There have been a lot of discussions about the right age for youth to start hunting lately. In North Dakota this year a 10 year old is supporting a bill to change the legal hunting age from 14 to 12 years old. This is not a new idea, 48 states now allow 12 year olds to hunt including our home state of Utah. The age to hunt big game in Utah was lowered from 14 to 12 two years ago, and the age requirement for hunting small game and waterfowl was removed completely the year before that. So how young is too young? I know that I have asked myself that question a lot over the last several years as my son is now 9 (turning 10 in one month). I was not willing to put a gun in his hands right away. I set some goals and guidelines for him that related to safety with a BB gun before I would even allow him to take hunter?s education. After he was able to consistently show a level of common sense and respect for the BB gun, I allowed him to start practicing (under constant supervision) with a .22 rifle and a youth 20 ga shotgun. I then allowed him to attend hunter?s education with his mother. She and I both made sure that he studied on his own and with us and he was able to pass the shooting test as well as ace the written test.

That being said, I still did not allow him to hunt with a gun the first year (age 8). Last year I took him out on the Grouse hunt but made him do it with a bow as I still did not think he was ready to carry a gun in the field. Several months later he was allowed to use his shotgun on the youth opener for waterfowl. He was able to take 6 ducks and a goose on his first day. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, he and I will be hunting Turkey in a month. I think that it is great that he now wants to get his bird with a bow and not a shotgun. We will see how that goes. Anyway, I still have to ask the question of age. Is a 10, 11, or 12 year old capable of hunting with a rifle? Should we as parents be so quick to get them out in the field? I am going to Missouri to hunt whitetail this year and they allow 10 year olds to hunt deer. I would love to take my son but I am not sure how I feel about it yet. What do you think?

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  1. I think you really have to think about the recoil factor. Practicing on a clays course will give your boy some confidence and skill with a shotgun. & it will be a lot easier to comfort him if he misses if it is not really his “first time out.”

    It was Youth Turkey Hunting Day on Saturday here in NJ, and my friend Mark took his little niece out with his boys. She is about 8. She’d been out several times before in the deer stand to observe the hunt, but this was her first time to shoot. She missed. Tears for years.

    I think that prep is paramount. Bring the kids without guns so they can see what the safety rules are and how the hunt flows. & make sure they can physically carry the gun, have practiced with a moving target and stand the recoil. Hey I shot my first buck at 42. If I had missed, YOU BET I would have cried like an 8 year old!

  2. I think there shouldn’t be any age law whatsoever. I know that sounds dramatic, but in this day and age if kids don’t get into hunting, and the shoot sports early, then we are bound to lose them to other things, like video games and such.

    I do think it should be up to the parent to decide when their child is ready, and any child under 14 should have supervision while afield, but as far as a law that specifies when a child can hunt, I don’t think there should be any.

    1. I agree that we need to get youth involved as soon as possible to make sure that it becomes something that they love for a lifetime. That being said, I came across a 12 year old last year while guiding a 15 year old. This 12 year old boy could not even hold his gun up by himself. I agree that youth under 12 can and should hunt, I am just not sure at what age they should carry a high powered rifle.

      Maybe like you say, it should be up to the parent. However, I know too many dads that just want to take their kids out regardless of weather they can effectively utilize the weapon. The 12 year old that I saw in the field was sitting on a rock about 70 yards from the adult that was with him. I know that this is not his fault but, how do you monitor the adults?

  3. If they are old enough to keep up in the field then they are old enough to hunt.
    My first hunt I was six, and had to run to keep up with my dad, but I loved it.
    My sons first hunt he was six also, but most of it was spent sitting in a shooting house.
    Now as far as weaponry is concerned, I think it should start out with someting the child can handle, you don’t want a recoil knocking them head over heels, that might possibly make them never want to hunt again, or worse never want to fire another gun.
    I let him carry his bb gun on our first hunt, then when it was rabbit and squirrel time, I let him use a 22. I bought him a 243 but he is going to have to get a little bigger and stronger before he can use it.
    Luckily I live in Alabama, where there is no minimum age for hunting, however at 15 you have to have a hunters education course and a license.
    They do have youth hunts every year down here on the management areas.

  4. This is a touchy subject. I don’t think kids under the age of 16 or 18 should hunt anything without a responsible adult along. Hunting small game, waterfowl, upland birds… things where kids can use something that doesn’t knock them off their feet when they shoot it is a good way to start – so is bow hunting. The key is letting them shoot targets, clay pigeons, soda cans, whatever… until they are confident with their shooting and able to hit the targets consistently. They also need to be mature enough to understand that sometimes things happen and they just miss. I think we should let our kids tag along and do things like help us follow a blood trail, keep our blind organized, watch for game and etc… as soon as they can handle some time out in the field. A good friend of ours started taking his boys duck hunting when they were just four or five years old. They shot the ducks with “pop guns” whenever Daddy stood up to shoot with the shotgun. They learned all about being aware of where their barrel was pointing, making sure it was out of the blind before they shot, watching for ducks, sneaking donuts to the dogs and etc… long before they shot a shotgun for the first time – all with a gun that had a cork attached to a string. They felt included and the family has some great memories.

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