With everything that has transpired this year to date, I decided that I would take my 10-year-old son out for a weekend bear hunt. We had a successful hunt, filling both tags in a couple of days. He got to witness the whole hunt and experience the work that goes into it, not just the exciting parts. He was eager to assist in setting up camp, making fires and cooking.
After the shot, he realized just how much work game recovery was. We spent several hours on each bear, skinning, removing the edible meat, turning the ears, splitting lips and salting the hides. Not only was I teaching him the skills that he would need to hunt on his own in future years, he was learning the critical role that hunters contribute to wildlife conservation. His absence from his virtual classroom came with the caveat that he presents a report to his class on his big hunt. He was able to show his classmates photos of the whole adventure, even the sausage making when we returned home. Many of his classmates didn’t realize that bear was a species that could be eaten. He was able to convey hunting and firearm use in a positive light to his class and teacher(s). It might not seem like a big deal, but the more we can share our side of this conversation, the better our chances are of keeping our lifestyle.
With the bears processed and time on our hands, we took the rifles and did some shooting. My son has shot quite a bit, but the more correct training anyone can get, the better they can be. We set up with a .223 I brought and located a distinguishable rock across the ravine, about 300 yards away. We chose the rock because it was about the size of the kill zone on a game animal. I wanted to see how well my son would do with a hunting rifle. He missed his first shot, but was soon driving them home, hitting three out of his five shots. A little instruction and guidance went a long way with the proper use of rifle and optics. His shooting was very respectable for his first time at an extended range. I thought back to my early days shooting with my father and I definitely wasn’t this successful. With no proper instruction and far too large of a rifle, the only thing I developed my first time shooting was a serious flinch! I don’t recall ever shooting or practicing with my dad at ranges beyond 100 yards. I see it all the time, people giving inexperienced shooters far too large of firearms to start. Somehow their reaction and surprise to the excessive recoil may be humorous to some, but no good comes from this at all.
We shot most of the day, picking out rocks and other reactionary targets. The time spent with my son was priceless and we will always remember that trip, not only for the filling of two bear tags or the wet, miserable sleeping bags, but also the quality time and fun we had. Allowing him to shoot with a suitable rifle was valuable time. He is still sharing the stories with classmates and friends. I have had requests from other parents to bring them and their kids out for an afternoon. This all happened for several reasons, but most importantly it was the “small” rifle which made it happen. By not trying to see what he “could handle,” recoil wise, he wasn’t ever hurt by the rifle and enjoyed every shot. He didn’t have to worry about the recoil, and with proper hearing protection, the muzzle blast never caused issues as well. His ability to hit the targets gave him immediate verification with sound and visual feedback, all building his confidence. This is exactly what every new shooter needs. I would have no issue with him shooting game at 300 yards with the rifle now, albeit with the correct bullet and conditions. His interest seemed to last longer that afternoon than when we have shot the .22 LR in the past. I think that larger centerfire version with increased muzzle blast and recoil was the difference over the rimfire.
I will definitely use that rifle platform when I take other new and non-shooters out. As hunters and shooters, I feel that we need to expose as many people as we can to the fun and positive attributes of this hobby. New and/or youth hunters and shooters are the life blood of this lifestyle. It has been written about for decades at nauseam, but unfortunately we are here at a very critical time. The Order in Council (OIC) that was issued this past May should be the massive wake-up call we all need. With the stroke of a pen, numerous hunting rifles were outlawed, and a lot of high-grade “safari” rifles were prohibited in the blink of an eye. This may not have affected every hunter/shooter, but the poorly written OIC has rattled the industry. With things like this becoming the norm, our future of hunting and shooting will depend on us.