parent said, "It is their time and their legs, and they aren't likely to last as long." Go where you're most likely to spot a variety of wildlife, or have repeated sightings. Antelope and waterfowl hunts are good first hunts for this reason.
Remember Fun, Food and Photos
Create memorable hunting rituals—for example hot chocolate for a post-hunt celebration, special candy bars just for hunting, a new fanny pack, hat or gloves each year. Never forget the camera! Take lots of breaks and time off for fun activities—for example pointing out the foods deer eat, or what squirrels do to prepare for winter. One mentor's motto is: "If it ain't fun, they're done!"
Ensure youngsters have good quality thermal layers and boots with good socks. "Getting cold has put the brakes on many otherwise fun and productive hunts," one FWP dad said.
Choose a Weapon and Who Carries It
A good rifle for a 12-14 year old is a lighter caliber .243 or a .270. Some experienced parents suggest allowing a young hunter to carry the rifle so the mentor doesn't "take over the hunt" when, for example, a coveted elk steps into the clearing. The reverse also works—you carry the gun and do the shooting, while the young hunter practices spotting and stalking with you.
Set Practice Goals
The first few trips afield don't have to be about bringing home game. One trip can be to practice shooting positions so a new hunter becomes comfortable and familiar with them. Another could focus on carrying the rifle safely, or stalking and aiming an unloaded rifle at what one FWP parent said he calls the "tickle spot." That is an imaginary spot just behind the shoulder in the armpit area that is more obvious to a 12-year old than the broader "behind the shoulder" term. Breaking the hunt into various skills practice sessions helps build body awareness and routines that will serve the young hunter later when he or she puts the whole routine together.
Tap New Ideas
The Internet is a rich source of free resources and advice for parents mentoring young hunters—search organizations, federations and foundations devoted to big game species, upland game bird and waterfowl hunting.