The magic moment had arrived.
As the sun began to disappear behind the limestone-covered hills of Llano County a nice six-point buck slipped down the fence line south of us.
The six-strand barbed-wire divide kept sheep in one pasture and goats in the other and connected an oak grove to a creek bottom. It was a perfect place to intercept a deer and my 12-year-old heart was beating like a bass drum.
As I raised the rifle and lined up the sights with the buck’s shoulder, I squeezed the trigger and the buck fell. I had taken my first buck. My father and I could not have been happier.
That scene played out like it did because of one thing—preparation. Nothing about this hunt came by chance other than the buck deciding to come out before dark.
With our children distracted by electronic devices and related entertainment, it is vital we treat their hunting experience in strategic fashion. Attention to detail counts. If we want to choose the deer lease over Pokémon Go, then we need to pass this crucial exam and do so with flying colors.
Rifle Selection: You don’t want to send a 10-year-old out into the field with a .300 Magnum to down their first deer. First off, they probably will not make it past the first shot at the practice range when the blast rattles their eardrums.
A .223, .243 or similar caliber is a much better option. With today’s higher quality ammunition, you can get something of a higher grade than was available when I was kid.
It depends on your kid’s size and maturity level. Rifles in these calibers offer minimal recoil and will greatly reduce the chance of your kid flinching and making a bad shot.
An absolutely crucial point is that adult-sized guns usually have a pull length of 14-15 inches, which is just too long for most kids. The CZ 527 Youth Carbine is a fine example of a rifle fit for kids with a 12.75-inch pull length of pull.
Take your kid with you to the gun shop to select a rifle, and make sure it is a good fit. Let your kid ask questions and handle the rifle.
Practical Practice: Plenty of practice time is crucial. Taking the kids to the gun range, deer lease or wherever you shoot is absolutely vital. Children must be confident with their rifle and have zero fear of it. They must also prepare for the kind of shooting you will need to do in the field.
If you use sandbags and a comfy rest at the deer lease, but hunt with shooting sticks and a pop-up blind in the national forest, then the chance of success takes a nosedive. Have them shoot from the kinds of positions and gear they will use on the big day.
Biology Lesson: Don’t assume your child knows exactly why a well-placed shot just behind the shoulder is the optimal one to take. Use the Internet to show them deer body diagrams and explain why certain shots are better than others.
A well-informed kid will be a confident one.
Strategic Distractions: If the hunt will take place in a box blind, allow the kids to bring something to keep them distracted. On a cold day, the dreaded electronic devices can keep them focused on something besides getting back to camp. Allow them a certain amount of time on the device, book or whatever they bring—maybe 15 minutes every hour so they don’t go stir crazy. Remember you want them to enjoy the whole experience.
Scouting: Kids love the idea of finding animal sign in the woods. We have taken kids in the woods many times to simply look for tracks. It becomes like solving a mystery to them. Take them out to the location you plan to hunt and include them in your hunt preparations.
Quit While You’re Ahead: My first true deer hunts were on a day lease in Llano County called the Winkle Ranch. Since we saved up all year to go and only had three days, we hunted the whole day. That means no lunch break or anything on most days.
That might be your only option, but if you can take a kid out for a couple of hours in the morning and then back for the same period in the evening, you will be doing a great service. Kids get bored easily. Making their time in the wild, a sacred time requires some sacrifices.
Baldies Count: The first deer I ever shot was a doe. The buck mentioned in this story came right after that. I was just as excited about the doe because I had taken the step from being someone who daydreamed about deer hunting to actually taking a deer.
Don’t bother a kid with Boone & Crockett scores and trophy hunting terminology. If you hunt in an area where doe hunting is permitted, let them take a doe.
Explain to them a vital key to managing a deer herd is to take does as well as bucks. They will not only get some great meat, but help the herd.
I was so impressed with this concept after taking my first deer I did my sixth grade science project on deer management and doe harvest. I got an honorable mention. Celebrate even the does because chances are your kid will see them first.
Preparing the Meal: Let the kids know that you plan to eat the deer, and let them choose how they want that first meal cooked. Maybe they want to have it with their whole family present. If that’s not possible at deer camp, make a big deal out of it at home.
If it is possible to cook at camp, have all of the ingredients ready to go and cook it that night or maybe for lunch if the deer is taken in the morning. We should all grow up with “If we shoot it we eat it” hunting ethic.
Use the Youth-Only Season: The Youth-Only Season in Texas offers a wonderful opportunity to take kids on their first hunt.
In East Texas it falls perfectly in line with the rut. We get dozens of photos of kids with big bucks they took during this special hunt. In other areas it allows young hunters to get a shot at deer before the rifle hunting pressure arrives. That means less jittery deer and a higher chance of success.
Keeping it In Perspective: TF&G Editor-At-Large and all-around hunting legend Ted Nugent says to keep things in perspective when it comes to taking kids on their first hunt.
“It isn’t rocket science. No this is far more important,” Nugent said. “Make the day about them and about your family roots and connecting with nature in a profound way. Hunting has been a Godsend for me because it allows me to unwind from the high volume, super intense world of rock and roll. And it can be a sanctuary for kids out there, a place to feel at peace and never be an outcast. Those first deer hunts can literally lead kids to a better life.”
They certainly did for me.
Along with other outdoors excursions with my Dad, Chester Moore, Sr. and my uncle Jackie Moore, both now upgraded to a Heavenly existence, those deer hunts showed me I could do it. I could really go hunting and be a success.
Those first deer hunts occurred at a rough time in my life when I faced bullying and other issues in school. It was a time when I was questioning my place in this world.
But because I was able to travel beyond the pavement and find there were great adventures in the deer woods and beyond, the young me found inspiration.
It just happened to be on that trip that I read my first copy of Texas Fish and Game. Little did I know I would one day be writing for them, much less be the editor-in-chief.
Maybe it was destiny.
That is the kind of thing deer hunting can offer a kid. What might seem like just a hunt, graduates them from dreamer to doer and from deer hunter to deer conservationist.
Let’s make sure we teach them right.
THE CZ 527 YOUTH CARBINE
With a 12.75-inch length of pull, small pistol grip with a tight radius and a thin forend, this Youth Carbine makes an ideal first deer rifle. Chambered in .223 and 7.62×39, both cartridges are more than capable of taking Texas whitetails, and they deliver little perceived recoil compared to many youth offerings on the market.
Paired with a micro-Mauser action and single set trigger, a standard carbine stock can be added as the shooter grows, so its small size won’t relegate it to the back of the safe a few years down the road.
Interestingly, built to CIP specifications, the .223s will happily eat 5.56, since CIP doesn’t differentiate between the two cartridges and just has the higher pressure as its standard. So this .223 will shoot everything from the cheapest Russian steel to match ammo.
That way you can practice without breaking the bank.
—story by Chester Moore