Equipping Kids for the Outdoors
For my wife and me, introducing our kids to the outdoors has been an exercise in careful design. If you're passionate about hunting, and you want to share all that it has to offer with your children, then I'll bet you've considered the options. Not every hunting adventure is a positive one. Temperature, weather, and the mood of the game generally have some bearing on the outcome. While seasoned outdoorsmen and women learn to cherish every outing, it's the exhilarating successes that keep us coming back for more. So, how do we ensure that our kids develop the same propensity for all things outdoors? The answer is simple - make their experience as fun, comfortable and successful as possible! Aside from choosing the times and places you take them, one of the most important steps you can take is ensuring that they have the right equipment. Provide them with weather-appropriate clothing, and age-appropriate gear, and chances are their experience will be a good one.
Think back to when you first started hunting. Whether you began either as a youngster or later in life, I'll bet you can remember the equipment you used. Odds are it wasn't the greatest. Today, you probably have an appreciation for finer equipment and high-tech clothing. You likely have at least one or two quality guns, bows, camouflage outfits and footwear. Furthermore I'll bet you acquired these, at least in part, to make your outdoor experiences more enjoyable.
We all know that kids outgrow "stuff" quickly and it can be a pricey proposition to equip every youngster with all the goods, particularly when they'll outgrow many of them before the calendar year is through. Therein lies the dilemma; do we want them to adopt our outdoor lifestyle or don't we? I'm not suggesting we re-mortgage the house, but with a little planning and strategic shopping we can get the job done and equip our kids nicely for their own adventures in the field. Provide them with the right clothing and tools and you're likely to groom a lifelong hunting partner.
Comfortable and Functional Clothing & Footwear
The first time we take are little kids hunting, many of us frantically search to find oversized camo sweatshirts or whatever else to cover them. We quickly learn that this is only a band-aid and ultimately it pays to equip them with their own gear. Set them up with the right clothing and footwear, and they'll enjoy their time outdoors a whole lot more!
Parting with hard-earned cash on camo outfits that probably won't fit in a year or two can be a tough pill to swallow. But remember, you've got options. Speaking pragmatically, several manufacturers are making high quality and affordable outdoor apparel for kids. Designed to fit, keep them warm, camouflage them, and offer protection from the elements, kids outdoor apparel is a necessity. But there are other, less obvious benefits as well. Remember, your motivation needs to be introducing and retaining their interest in hunting. With that in mind, everyone likes to feel as though they are part of a team. For hunting adventures, the team uniform is camo. By equipping them with their own clothing, you give them a sense of belonging to the outdoor team. Trust me, kids love it! My girls are right in their when mom and dad suggest we go hunting. They know where to find their hunting garb and they're anxious to put it on when the time comes.
Kids love getting dressed up in the team uniform.
I've looked a lot of places and certainly kids hunting clothes can be found here and there, but in my experience Bass Pro Shops is the most affordable and they offer a great assortment of kids' clothes. While I've had basic coveralls and light jackets for when they're really young, as Chelsea in particular has grown, I finally bit the bullet and got her a set of lightweight RedHead cotton/polyester pants, shirt and cap. These work great for the very early season, but we needed a solution for mid-to-late season. After much deliberation, I finally decided on the RedHead Bone Dry bibs and parka. Waterproof, windproof, and breathable, this stuff is awesome! Chelsea remained warm and dry during each outing last fall. The added bonus - for my youngest, Paige, who is now four - she'll grow into this outfit when her older sister advances to the next sizes.
Bass Pro’s RedHead makes a line of outdoor apparel for kids that is second to none.
Footwear is equally important. Today, companies like Rocky make a great assortment of kids' footwear. A good pair of boots is important for you and it's important for them. They must be durable, waterproof, and offer good support. I recently picked up a pair of Rocky BearClaw boots for each of my girls and they are perfect! With 800 grams of Thinsulate insulation, they are warm. They have a camo nylon and brown PVC trim for durability, and the outsole offers great traction.
Rocky makes their BearClaw hunting boot just for kids.
The rule of thumb with kids' hunting clothes, much the same as any other outdoor gear, is to ensure that it's comfortable and practical for the activities they'll be participating in.
