Hunting With a Beginner Can be Pretty Great
Russ Chastain 01.01.21
Hunting with a beginner is rewarding and fun. (Photo © Russ Chastain)
Hunting with a beginner is not always easy, but it is usually the most rewarding thing any hunter can do — especially as he or she grows older. I add that last bit because I’m now in my 50s, but I have been introducing young folks to hunting and facilitating their resulting addiction to it since I was in my early 20s and barely had two nickels to rub together.
My latest inductee is my 14-year-old niece, to whom I first introduced the joy of shooting about a year ago. I wrote about that here; she was a natural markswoman at age 13. Since then, we have fired some more 22 rifles, and last weekend the time had come for her first hunt.
I’d previously broached the subject by simply asking: “Would you ever be interested in hunting with me?” I mean, hunting isn’t for everyone. Her answer was pretty great:
“Of course. Is that even a question?”
I decided she’d start out just as I had, by carrying the LeFever Nitro Special side by side double barrel 410 shotgun which had belonged to her great-grandfather, who’d once used it to slay a chickenhawk and greatly impress his son (my father). You can read more about the gun by clicking here. And the best way to start out any hunter is on small game, because it’s more plentiful and usually requires less time & skill to bag.
After teaching her how the old break-action scattergun works, I had her fire a couple shells. She did great, nailing the target both times. It was time to take to the woods.
We loaded into the truck one afternoon and drove a couple miles to a local WMA where I did some of my earliest hunting as a young ‘un. And to add to the nostalgia for the old guy of the group, I would be carrying my late father’s Browning Superposed over/under 12 gauge — just as he did when I started toting the little 410 LeFever.
The WMA was crowded that afternoon, and my first choice of a spot was populated with grommets illegally letting their pet dogs roam while also illegally zooming through the pines in a go-cart. Sigh. But we backtracked to my backup spot and slipped into the big hardwood hammock.
Absolutely zero squirrels were revealed, but we got to see some cool things, such as heaps of dirt and deep holes with large mature trees growing on and in them, where long ago someone had dug a test pit for mining. That’s something of a rarity in Florida, so it kept things interesting for my new hunter in the absence of game… and we also got to see a buck’s antler rub.
This deep old pond is actually an old mine pit. (Photo © Russ Chastain)
I kept the hunt short, and the interesting terrain features made up for the lack of game, although I did want her to feel some of that excitement when one’s quarry finally makes an appearance.
The cypress pond is cool. (Photo © Russ Chastain)
We decided to skip the next morning with its 20-something-degree temperatures, and tried again in the evening. Again we were skunked as far as squirrels, but the woods were beautiful and we did get to glimpse a couple tree rats. Again, some variety of terrain helped keep things interesting, and we slipped through different varieties of hardwood forest, a cypress stand surrounding an isolated pond, and a hiking trail that took us below a huge old fallen oak tree. Cool!
This big old oak tree was even more impressive in person. (Photo © Russ Chastain)
Again the hunt was short, but full of learning opportunities: What a barking squirrel sounds like from afar, how to spot a squirrel’s nest and that you can sometimes shake a limber tree to get a squirrel to hop out of a nest, how to spot an egret without spooking it. The time spent driving to and from the hunting spot was a great time to exchange stories and learn more about each other.
Having been skunked by the public-land critters, we decided to hunt my home property the following morning. Our squirrels are plentiful but wary, and we were out there soon after daybreak. We got a couple chances, but they were fleeting and she didn’t get a shot. After that, the squirrels went into ninja mode and we never spotted another.
Waiting for the squirrels to move. My old jacket is kinda big on her. (Photo © Russ Chastain)
But we did have a good time enjoying one another and she learned some things about patience while we were at it. Other lessons included safe gun handling, moving through the woods stealthily rather than just stomping along, and keeping as still as possible while waiting for game — and moving in slow motion when you do need to move.
We came home empty-handed, but not empty-headed; we made some great memories to cherish in days to come. Best of all, I foresee a future in which we will hunt together more often, and she may even catch the addiction so many others have experienced, and help spread the joy of the hunt to others someday. And isn’t that what hunting with a beginner is all about — sharing our joy and passion with others?
It’s enough to make an old hunter feel plumb good.
Making hunting memories with my youngest niece. (Photo © Russ Chastain)