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boy holding fish with thumbs up

Teaching Kids The Outdoors: Are We Doing It Wrong?

Many of us can still remember shooting our first rabbit or catching our first bluegill. I recall the feeling of sneaking under under a bridge to shoot a pigeon, as well as the time I accidentally hooked my grandpa’s ear while bass fishing.

These unforgettable memories motivate us to take the kids in our lives out on the lake or into the woods. As a fishing guide and bow tech, I have enjoyed guiding families and building bows for kids. But through the process, I have realized that we may be making some mistakes when it comes to what we are teaching kids about the outdoors.

But, could we be over-emphasizing success and rushing kids into hunting big game too early? Shouldn’t our focus be to build confident, determined kids that have an appreciation and maybe even a passion for the outdoors?

boy with buck and doe
What age is too young to be hunting big game?

A Fixation With Success

Today, the most common approach for getting kids to love the outdoors seems to be ensuring success. By getting kids to catch a fish or harvest an animal, we hope they will feel that same rush of emotions that we have fallen in love with.

But, it’s the context surrounding that success that is so rewarding, not necessarily the result. The rush should come from the hours we have put in developing our craft and the time we have spent thinking about what it will be like to finally hold a big fish or a set of big antlers.

Recently I went bass fishing with my sister, her husband, and my nephews Jack and Collin. I let the boys cast the whole time, and eventually the lures were getting far enough from the boat that I thought we might not get skunked.

Jack turned to me and said, “I thought we were going to catch more.” I told him, “That’s fishing Jack. I’ve been on a lot of good fishing trips where I didn’t catch anything.” If we had caught fish after fish it would have been more exciting, but the boys likely wouldn’t have seen the bigger picture. Failing teaches lessons that I don’t believe success covers.

Which develops better skills: passing a rod to a kid with a fish already on the line, or letting them struggle to cast far enough for a few trips before finally catching a bluegill? Which option makes them think things should be handed to them and which one leads to self-confidence and a determination to succeed?

two boys with doe deer
Failing at hunting and fishing activities teaches youth how to appreciate success!

We don’t want kids to think our sports amount to just killing animals, the way it is often framed by antis. As a hunter, I experience success and failure depending on how well I prepare and perform (of course, a little luck doesn’t hurt!)

We should focus on having kids take part in the whole process and understand that success is anything but guaranteed.

Rushing Kids To Hunt Big Game Too Early

As a bow tech in Utah, I often meet parents wanting to increase the poundage on their kid’s bows to clear the threshold for mule deer hunting. But, what’s the rush to hunt big game?

What I loved about hunting when I was younger was getting away from teachers and parents telling me what to do. I loved the unforeseeable outcome of the hunt and the challenge to outwit the game.

Today, we escape bosses and spouses to hunt larger, more demanding species, but the feeling of freedom and solitude in the woods is the same. That’s what I want my nephews to experience. I want to give them the opportunity to overcome obstacles through hunting and come to have a better understanding of the outdoors and what it takes to succeed.

The species should meet a kid where they are at. I don’t believe an eight-year-old can reasonably piece together a deer hunt without quite a bit of hand holding. But they can run around the backyard shooting rabbits and squirrels. Those hunts give kids the maximum amount of responsibility and decision making power.

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Additionally, if a young kid shoots a big buck, will he ever enjoy shooting pigeons under a bridge? If a kid catches a marlin, will she get excited about catching a ten-pound carp?

Taking small steps to bigger game and more challenging hunts allows kids to learn more about hunting as well as themselves. In my opinion, when a kid gets excited about a hunt, puts in effort, and overcomes obstacles, that’s a success.

It’s Really About The Moments

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

– Henry David Thoreau
man showing boy fish
Sharing the experience with others is one of the most rewarding aspects of the outdoors.

I once spent a few days guiding a father and his seventh-grade son fishing for salmon in Alaska. It was clear the kid wasn’t mature enough to comprehend that the trip represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most people. Instead, he fixated on catching one salmon and proving himself to his dad. Unfortunately, the dad didn’t do much to get away from that fixed mindset of success.

What happens when they return home and the kid doesn’t want to go catch bluegill in the quarry because he won’t receive the same praises as for a 40-pound king salmon? Does it really build a love of fishing, self discipline or humility to have a paid guide hold your hand throughout the process?

By comparison, that same summer I guided a 70-year-old man and his 40-year-old son. When I stood in the river with the son he would say, “I just really want my dad to catch one.” And, when I walked over to his father at the other end of the bend he would tell me, “I’m really glad to see he’s having a good time.” These were two guys that understood it wasn’t the fish they were after. They wanted each other to the enjoy experience and weren’t fixated on their own success.

Conclusion

So, don’t worry so much about success or big game. Focus on providing an example of dedication and respect for the outdoors. You either get bit by the bug or you don’t. Some kids are wired to love the sport and some are not. Fishing and hunting provide an opportunity to challenge kids and make them learn valuable lessons. It would be a shame to miss those opportunities by focusing too much on antlers and scales.

stuart hoegh
Stuart Hoegh of IowaSlam.com

Stuart Hoegh

Stuart Hoegh lives in Salt Lake City with his black lab Nali. He started iowaslam.com with his brother Harrison while in college in 2015. They write about hunting multiple species in Iowa as well as across the west and New Zealand. When he isn’t hunting, he spends time rock climbing, mountain biking and fly fishing. Stuart has been a fishing guide in Alaska and Oregon and currently works as a bow technician.

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