Rifles and Shotguns for Hunting
Chances are for those of us introducing kids to hunting, we're doing it as early as possible and that means long before they should be handling guns, but what about when they come of age? Although jurisdictional regulations may vary, in my home province of Alberta, kids can hunt at 12 years of age. I know of some states where kids can hunt as early as six years of age.
Regardless of whether you introduce a young person to rifle hunting or shotgun hunting it's not so much the activity that matters but the tools and the instruction that go along with it. Shooting sports require safe practices. In turn, equipping a young person with an age-appropriate firearm and good hearing protection is the first step to ensuring that they have a safe and enjoyable experience. I remember when I turned 12, I was given a single shot 20 gauge for my birthday. On one hand I'm a firm believer in teaching young people to shoot with a single shot firearm, but on the other, with proper instruction at the range prior to hunting season, a responsible young person can certainly handle an auto-loader or pump with ease. Fellow outdoor writer, Mike Hungle, recently introduced his son to the hands-on hunting experience. Picking up a Browning Micro Silver 20 gauge autoloader chambered for 3" shells, this shotgun has been the perfect introductory piece of equipment for his son Kyle. It's lighter to swing and carry; in turn, it's safer to use. Later in the season, Mike has since introduced Kyle to deer hunting. By giving him a smaller caliber rifle and providing him with a Bog Pod shooting rest for stability, 12-year-old Kyle knocked down his first buck with a well-placed bullet from a Remington .243. Following an exceptional season of hunting waterfowl and whitetails, Kyle was introduced the right way and with the right equipment and, in turn now shares his dad's passion for hunting. Believe me when I say Kyle can't stop talking about his amazing first fall and now, having just gone through his second, he's got a long roster of waterfowl and couple more deer under his belt. He is well equipped for hunting and continues to enjoy it more and more with every outing.
Archery and Bow Hunting
With the ever-increasing popularity of bow hunting, introducing kids to archery is a great way to expose them to the shooting sports. Archery teaches young people a range of shooting skills and many jurisdictions allow kids to hunt at a younger age with bow in hand. From the time Chelsea was old enough to sit in a backpack I brought her on bow hunting expeditions. Likewise she and Paige both accompany us when we're out practicing with our bows. Last year we took them to the indoor range and outdoor 3D range at our local club, giving them a hands-on opportunity to shoot bows themselves. In my experience, archery is no different than other outdoor pursuits; give kids the right equipment and they'll enjoy the activity tenfold. Provide them with gear that doesn't fit or doesn't work and you may as well forget it altogether.
Equipping kids with age and size-appropriate bows will make their outdoor experiences that much more enjoyable.
As a result, I've spent a good deal of time shopping and researching the best options for equipping them with archery gear. While there are a few other options out there, in my view, Bear Archery is where the buck stopped for the smallest of children. Beginning at around age three on up to age eight, their kid-friendly bows and accessories are the way to go. Right at about age nine, they can begin moving up to higher end compound bows and several manufacturers make a variety of really good options. For starter bows, I picked up Bear's Brave 2 compound bow set for my oldest and the Lil' Brave 2 recurve for my youngest.
Relatively small, the Brave 2 measures only 30" axle to axle, has a 20 to 22-inch draw length, and has a variable draw weight that ranges from 17 to 22 lbs. This compound bow has 65% let-off and the set comes with a quiver, arrows, armguard, finger tab, arrow rest, and sight pins. Ideal for youngsters keen to emulate your archery practice, this set is a great package to equip your young person with. Alternatively, if a compound is too much, among an assortment of youth bows, the other one I'm particularly impressed with is their Lil' Brave 2, a 47" recurve bow. With a lower draw weight of between 8 to 12 lbs. the Lil' Brave 2 is a great starter bow for smaller kids. As they develop skills, options are many for higher poundage bows that meet legal requirements for hunting.
The bottom line with any hunting equipment is that it has to fit and perform well for the child in order to be effective. With proper instruction, lots of practice, and decent equipment, kids pick up skills quickly. Provide them with the right gear and you'll be amazed at how quickly you'll develop a hunting protégé.
Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing, waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. Member of OWAA & OWC.