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KENAI - Almost all children are observant, inquisitive and love to have fun, and hunting can bring out these traits while providing a great opportunity for adults to bond with youngsters.
"It's vitally important that we actively recruit and mentor our kids in our hunting heritage," said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the man responsible for the inception of "Take A Young Person Hunting Week" in Alaska, which ran through Sept. 13.
To pass on that heritage, hunters need to teach kids about hunting equipment, methods and ethics. This teaching should begin long before going into the field with a loaded firearm, according to Lewis.
Hunting always means a lot of prior planning and this goes double when taking a young person hunting.
"Hunt planning is a very involved process and hunters should teach all the preparation that goes into a trip," said Lewis. "Kids should learn to research a hunt before they go. They can read books, watch videos or go online."
Next comes the tricky part of caliber choice. Hunters always want to match the caliber to the game being hunted. A rifle should be one which maximizes a child's potential opportunities while minimizing the animal's unnecessary suffering or loss.
However, giving a young kid a .300-caliber Magnum their first time moose hunting is less than ideal, to say the very least. To determine exactly what caliber a youngster should use requires putting in time at the range according, to Lewis.
"Absolutely, children should be taken to the range to find the proper firearm before going into the field," he said.
Prior practice is very important. Children should be able to start out shooting lots of rounds through smaller caliber rifles, progressively working their way up to the larger calibers.
"Goals and objectives should be kept realistic," said Lewis. "They should use what caliber they are comfortable and proficient with."
If children will be shooting through a scope in the field, they should have a scope on during practice. Lewis also recommended getting kids used to shooting off the bench.
"Kids should know how to shoot standing, kneeling and sitting just like they'll need to do in the field," he said. "You can even bring a pack frame and set it up for kids to use as a brace or rest."
Lewis also recommended using practice time to teach youngsters about shot placement, making clean shots and what distance to take a shot from.
"Making a good broadside, heart/lung shot should be stressed," he said.
Lewis emphasized that older, experienced hunters must understand that kids have a shorter attention span.
"People who take a first-time hunter out need to ensure the experience is as fun and enjoyable as possible," he said. "If the experience is unenjoyable or intimidating, it's not going to be one they'll want to repeat. So don't force them to sit in a tree stand for 10 hours or to go slogging for miles through swamps."
To keep kids stimulated it's important to add variety. Lewis recommended walking and talking with them about the outdoors.
"Kids can be taught to identify animal tracks, local flora and fauna, habitats game would be found in, and what they need to survive," he said.
Hunters can also mix it up by sitting in blinds for shorter periods of time, moving around to different locations, staying active with glassing and even calling in game.
It's also good to stress to kids that a hunt is still successful even if an animal isn't killed.
"Being out, seeing game and enjoying the hunt is what it's about," said Lewis. "The harvest should also be just a bonus."
Lewis pointed out that it's important that older, experienced hunters should stay conscious of the fact that their behavior - good or bad - is likely to be passed on to the next generation, so it's important to set a good example.
"It's critical hunters promote safe and ethical behavior in the field," said Lewis. "Kids need to learn and respect the laws and regulations, as much as the game itself. They should also be taught to never be afraid to ask questions."