Over the last 20 years and especially the last 10, the times I have enjoyed the most are the ones that were shared with people that I love to be with. My kids and good friends make up the entirety of that list. The last four years are the most prevalent in my mind because I have had the privilege of sharing God’s creation with a youngster named Caden. Caden is my 8-year-old grandson; he lives within a mile of our house, so we get a steady diet of each other. He loves the outdoors and on one occasion, he said “CC, the outdoors is my favorite toy.” Now if that doesn’t make a grandpa swell up, nothing will.
There are many ways you can introduce a child to hunting and fishing. Caden began going fishing with me when he was 4. He started with a Mickey Mouse spinning outfit but soon advanced to a real spinning reel with a whippy rod. About that same time, I would take him shed hunting with me in the spring. This is also a great time to scout for turkeys and to just walk in the woods, enjoying each other’s company. The key here is for the child to have fun and enjoy the time in the field. If they want to walk, run, explore or whatever, make it about what they want to do. Introduce them to new things in small doses. If they want to go to the truck and drink hot chocolate, so be it.
Caden has been shooting a Genesis bow for a couple years now. He has been mainly just flinging arrows but has developed a pretty good style of instinctive shooting. I just recently attached a sight to his bow. Keep in mind, this is all a process. Go slow with small doses. Keep your child hungry for the next trip afield.
Over the past couple of years, Caden has been spring turkey hunting with me several times. I hunt the traditional way with shotgun and calling. Turkey hunting in the spring is such a great way to introduce a child to hunting because it is fun. I love to deer hunt but it can be boring, especially to a child. I will never forget the look on Caden’s face when he heard one gobble for the first time. Hearing turkeys, even if you don’t see them keeps a child interested. Caden has been with me three times when I have taken a gobbler. This is a great learning experience for a child as they learn how and when to sit still. Yes, he spooked the first gobbler we called up but soon learned that these things are wild and they don’t like it when they see movement.
Thus began the task of getting Caden prepared to shoot his first gobbler in the spring of 2011. We actually began the process in November of 2010. My goal was to have him comfortable with a Beretta 20 gauge youth model, by the time the season opened in April. Keep in mind, you have to do this at the pace your child is comfortable with. It doesn’t take long to determine if your child has the interest and the tolerance for recoil.
Over the next several weeks and months, we began the process of getting him prepared for the moment he would be staring down the barrel at the head of a big ole gobbler. The first time out with the shotgun, was a nice day in mid-December. On the initial shot, we both held the gun and shot it together. I got down on my knees behind him and helped him hold the gun until he became accustomed to the recoil. Once he was ok, I backed off and he took over. After each shot, we would go through the process of clicking the safety on and off. During this whole process, we talked about muzzle control, emphasizing safety. We repeated this process each time out. By the end of February, we had moved the gun up to his shoulder, using a monopod as a rest. That was when I could see that he would be able to make an effective shot on a gobbler, if one would stand close enough and still enough for Caden to squeeze off a shot.
We added another component to each outing by including his Daisy Red Rider. He would first shoot his Red Rider and then I would let him shoot the shotgun. The BB gun helped him develop a good aiming technique because the sights were similar. By early March, he was shouldering the shotgun, with my help. After shooting several clay targets at 20 yards on numerous occasions, he was ready for the big day.
The key in all of this preparation is to try and keep the surprises to a minimum at the moment of truth. About a week before the Kansas youth season opened, we went to our hunting area and got in our blind. We actually made a dry run as to how the gobbler might approach the blind. We actually simulated the hunt. He was now ready to turkey hunt, for real.
The first hunt was opening weekend of the youth season. It was a family affair. Caden’s mom, our daughter, and dad went along, so we had a cozy time in the blind. The turkeys were not very cooperative so we went home empty-handed. We did have a great time being together and had a wonderful breakfast to cap off the morning. A few days later, Caden and I went to our spot one afternoon after school. The wind was kicking up that day but around 6:30, it began to lay. After a sequence of calls, we heard a gobble back in the woods. The gobbling picked up as I called more, so there was no doubt he was responding to my calls. Once the gobbler stepped into the field, he paused, as he surveyed the area. He was totally focused on the Carry Lite Peepin Tom decoy. The big gobbler circled, then turned and came straight in to the decoy. As he approached, Caden already had his gun in position.
The gobbler moved from left to right causing a little stress to both Caden and me. Caden followed him as he moved back and forth. Once he was in range, I asked Caden if he had the gobbler lined up with his sights. He said yes sir and I told him to squeeze the trigger. He did and the gobbler folded like an old newspaper. It was a wonderful moment as Caden was happy and grandpa was happier.
It is times like these that make hunting so enjoyable and so important in building relationships. Hunting is so much more than having the biggest deer or elk or turkey. It is even more than putting food on the table. Hunting gives us a reason to do something fun with someone we love.
A warm smile surfaced, as I recalled the time Caden and I had spent working on his shooting and just talking about the day when he would pull the trigger on an old gobbler. It was all so positive and so much fun. What a pleasure it was to see the joy on Caden’s face when that big gobbler went down. Preparation and loving him through the process was the key to Caden’s success. His desire and ability that God blessed him with, played a big part, also.
So make plans to love a child into this magnificent creation we call the great outdoors. And teach them a skill that they will carry for a lifetime.