(Unpopular) Opinion: When Is a Child Too Young to Hunt?

In the author’s opinion, some state game and fish departments have gone a bit overboard when it comes to youth hunting.

(Unpopular) Opinion: When Is a Child Too Young to Hunt?

Photo from The Sportsmen Party Facebook

State game and fish departments have been working hard during the past decade to encourage more youth to take up hunting. From heavily discounted license costs, to special youth-only hunting weekends, almost every state has jumped on board the cause.

As a father of two sons (now 18 and 21) who enjoy hunting, I welcome these efforts. During the past decade, my family has taken advantage of special youth-only deer season weekends in Wisconsin, lengthy youth-only antlerless deer seasons in South Dakota, youth-only waterfowl weekends in Minnesota, and the list goes on and on.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I think some states need to pump the brakes just a bit on youth hunting. Let me explain before you throw me under the bus as an antihunter.

My home state of Minnesota allows youth to deer hunt at age 10, and they must be accompanied by a parent/guardian/mentor age 18 or older. In my opinion, this seems reasonable. Interestingly, there is no minimum age for youth turkey hunters in Minnesota. Our family also does a lot of hunting in Wisconsin, and it has no minimum age for youth deer hunters.

I decided to write this opinion piece after seeing the social media content below. The Sportsmen Party recently posted the following text and photos on its Facebook page (top photo included):

Photos from The Sportsmen Party Facebook page.
Photos from The Sportsmen Party Facebook page.

A 4-year-old killed a deer during the Ohio youth season with the aid of her father and a Phone Skope. The father posted the following pictures and caption to social media.

“My baby girl did it, she just needed a little help aiming. Little scared of the boom, but that didn’t stop her one bit; very very proud daddy, 4 years old, first deer!”

Some people have criticized that it is just a father using his little kid to hunt the youth season, and that she is too young and he really did the work since he helped “aim.” 

Others are defending him saying it is never too early to start hunting, and it is good to get kids outside.

Tell us what you think in the comments.

My (Unpopular) Opinion

Yes, I’m old (born in 1965), so I’ve had a front row seat to the many changes in youth hunting opportunities and regulations. As I recall, it was legal for me to begin deer hunting in Minnesota at age 12. There was no special youth-only weekend.

My two sons killed their first deer sitting beside me when they were each 10 years old in Wisconsin. On private land in a pop-up ground blind overlooking a food plot, son Elliott used a crossbow to tag a small doe during a special youth-only weekend in early October. (He could have used a rifle but didn’t like the muzzle blast of a centerfire rifle.) Three years later on public land, sitting butt on the ground against a big oak, son Luke used a .243 Win. bolt-action rifle to drop a massive doe during the special youth-only weekend.

Hunting in Wisconsin during the special youth-only deer weekend, the author’s sons — Elliott, left; Luke, right —  were each 10 years old when they killed their first deer.
Hunting in Wisconsin during the special youth-only deer weekend, the author’s sons — Elliott, left; Luke, right — were each 10 years old when they killed their first deer.

In both cases, I worked with my sons on the range as they practiced aiming and shooting. To me, as a father and mentor, that was the barometer of when they were ready to pull the trigger on an animal. Not in a million years would I have thought it was reasonable to physically assist in the aiming process. In my opinion, if they weren’t able to handle a gun or crossbow solo, and aim and fire it effectively, then they would need to get a little older and more capable.

After reading the many comments in the Facebook post by The Sportsmen Party, I’m in the minority — big time. The vast majority thought it was perfectly okay for the dad to help aim the rifle as his 4-year-old daughter dropped the buck during Ohio’s youth-only deer season.

I will also admit that I think youth-only deer weekends (or entire seasons as is the case in South Dakota) should allow kids to shoot only antlerless deer. Again, this is just one man’s opinion, but I think it’s better for young hunters to grow in their hunting career. Let them kill a doe during the youth-only deer weekend; they can still target a buck during the regular deer season (which is almost always later in the fall).

I’ve seen so many YouTube videos of dads/mentors with Little Jacob or Little Emma sitting in a box blind behind a rifle mounted in a vice (like the one shown in the top photo). On cue, the kid drops a 30-pointer named Zeus in a lush-green soybean field, then everyone goes nuts.

I can’t help but wonder where Jacob or Emma will be 20 or 30 years down the road in their hunting careers. Did their success come too easily?

I’ll end with the Facebook image below. I’m afraid it’s where we are headed.


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