December 05, 2022
In the March 2019 issue, I mentioned taking my young son deer hunting as an observer, which drew some reader ire. While all my children shoot, my son James has been hunting with me since he was 2. He is now 7 years old and has transitioned from being an observer and bird retriever to a hunter. As a father who didn’t grow up afield, I couldn’t be prouder.
James has been shooting a single-shot Crickett in .22 LR, made by Keystone Sporting Arms ($169), since he was about four — and always with my close supervision. During Spring 2021, he surprised me by repeatedly hitting a 100-yard steel target with a Marlin Model 336 Dark Series that I was testing for an article in RifleShooter. I thought to myself, “If he can do that, he can kill a deer!” I did not force any of this. In fact, I tried to talk him out of shooting the lever-action for fear that the .30-30’s recoil would make him gun shy; it didn’t. So, we spent the summer and early fall practicing with various rifles from field positions. I’m biased of course, but he appeared to be a natural.
After that, I knew that I had to find the appropriate rifle for his frame. I wanted to start him off with a single-shot, but I couldn’t find one that checked enough boxes. We eventually settled on a suppressed AR-15 since it features a collapsible stock that allowed me to shorten its length-of-pull; I can adjust it to fit as he grows, and the felt recoil was within his tolerability. Was this a traditional solution? No. Was it practical? Yes. After witnessing his skills develop through the summer, I knew he was ready to hunt.
James took his first of several doves on the wing with a Remington 1100 Youth on September 11, 2021. As fall progressed, our focus shifted to deer. Two months later, on Thanksgiving weekend, it all came together as he shot his first deer. Using an AR-15, he cleanly took a whitetail doe at 80 yards. Both grandfathers and his uncle were there to see his beaming smile as we recovered the animal.
James took another doe and a small buck weeks later, this time while using a bolt-action 6.5 Creedmoor. Three whitetail deer in the family freezer represent his success. I have been relegated to “guide” status, but it is a role that I relish. I couldn’t help but to smile when my oldest daughter, Victoria, turned to James at the dinner table one evening and thanked him for providing the venison that we ate. My kids know where their food comes from.
Alabama kicks off its turkey season with a youth-only weekend, and we took full advantage of that opportunity. No decoys were allowed, which meant that we had to call and stalk. When a group of birds gave us the slip, we charged up a hill to cut them off, and James was always at the front. I admit that I was a bit confused when I saw him drop to a knee and take aim across a pine stump. His young eyes had picked up movement before I did, but he knew what to do. He passed on seven jakes and singled out the sole longbeard of the group. His first turkey went down to a single shot from 30 yards using his mom’s 20-gauge Remington 870 — another Youth model — on March 19, 2022.
While many kids his age spend their time consumed by hand-held devices, social media and video games, children like James are living life. These are experiences that he and I will cherish forever. I’m proud of my son, and not just because he put meat on our table. What I’m most proud of is the safety and maturity that he displayed throughout the seasons. Here’s to many more.
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