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Keeping Kids in the Hunt by Ron Jones

Erin enjoys her first chance to break a stationary clay target on the skeet field with Lyda’s .410 Topper. The experience made the later “rubber pheasant hunt” more meaningful.

n the April 2013 issue I discussed the effectiveness of smallbore shotguns on pheasants. I discussed choosing a gun, along with guidelines for selecting a gauge, action type and appropriate ammunition suited to young hunters. In the December 2013 issue, I cataloged many of the smallbore shotgun models suitable for youth training and hunting. I even found a smallbore youth shotgun under the tree Christmas morning, complements of Dear Old Santa. But buying a youth shotgun is only an intermediate step in getting kids in the game, just part of a complex process which begins with arousing their curiosity for shotguns and hunting, then continues with appropriate education in responsible firearms ownership, respecting the constitutional rights of others, appreciation for our game laws and understanding our role as good stewards of our environment.

Getting and keeping kids in the hunt was much simpler when many of us were growing up. Those who count themselves as part of my generation, often lived in rural America and the only distractions we encountered to keep us from venturing forth into the fields and woodlots were the radio, telephone and print media. We listened to the Lone Ranger on radio, read Field & Stream or Outdoor Life when our monthly issue arrived by mail, and talked to a friend on the telephone on the rare occasion that was permitted. When school was out, we headed home without being enticed by any of the digital distractions tempting today’s youth. If we flopped on the couch, it was in response to sheer exhaustion from spending the afternoon trying to raise a trout or carp from a nearby stream or pond or searching endlessly for the best pheasant cover which would conceal a wily rooster or walking what seemed like a mile along an overgrown fence line where that covey of quail might be hanging out. We didn’t have the option to flop on the couch and watch a pointless TV program about space aliens or text/tweet endlessly on our personal i–Phone® about issues of the day.

Nathan clearly had hunting on his mind.

Nathan clearly had huntin’ on his mind. He immersed himself in the pheasant hunting game with more passion than any video game could generate. Because of this “play acting,” he’ll feel more comfortable with the process when he’s older and the action is real.

I count myself lucky because I have two skeet fields and a trap field a few hundred yards from my house. It’s almost better than owning the facility! When I step out on the back deck, I can hear them shooting, and I know it’s time to grab my shotgun and scoot around the corner to the skeet field. So, when six–year–old Nathan and his sister Erin came to visit, my wife and I wasted no time in taking the opportunity to involve them in a little firearms training.

We started in the living room with one of our old NRA training manuals and some very basic shotgun safety. Both kids seemed a bit passive as we talked about the most basic fundamentals, mostly as they relate to safety. Following that, we tossed Lyda’s 20–gauge Citori and .410 Topper in the trunk and scooted next door to the shotgun facilities. It’s relaxing to talk about guns and related issues in the comfort of your living room, but all of us get more focused when we are in the actual sporting environment. Both Nathan and Erin seemed to get more inspired when Lyda reviewed safety issues on the skeet field, and their eyes really lit up when Erin broke her first stationary clay pigeon with the Topper. She only broke one, but that was enough.

We sent the kids home with our oldest daughter’s old Daisy Buck BB gun and instructions for their parents, Candy and Bill, to work on shotgun safety and a little instinctive shooting practice. I had removed the sights from the little Buck years ago, learning a sightless Daisy made an excellent shotgun primer. Additionally, shooting the gun while looking at the target would quickly reveal any eye–dominance issues. Candy reported back she and Bill had been taking the kids out behind the barn for an occasional round of plinking with safety instruction playing a prominent role. It helps that Candy received her criminal justice degree from Michigan State University with emphasis on insurance fraud, along with accompanying firearms training.

Allow Kids To Dream

We can’t revisit the Good Old Days because, in reality, the good old days start today! We can, however, learn some lessons from the past. With fewer distractions growing up, it was easy for many of us to use our imagination, and imagination was our way of projecting some future pleasurable reality based on wholesome outings we had experienced under the watchful eye of Mom, Dad, Uncle or older brother or sister. Many of us call them dreams, but whatever you call them, they were scenarios which played out in our minds, like a hunt we fully expected would materialize in the not–too–distant future.

Nathan clearly had hunting on his mind.

Nathan’s cap gun got the attention of the retrievers, but his duck call put the most energy and realism into the “hunt.” Zak was ready for action!

We always daydreamed the perfect hunt, with a cottontail running out of a brush pile as we approached in the January snow or a grouse bursting from a blow–down in late September as we cautioned the family dog to be steady. Or maybe it was a fox squirrel peeking around the trunk of an oak tree as we steadied our aim or a big drake mallard flaring right in front of us as we were curled up in the cattails next to shore. Have you noticed it is much more difficult to project those wonderful dreams now that your life is filled with the new realities of daily living? A kid’s mind cluttered with mindless, socially destructive video games makes it much harder for him or her to imagine events in the great outdoors that can lead to a lifetime of enjoyment and a welcome respite from the stress of modern living. We need to find ways to encourage kids to turn off the electronic stimuli and reconnect with the outdoors and the great activities to be enjoyed there.

