The Youth Are Our Future: Here’s How To Mentor Them In The Field

Stop and think for a moment about what hunting means to you and how it’s changed your life for the better. Now wrap your mind around the fact that very few youth will ever be exposed to hunting. That is, unless, you become a mentor.

by Justin Brouillard

Accompanying a youth hunter on their first hunt can be one of the most rewarding things we can do as hunters. Whether it’s turkey, deer, or other game, teaching the next generation of outdoor goers about hunting and what it means to be a hunter is an experience you will never forget.

Having had the opportunity to mentor and introduce hunting to several youth hunters over the years, there isn’t much left to experience as far as surprises. But every season, the same satisfaction of watching a youth react to ever-changing environments in the field is priceless. It’s a time I look forward to each year.

Whether it’s your child, a friend of a friend, a niece or nephew, or a kid who may not have the opportunity to get out and learn about hunting, make an effort to mentor youth and continue to foster the sport.

Safety First

One of the biggest reasons a youth never has the opportunity to partake in the sport is their parents/guardians did not grow up hunting. The result is: they do not have the resources to help with completing a hunter safety course.

Many times, it is up to the mentor to make arrangements for the course. Mentors should also be willing to volunteer and accompany the youth. This is an important step as you can learn a lot about the youth’s interest level in hunting before setting foot in the field.

Other hang-ups include the fact that even if a youth completes a hunter safety course, they still can’t get afield. They will need a mentor. It’s wonderful when that mentor is the same person that helped them with hunter safety.

 Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Leading up to youth weekend or opening day, there are many steps to be taken to maximize learning opportunities. Growing older now, and watching the kids I once mentored who are now mentoring their own group of first-timers, it is easy to see the effort paying off.

I feel like building general confidence in handling a firearm safely, scouting for the hunt weeks and months before, and just involving the youth wherever possible in the planning process is as important for success as the actual hunt.

I typically try to shoot several times leading up to a hunt. I also vary the shooting positions. Shooting from a chair or the base of a tree creates situations youth will see in the field. Swap between a shooting rest and free-handed, too. You never know what the situation calls for.

Some youths may be nervous about the loud noise. Plus, it’s your job to protect their hearing. I always use noise-canceling muffs.

Get Permission

Many states require written permission from landowners on private land. While it doesn’t always work to have the youth on hand, I always make an effort to bring the youth to speak to the landowner before the hunt and ask them again for permission. Pre-arrange a meeting with landowners, even if you have permission, to give the youth a chance to build their skills.

Likewise, once permission is granted, it’s nice to stop and check in with farmers and landowners. Give them updates on your scouting and hunting. Farmers often have tips on where the game likes to hang out. When the hunt is over, stop and offer them some meat from a successful hunt. It builds confidence in the youth and teaches them the correct way to approach the situation in the future.

 Blinds Rock! 

For first-timers and smaller youths, a blind allows for more assistance and communication during the moment of truth. It is much easier to move and stay comfortable and also to snack.

When a blind is used, make the youth part of the process. This includes picking the location, setting it up, and brushing it in. Make sure to work with the landowner to ensure using a blind is allowed on their property. Plus, you should let the know if you plan to leave the blind out for a period of time. These are all scenarios that will be encountered at some point, and it is good to work through it each season.

Are Cell Phones A Go Or A No?

As we continue into the digital age with youths having access to cell phones at an earlier age, you will likely have to discuss whether a mobile device can be used by the youth. I go back and forth with this one, as each situation varies.

My rule of thumb is to set expectations ahead of time. I encourage the phone to be part of the hunt, at least for scouting. While checking the time and scanning mobile maps such as onX or Hunt Stand, the youth will be curious as to how the device can enhance the experience. This offers a chance for further information about e-scouting.

Keep In Mind…

When it’s all said and done, the hunt is about the youth. If they want to use the binoculars to watch a deer grazing in the field, let them. If they want to ask questions and have a snack, let them. When they get bored in the blind and need to stand up, and look out the window, let them. When a gobbler is closing the distance and the youth turns to you and has to pee, let them.

