Updated: Mar 17, 2021
I was recently asked an interesting question while at a family dinner about my thoughts on when it is acceptable for a child to start hunting. I found this to be interesting because it was never a topic that seemed problematic to me. I grew up around hunting and it was just a given that we would learn to hunt. The person that brought this up to me was by no means anti-hunting but just didn’t feel right seeing pictures of nephews posing next to deer. Posing next to dead animals is a topic for a different time that brings its own arguments. My immediate answer was that it is different for all kids. It is not really any age; it is more dependent upon maturity and understanding of hunting. I believe that nobody should hunt until they are able to understand and comprehend what is going on. You are taking an animal’s life and that is not something you should take lightly. It is not always pretty, and I think they need to be as prepared as possible. I also mentioned that I don't agree with the idea that hunting at a young age will cause you to become a serial killer or a terrible person.
Still, being as prepared as possible may not be enough for a young hunter until they actually go through the act of hunting and harvesting an animal. I learned this firsthand. I had grown up around hunting and would see dead deer, ducks, squirrels, and rabbits as they were being skinned or placed in the frying pan. There is a huge difference between being in the skillet and being in the field with your sights on an animal. Until you experience pulling the trigger you won't understand the emotions behind it. When I shot my first deer in 2007 for youth season with my dad, we had already talked about what was going on and I was well aware of the consequences of pulling that trigger. I shot the deer and it dropped immediately; from the blind I could see the deer still kicking. This lasted only a few seconds, but I felt awful about it. We walked to the deer, and immediately got to work on putting the tag on and field dressing the deer to drop some weight for the pull back to the truck. It was a fairly small deer, so my father gave me the opportunity to pull the deer back to the truck. I don't know for a fact but at that age I would guess it was a three-mile walk. Realistically if you asked my dad it may have been 300 yards and I would also take a guess and say he probably helped a little at some point. After the deer was loaded in the truck, we went back home to hang it and skin the deer. After that was over, we went into the house and I would imagine I did a little bragging to my mother and did some visiting after that. Eventually the adrenaline wore off and I went to the bathroom and broke down crying just thinking about the fact that I killed an animal. This is not a crazy reaction in my opinion, in fact I think this is the correct reaction for a young kid who just killed something that we grow up seeing as a cute and cuddly character on tv. My parents came in and comforted me and we discussed that the deer had died a quick death from the shot and this deer wasn’t killed in vain and would not be wasted. The meat would be enjoyed for months to come as it would supply a portion of the family’s groceries. I was able to learn several things that night. I learned that hunting is more than just harvesting an animal and then moving on with your life. If you are doing it correctly, in some ways your work just gets started when you shoot the animal. You must do several things to take care of that meat for it to be useful later. Then, you learn to work hard and not to complain because it may get you a smack in the back of the head. In my case that night it was pulling that deer “three miles” as I sweat my butt off and fought to keep my new SpongeBob glasses from falling off my face.
When I did some research in preparation for this article, I found that these lessons get overlooked by many people because they can't get past the killing of the animal or more likely, they don't want to look any further than that. Instead, I found that they prefer to put all hunters into a category with animal abusers. An article presented by PETA links to a study stating that people who abuse animals at a young age are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans. I don't dispute this at all. I think animal abuse is disgusting and anyone who engages in that should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. If you raise your kid to abuse animals, you are a terrible person. If you raise them to respect and appreciate nature, then you are doing it correctly. It is unfair and irresponsible to throw hunters into this category. Most hunters work very hard to make sure that they will have a clean and quick kill. If you read my latest article you will hear and probably be annoyed with how often I talk about making sure the deer doesn't suffer. I would be willing to bet that the people who wrote the article I am referencing have never taken the time to talk to a hunter and just assume that they are all blood thirsty killers who are out just looking for an animal to abuse. If they did sit down with a hunter, they would most likely find that they don’t actually enjoy the killing part. I still struggle with that part, there is nothing fun about that 15 seconds between the shot and the death. As I said, if you raise your kid to abuse animals you are a terrible person. If you raise them to respect and appreciate nature, then you are doing it correctly.
In the end, I still believe that the proper age for a child to start hunting all just depends on when you think they are ready and willing. If you never want to introduce your kid to hunting that is completely fine in my book. If you want to teach your kid how to hunt along with all the other lessons that come with that, great! They will ultimately be more in tune with the circle of life, and arguably more compassionate than those shielded from it.
Steve Springman and his grandson Jayden, with his first deer. October 2020