You only have one chance to facilitate a good first hunt, so make it count
Folks make a big deal about introducing children or teens to waterfowl hunting, and rightly so. But that’s often where the advice ends.
If we want to recruit newcomers into the full-time ranks of duck and goose hunters, we must do everything to make sure their first experience is enjoyable and leaves them wanting more. Here are a few common-sense tips for making that initial hunt successful.
Don’t Go With Them; Take Them
That is, don’t even consider hunting yourself. Be a guide, mentor and facilitator. The day is all about your young charge, not you. Arrange the hunt, provide transportation, secure licenses and all necessary equipment, and be ready to encourage, support or even console young hunters during the event. Make it entirely about them.
But Still Involve Them
Meanwhile, make sure your young hunter feels like an integral part of the hunt. Encourage them to call, have them watch the horizon for ducks and prompt them to help with easy tasks. They'll feel like a partner in the hunt.
Stack the Deck
This goes without saying, but take them to a good spot where they’ll experience lots of action. The last thing you want is for your neophyte hunter to be bored after an hour. Don’t hold back, either. Find the X, or take them to your go-to hotspot. Yeah, they’ll probably miss quite a few birds, which could reduce your success during subsequent hunts, but who cares? You’ve shot quite a few ducks and geese, haven’t you? Then pay it forward, and don’t be selfish.
Make it Easy
Between lugging decoys, wading through muck or enduring harsh weather, waterfowling can be tough. Do everything possible to make the hunt easy for your first-timer. Make sure they’re outfitted with warm clothing that fits them well. Provide hand-warmers or even a heater to keep them comfortable. Make sure they have a solid seat in your boat or blind, and help them with difficult-to-master technical stuff, such as loading or unloading a semi-auto shotgun. If they enjoy waterfowl hunting, they’ll go through years of the tough stuff later. Make the first one simple.
Let Them Shoot
Blaze away, buddy (within reason, of course). That’s my advice to youth hunters under my supervision. Absolutely call the shots, and help them with duck identification and range estimation. Just don’t put too many shackles on their trigger fingers. Shooting equals action, of course, and that’s what will probably hook young hunters.
One more note: Youngsters miss, so be ready with advice on how to improve. Just don’t be overbearing or critical; only positive and encouraging.
Keep it Fun
No-brainer here. If you don’t enjoy an outing, there’s no point to duck or goose hunting. That’s especially true with young hunters. Bring snacks. Point out various birds and other wildlife they might see. Joke around with them. They should feel no pressure or burden; only enjoyment.
When your young charge gets a bird (or even if he just misses a lot), make it a big deal. Hug, high-five and relive the shot again and again. Take a lot of pictures to make sure your newbie remembers the day forever. And make sure you get the youngster a first-duck pin from Delta Waterfowl, sponsored by Realtree. Let them new hunters know they’re part of a special fraternity — one perhaps they’ll cherish forever. One day, they might welcome new hunters of their own and pass on the great waterfowl hunting tradition.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.