Get Out & Hunt

This year’s Christmas visit was almost a disaster. An ice storm swept across Michigan and cut off the power to tens of thousands of residents. Nathan’s parents lost power through Christmas, but the power company managed to restore it just before they were to drive to our area two days after Christmas. As soon as they arrived, Nathan had to show me his camo duck call while his mom was locating his new cap gun in the luggage. Clearly, Nathan had huntin’ on his mind!

We shared a few pleasantries, then headed out the back door with my dogs, Zak and Abby, to play in the 8” Christmas snowfall. Erin decided she would be the “bird boy,” and Nathan took on the role of the hunter. The cap gun and duck call put Zak and Abby in high gear, and their exuberance translated into more passion for the game. Their imaginations were on fire!

Nathan’s firearm was a red–tipped six shooter, but at this stage of his development, it seemed pointless to suggest he should be more appropriately armed with a shotgun. As you can see by the photos, the games we simulated were not unlike the real hunting scenarios the kids most likely will experience a decade or less hence.

I was pleasantly surprised at how successful Candy and Bill had been in instilling good gun–handling technique. As a shotgunner, I have to confess to a certain uneasiness when I go on a hunt with someone armed with a handgun. It always seems eminently more difficult to master gun safety in the field with a handgun than a long arm, but Nathan seemed acutely aware at all times of where that red–tipped cap–gun barrel was pointing. I’m not sure he always effectively intercepted the flight of Erin’s rubber pheasant with his shots, but he always made sure the barrel didn’t point at people or dogs. I’ve encountered adults who lacked that awareness and I’m sure you have, too.

When we were kids growing up, we went to grade school with our trusty pocketknife safely secured in the side side pocket of our high–top boots. And when we were in high school, we put our single–shot or double–barrel 20 gauge in the trunk of the car so we could hunt pheasants, grouse or rabbits on the way home. Many of our teachers and ministers were upland/waterfowl hunters and shared their hunting stories in class and Sunday school. My, how things have changed.

Nathan clearly had hunting on his mind.

Neither Zak nor the kids seemed to mind that the pheasant was make–believe. The retrievers loved to participate in the game they trained for. And now they’re training the kids!

Recently, a grade school child was suspended from school for merely forming his hand and index finger into the shape of a gun. Another was suspended for nibbling a pop tart into the shape of a handgun. And a three–year–old deaf student with the first name Hunter was prevented from using the sign for his name because it went against the school’s zero–tolerance rules. How threatening and irresponsible is that? It’s easy to make the argument our Second Amendment rights are vital to the preservation of our right to free speech, but in a less obvious way, erosion of our First Amendment right to free speech is as threatening to our right to keep and bear arms.

I worry that political correctness is becoming so ingrained in our culture it will overshadow a parent’s role in shaping the development of their child into a reasonable, responsible, logical–thinking member of society. If we allow the PC culture to control our free speech and our right to control our child’s development, it won’t be long before they will outlaw our use of firearms and we won’t be permitted to vocalize our objections.

How do we keep kids on the right track if the adults in their school system are telling our children guns are bad? Firearms education at home is the clear answer. Make children comfortable with guns at an early age, discuss related topics on a daily basis and make sure they understand that with gun rights goes an unambiguous set of responsibilities. If every parent took charge of appropriate firearms training at an early age, we wouldn’t need red–tipped cap guns. I am so glad we had the opportunity to help expose Nathan and Erin to the traditions of hunting and help them learn to respect and appreciate the firearms I hope they will be using to enjoy great hunting experiences throughout their lives. I think it will enrich them much more than any video game or Twitter message they might encounter.

Start introducing your kids to gun safety and the joys of hunting now before they grow up and miss the chance to experience the freedom and time in nature we took so much for granted in our youths.

Ron Jones is a retired pharmacist of 49 years who confesses his first love after family and God are shotguns and hunting. His first shotgun experience was his grandfather’s 1911 Ithaca Flues 20, and that experience nearly caused him to look for more pleasurable avocations. He admits to missing all 50 targets his father threw with their Remington hand trap, and the experience resulted in a headache which wouldn’t quit. But his love for guns, particularly vintage scatterguns, has remained with him in the ensuing 60 years. Our heritage is important. Preserving and embracing the values and traditions which our forefathers have handed down will enrich the experiences of those who follow. In some small measure, Ron hopes to contribute to that body of knowledge the younger generation embraces.