va toms kid

Dave sent me an email saying that his son, Josh, was turning 8, and that he was finally old enough to hunt deer according to his state’s law. Dave said Josh would continue to tag along with him in the woods this fall, but the boy wouldn’t carry a rifle just yet. What did I think?

I think Dave has got it right. Eight is great for tagging along with Dad, but isn’t it a bit too young and immature to carry a gun and kill an animal, especially a deer? Think about those rowdy 8-year-olds on your kid’s baseball or football team. Would you thrust a .243 into their hands and say, “Boy, go shoot us a buck.”

My two sons blasted their first squirrels with a 20-gauge Remington pump when they were 10. We were all happy and thought that was cool. My boys were your typical 10-year-olds. Not particularly mature, but old enough to handle shooting the life out of a gray rodent.

Killing a warm, fuzzy, doe-eyed deer is another thing. If you are doing it right, you feel a lot happy and a little sad when you shoot the life out of a buck or a doe. You smile. You think, contemplate. Your eyes might well up a bit even if you won’t admit it. I don’t think a kid is ready for that until he’s 12 or so, and he or she will spend the rest of his or her hunting life sorting out the emotions.

I’m all for recruiting new hunters, but some guys are pushing too hard. Their boys and girls are shooting deer when they’re 5 and 6 in states with no age requirements. On some lands with intensive management programs, kindergartners are literally stacking up the does. The kids are having fun, but why? They don’t know why they are shooting those deer. They are doing it because Daddy tells them to, and they know it makes Daddy proud.

I understand that every kid is different, and it’s up to the parent or grandparent to decide at what age a boy or girl should shoot a deer. But I see a lot of parents pushing too hard for their kids to hunt at too young an age. Put too much pressure on kid to do any sport and you can burn him out.

Click here for a list of state laws and minimum age (if any) to hunt deer.

What do you think? How young is too young to kill a deer? When did you and your kids start hunting?