I always use those moments as a time to teach and lay out the risk involved with their decision. Sticking their hands and head in the window could result in spooking animals. Explain how more often than not, even when the action is slow, once you leave the blind, oftentimes the birds or deer will be closer than anticipated and the hunt could be over.

If they need a break from the hunt, especially during longer deer season sits, plan and set up in locations that allow for easy access to and from the truck. Never make them feel bad for wanting to ask questions, spooking game animals, needing a snack, or just being bored. Use the moments to teach them and it will make for smoother hunts in the future.

Youth Gear

There are lots of youth gear available from many manufacturers to help make youth hunters comfortable.

The Blind

The Rhino 180 See-Through Blinds is a productive blind with a fun twist. Compared to other blinds, the Rhino gives a 180-degree see-through view with a black background to keep you hidden. It is sized perfectly for a few hunters and gear and can be staked down for set up before the hunt. Similarly, it weighs about 15 pounds for situations that require on-the-spot setup and takedown.

Using easy-to-use equipment will save time in the morning and ensure a quick and quiet setup in the morning. The other option is an even easier option which requires a small piece of camouflage burlap material. For impromptu set-ups or if you are without a blind, simply place a few sticks or pieces of brush in the ground and lay the burlap on top making a short piece of cover to conceal movement.

Boots

The right pair of footwear will make or break your hunt more than anything else. Like clothing that can be layered and removed, it’s unlikely you will have several pairs of boots to swap out.

In the spring, typically you are dealing with wet conditions versus cold in the fall. Spring rains and morning dew in and out of the field can ruin a hunt before it gets started. For that, I recommend a pair of rubber boots with the pants tucked in, and with some insulation.

LaCrosse has several youth options, but the Lil’ Alpha Lite 1000G boots accomplish just that. Compared to other less expensive options, these boots will last for seasons to come and by sizing up, growing youths can still get a couple years from one pair.

Another high-quality option, especially for fall big game hunts, is the Rocky KIDS’ Waterproof 800G Insulated Boots. This non-rubber boot option is perfect for longer walks or when it’s cold. I prefer rubber when walking through wet grass or crossing streams.

Youth Clothing

Several brands make camouflage specifically for kids — Nomad, SITKA, Mossy Oak to name a few — and some are better than others for different seasons and game animals.

For spring turkey or warmer conditions in the fall, layering long sleeve shirts and heavier-weight hoodies are great for cooler mornings while temperatures rise in the afternoon. The NOMAD Youth Pursuit Camo Long Sleeve and SITKA Youth Heavyweight Hoody can accomplish a lot in many scenarios.

The old-school Mossy Oak Bottomlands Youth Hunt Tech ¼ Zip and Youth Cotton Mill Flex Pant are great for turkey hunting. The lightweight  Youth Tibbee Flex Gloves will keep their hands concealed when turkeys and other game are close by.

The best set for colder weather whitetail or other big game hunting is the SITKA Youth Stratus Pant and Stratus Jacket. The Youth Heavyweight Hoody and Youth Rankine Hoody combo will keep young hunters warm when temperatures are below freezing.

Regardless of the base layers and outerwear, wool socks and good gloves are a must have. I usually pack an extra pair of both when conditions are extreme. The Nomad Youth Harvester Glove paired with a few hand warmers and the SITKA Youth Beanie usually keeps kids comfortable when it’s cold and bitter for late-season hunts.

Clothing is probably the best investment for youth hunters. Like footwear, poor apparel can ruin a hunt before it gets started. Packing extra gear, extra hard warmers, a heater for ground blinds or elevated blinds, and proper layering can go a long way in the field.

Final Thoughts

Getting kids into the field is an experience like no other. It will make you a better person and a better hunter.

At the end of the day, any time spent teaching youth what you have experienced while hunting is a benefit. Time doesn’t always allow for all of the steps to happen in any particular order, but doing what you can with the given situation will contribute to a future of ethical and engaged hunters.

Tested: Steiner Predator 4S 4-16x44mm
Glassing for Spring Success
Tested True: Tricer’s-AD Tripod, LP Head, and Bino Adapter
Late-Season Turkey Moves

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