By Jackie Holbrook
“Say goodbye to hunting.” That was one of the most unwelcomed pieces of advice I was given while pregnant. While waddling through the woods with a growing belly, backache and intense food cravings, I thought, “Hunting with kids can’t be that hard. Certainly not harder than this.” I was wrong. Hunting with kids, especially young ones, is a challenge. But if you’re up for an adventure, bringing your kids bowhunting is a ton of fun.
Bowhunting with younger partners yields a different experience, so plan accordingly. “Little kids aren’t going to hang in there for an all-day, multi-mile backcountry hunt,” said Rich Pribyl, father to two daughters, ages 3 and 5. “If they don’t have fun, they’re not going to want to come along next time. Plan a short hunt, just a few hours, and keep the distance reasonable.”
It’s important not to push kids beyond their limits. As the parent, you know what your kids can handle. If the weather isn’t cooperating or the kids are in a funky mood, sometimes it’s best to just call it a day and try again another time. And it’s the same for older kids – if they’re not in the mood it won’t be fun for anyone. “Pushing kids too hard on their first hunts is setting them up for failure,” said Sereena Thompson, a mother of two. “It’s important to take them on hunts where they can have fun.”
Who knew bowhunting and parenting had so much in common? Both require a backpack full of essential items. Plan on hiking in a little heavier than normal when bringing kids along. What to bring depends on age, but snacks, distractions and extra layers are pretty standard. If your children are older, encourage them to carry their own gear.
Comfort is key for kids. Make sure they have enough layers to stay warm, especially when sitting. Bring plenty of options to keep them warm and dry like a hat, vest, mittens, raincoat and jacket. Warm, waterproof shoes are also important. It never hurts to have your kids dress the part. “They feel like it’s something super special to go hunting because they get to dress up in camo like dad or mom,” Pribyl said.
Hunting-specific clothing for kids is tough to come by but you have a few options. “I find affordable clothes so they can look the part, and I think it adds to making hunting special,” Pribyl said. Little orange bird vests for pheasant hunting or to wear around deer camp (are good examples). It not only keeps them safe and comfortable, but it adds to the adventure of the day. But if you can’t afford camo or their coat is bright pink, that’s OK, too. Don’t let lack of gear or lack of the right clothes keep you from getting your kids outside.”
When it comes to snacks, bring more than you think their little bellies can handle, and then double that. Pribyl said he uses snacks as the ultimate bribery and reward. “My kids ask for a snack every 10 minutes, ‘Can I have a snack?’ ‘We can have a snack when we get across this valley and set up to hunt.” Pribyl also uses snacks to keep his kids occupied while sitting and waiting for animals, and he advises other parents to pick snacks wisely.
“Don’t give your kid a pack of Skittles and then tell them to sit still for half an hour. I like snacks that take longer to eat like trail mix, Chex Mix, Goldfish crackers, cut up fruit and cut up sandwiches.” He says he’s also learned to use plastic lunch boxes or Tupperware to avoid loud plastic baggies that later turn to trash in his pockets.
Bowhunting requires hunters to remain undetected. You can pretty much forget about being quiet if kids come along for the ride. “My dad took me along full well knowing I may or may not be quiet and get bored fast,” said Sarah Cook, a new mom. “But he took me and my sister anyway because it was important to him to share his love and passion for the outdoors with his family.”
Keeping kids quiet is one of the biggest challenges when bringing them bowhunting. Make it fun. Most toddlers and elementary-school aged children love playing pretend. Turn whispering and sneaking through the woods into an exciting game. Show them how to tip-toe through the terrain by stepping quietly and avoiding loud surfaces. But be prepared for mistakes and missteps, and don’t react in anger or frustration.
“Remember kids are young,” Thompson said. “They don’t have the experience that us adults do. They will make mistakes, but that’s okay because this is how they learn.”
If you’re used to putting in the miles chasing bugles or hanging out in a treestand, you might need to switch up your method. “I’m not going to sneak up on an elk with my bow with my two kids clomping around behind me,” Pribyl said. “So, plan to do more sitting, watching, calling, waiting. Use a method that can work with kids.”
Pribyl also lets his girls get in on the action. “If you’ve been sitting for a while and it’s becoming clear nothing is likely to walk by, let them do some calling. I give my kids a turkey box call, a deer grunt or a cow elk call and let them (with some educational instruction and limits) do some calling.”
Every hunt is an opportunity to pass on your passion and share your knowledge. Kids are fascinated by nature. They love rocks, tracks, leaves, calling and mud puddles. Teach them about what they’re seeing. Point out scat and tracks. Talk to them about the wildlife you’re looking for and what you see. “Let them learn. Help them understand what is happening and why we hunt,” Cook said.
Bowhunting is a lot of things to many people. It’s about getting meat, taking an adventure, getting close to wildlife and passing on family traditions. But kids are only interested in what’s fun. And bowhunting is a ton of fun! Don’t ruin their experience by setting the bar too high or getting stressed when something doesn’t work out right. They don’t need to remember their shriek of excitement scared the buck at the last minute. They should remember sharing that close-call moment with you.
Parenting takes patience. Just the amount of time it takes to get out the door sometimes is unreal. It’s important to remember that bowhunting as a family is different than a traditional hunt, and that’s OK.
“I have a good idea of what raising my daughter in the outdoors looks like and its patience, education and experience. As she gets older each of those categories increase until her dad and I are next to her when she takes her first animal,” Cook said.
When you’re prepared, you can enjoy the experience for what it is – an opportunity to spend time pursuing what you love with the ones you love.