Written by: Jon Hubble, Premier Wingshooting
Whenever I’m asked how to introduce kids to wingshooting, I always think back to my son, Preston and how he came to be a bird hunter. First, simply start the conversation with your kid. If there is no interest, the learning process may be like pulling teeth and you may risk making them hate the sport. With Preston, I did not have to do that. One day when he was 3 or 4, he asked, “Dad, when can we go pow some birds?” I could hardly control myself, but I managed to keep calm and just asked, “What do you mean?” He answered, “You know, Biscuit [our bird dog] will find the birds for us and we’ll pow them.” I knew he was aware of what happened and really had an interest. So I told him that after Christmas, we would go pow some birds. And from there, this is where our journey began and hopefully this will guide you, as well.
Preston already had an over-and-under dart gun, and that was what he would take to the field. My plan was to go to the ranch and hunt some released birds because it’s important to make these outings as fun and successful as possible. Unfortunately, the day we went, it was 32 degrees (cold for Texas) and the wind was blowing a bit. But we bundled him up, grabbed our guns, dog, and vests and away we went. As we drove to the ranch, I contemplated how this hunt would go. I settled on having him go through every motion that takes place in a hunt–from walking with his gun in a safe position, to loading when we were on a point, to shouldering and firing. Of course, I would ask how many bird he thought he’d shoot. He was more than confident, and it never even crossed his mind that he couldn’t shoot a bird, much less actually kill one. As with anything, confidence is king.
First Day in the Field
So we arrived and put the birds out for our hunt. I was fortunate enough to have the office manager follow along to photograph. I would highly recommend having someone take pictures, as those are some very special photos for us now. Once we got to the field, I explained to Preston that Biscuit would run out in front of us and when he stopped and froze solid, that meant that birds were close by. So we put our ear protection on, opened our shotguns, placed them on our shoulders, and away we went. I was worried he would be miserable because of the cold, but he was fine.
And as Biscuit came into our first point, I had Preston walk in directly behind me within arm’s reach. I told him some birds where ahead and to get his gun loaded and ready. I explained that once the birds flew, we would try to shoot them out of the air and Biscuit would bring them back. So as I walked in, a single got up, and as I was shouldering my gun, I noticed a dart flying toward the bird. At that point, I had never felt so much pressure to shoot a quail. Luckily I made the shot, immediately turning to Preston yelling that he got it! He was so excited, and we talked about opening our guns for safety while Biscuit went to get the bird. As Biscuit brought back the bird and Preston began to study the quail and its colors in amazement, I explained the bird’s markings which meant it was a boy bird and that hopefully our next bird would be a girl so he could see the difference.
We continued for only a short while longer. Walking together, we put up more birds, shot at them, and began to banter about who shot the bird first. It was great; he loved it and wanted to come back. So we set to make it a yearly event.
Developing a Hunter
The next year, Preston was given a Daisy BB gun and began shooting with that, leading up to our hunt. On this hunt, I would keep his gun unloaded, but he wouldn’t know. As we began, it was the same as the first time: the dog would find the bird, Preston and I would shoot, and we’d argue over who made the shot. But this time, he had to carry his own birds in his strap vest. As we went along, we talked about muzzle safety, making sure your hunting partners are safe, making sure the dogs are safe, and not shooting if the bird is too low. It was a lot for a young boy, but having an unloaded BB gun was the way to go. It allowed us to ensure safety when there was no way he could be completely safe on his own.
The next year was the same, but we made a couple of interesting memories. On one flush, we moved two birds, and I shot one that kept flying for about 200 yards. Seeing an opportunity to instill a sense of independence, I told Preston that I would take our Cocker to go look for the downed bird, while he took Biscuit to find the one that got away. He asked if he should shoot the bird when they found it, and I said no and that he was to wait for me. As I was walking toward the downed bird, I looked over to see Biscuit on point and Preston walking toward him. I found the downed bird, and when I looked over to see what was happening, Preston had his cheek resting on Biscuit’s hip and was staring down his back. In his mind, he was a dog pointing the exact location of the bird.
