Whitetail Hunting photo
Keith McCafferty

If you give a youngster a tennis racket or a soccer ball or a baseball bat, you can teach him or her about sportsmanship and competition. If you give a boy or girl a gun, you teach that child about life and death. People who kill things can be more reverential of life than people who do not. The person who causes creatures’ deaths and watches them struggle against it has an intimate knowledge of the tragedy of life departing. Nonhunters choose to ignore the fact that animals must die in order for us to eat, and hold forth on the cruelty of hunting while wolfing down veal scallopini that a week earlier was a terrified calf bawling in a slaughterhouse. Death is part of life for us and for all things.

1. Teach your kids that the concept of cruelty is alien to hunting

Hunting is part of nature. Predation is part of nature. Death is part of nature. To label any of these processes cruel is to impose particularly silly 21st-century human prejudices on phenomena that existed before men walked the earth. Nature is neither cruel nor benign. It simply is, and it doesn’t care what we think about it.

2. Understand that children react differently to killing

If your boy shouts, “Wow, I killed him!” or something like that, there is nothing wrong with him—he is just a boy. But he should understand that what he just killed wanted to live as badly as he does, and that he should feel sorrow as well as triumph. Other children will not relish death. If they kill, they will likely be saddened by it. This is natural too. Some youngsters are horrified by death and by the prospect of causing it. They are not meant to be hunters. They are no less courageous or worthy than kids who itch to hunt—they are simply different, and you must respect that.

3. Teach kids that each death is a necessary tragedy, but a tragedy nonetheless

Some kids never accept this-they love to see the bodies flop, and they become adults who love to see the bodies flop. Those people give me the creeps, and if I had such a youngster, I would suggest that he try some other sport.

4. Impress on your kid that if there is such a thing as a sin in hunting, it is wounding an animal

Make it clear to your kids that if they are not willing to give their all to becoming competent with gun or bow, they have no business afield. Explain to them also that if they hunt enough, they are eventually going to wound something, and it is going to escape to suffer. It may take two seasons for this to happen, or 50, but it is going to happen. All they can do is work at becoming as skilled as possible and hope it doesn’t.

5. Show them that they do not have to kill to enjoy hunting

It may take a couple of seasons for a young person to discover this, or it may take a lot longer. There is no substitute for success early in a hunter’s life, and that means getting game. But show your kids that it shouldn’t always be that way. Teach them that there is much to love about hunting even when you get no game. A friend of mine who has hunted for nearly 60 years went to Africa last year and although he brought a rifle, he did not fire a single shot. He was perfectly happy to look at the game and the stars and enjoy the success of other, younger hunters. That is the highest level at which hunting can be enjoyed.