Crucial step for the evolving hunter: small-game hunting

Many hunters talk about today’s youth in not-so-flattering ways. I get it, but I also have my hands full with two 6-year-olds and can see how things have changed since I was in school. Our kids have more commitments than ever, and there are fewer hours to wander into the woods. That’s just the way it is.

That’s one of the reasons why so many young hunters skip hunting small game and immediately chase deer. Now, we can have a healthy debate over this, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the best path to creating an overall love of the outdoors. There’s a lot of pressure on a deer hunter, and quite frankly, deer hunting isn’t easy. There’s also the big-buck mania that certainly can change how a young hunter views his or her time in the woods.

There are no trophy squirrels, or “Booner” bunnies. There is just small game, where they live, and learning to find them. That might mean putting your back to an oak tree and sitting for an hour for a shot at a squirrel. For rabbits, it’s usually a midday tromping through the thick stuff.

This is what I did recently with a buddy and his young son. We also brought along my meat-obsessed hunting partner, Austin, and together we decided to find the youngest member of our group a rabbit. The problem was that it was super windy, cloudy, and not a great day to push bunnies. Austin made a fine shot on an escaping cottontail halfway through our hunt, so the lad had some action.

But it didn’t look good for Ty as we made the last loop. His focus was mostly on the ground, where he might find an antler 100 yards from the trucks. That’s when I stepped on some boughs of a low cedar, and a flash of gray bolted. I let the boys knows there was a lively one headed their direction. The bunny split between two of us and stopped perfectly for Ty, which proved to be a poor decision on the rabbit’s part.

We ended up getting two shots at bunnies, which isn’t bad. But what was better was just the chance to small-game hunt. It’s an experience I wish more youngsters enjoyed these days. I think we’d find they would love the outdoors a lot more, in general, if they did. And maybe they’d stick with this hunting thing until it was time for them to introduce kids of their own to squirrels and rabbits.

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