I laughed to myself and ask him what he was doing. He said Biscuit had found the bird, but that Preston couldn’t see where it was. So I pulled him back and explained the scent of the bird and where the bird would most likely be. I told him that I wanted him to walk in and shoot the bird when it flew. He started to walk in, as our Cocker jumped in to find the bird. As often happens, the bird lit out of a place we didn’t expect and Preston turned quickly to shoot the bird. He immediately turned around to proclaim that he had forgotten to cock the gun. And in that moment, with video proof, I knew he was a true upland hunter, excuses and all.
Loading Up for Live Action
The next step for Preston would be introduction to a shotgun. We lucky enough to get him a 28-gauge AYA side-by-side that matched my AYA. The 28-gauge is a great gun for beginners because it has a decent load size which helps them to connect; remember, we want a lot of success and fun. Because I was concerned about the recoil for a boy his size, I wanted to make this as fun as possible. I bought some RST low-recoil 2½ inch shells and stopped by the grocery store for some watermelons, cantaloupes, and two-liter bottles of Red Soda. I placed the melons on the edge of a tank dam, along with the soda, which I had shaken thoroughly. My plan was for him to be so excited about shooting those things and blowing them up, that he would not notice the recoil or perhaps would not perceive it to be bad. Ready, aim, fire! We proceeded to blow up all of it. He only mentioned a little soreness after we finished, but he asked when we could do it again. It is important to know that with each shot, I was overly excited and yelling to keep Preston’s emotions high.
With that in place, we began to attempt clay targets. It took a year of growing and working for Preston to get strong enough to hold the gun for any amount of time. As such, it was not the time to take him to the field with the possibility of having a low-pointed muzzle around our dogs. I explained that when he could hold the gun well and shoot clays, we would then go to the field. He worked a lot that year, grew some, and finally was able to break clays consistently.
When we went to hunt his first birds with his shotgun, he was ready and safe. And for this first experience, we hunted released chukar. These are best for newcomers, as they tend to fly upward first and then level off, which keeps the hunters pointing away from the dogs. Quail present too much of a risk of low birds, and I didn’t want Preston in that situation. Controlling that environment as much as possible is good for everyone and helps breed success. We kept a close eye on his safety, keeping his gun unloaded until we were ready, looking out for the dogs, etc. Unfortunately, as with many hunts, his first was unsuccessful. But he still wanted to keep coming out.
His next opportunity was a year later, and I was really hoping he would connect. We again pursued chukar, and this time Preston was accompanied by a friend whose dad had been following the same program. We named the pair First Flush Team. On this hunt, they both shot their first birds . . . and seconds and thirds! It was a proud moment for all.
Preston is now 11 years old, and he’s had a full season under his belt. He’s shot chukar and pheasant, turning into a great little wingshooter. He even connects on fast flying quail on long crossing shots. We have set a goal to go after each upland bird in the U.S., and this September will be hunting blue grouse in the mountains. I can’t wait.
To recap, it is important to always keep the process fun and realize that kids’ size and maturity will determine the speed for progress. Early on, take your kids hunting with you and make sure they have a toy or unloaded gun so that they can practice safety and shouldering on flying birds. Make it fun, tell them they shot the bird, and let them get as involved as they want. Slowly introduce them to a shotgun, and don’t pull the 1950’s grandpa philosophy of giving them a gun that is too big. Once you feel they have a firm grasp of safety, start shooting fun items off the ground, and when they’re strong enough, move to clays, keeping the targets moving away. Crossing shots can come later. And once they grasp safety and are strong enough, take them to the field and use released Chukar, if possible.
Jon Hubble operates Premier Wingshooting in central Texas. He is the 2023 Orvis-endorsed Wingshooting Guide of the Year.
3 thoughts on “Pro Tips: How to Introduce Kids to Wingshooting”
Great article, well-written and the perfect subject
Thank you for publishing this wonderfully informative and heartfelt article.
Jon Hubble’s mindful forethought, detailed orchestration, and successful implementation are overwhelmingly impressive – which explains why he’s the 2023 Wingshooting Guide of the Year.
Jon Hubble, at Premier Wingshooting is a great place to hunt birds along with great fellowship. I have expierence youth hunts and introductory shooting at the facility. Jon’s comments on how to lay the foundation for bird hunting is spot on. Follow Jon’s outline and you and especially your daughter and sons cannot go wrong.
Thank you John for your comments.