As the father of two daughters, I often got tickled when I heard sometime say, “Poor Larry, if only he had sons instead of daughters, think of the great hunts they could do!”
I never responded, but I knew my daughters Theresa and Beth could out-shoot and out-hunt any male youngster I had ever been around. Both shot their first Whitetail when they were eight years old. They used my favorite deer rifle at the time, a .270 Winchester, and both dropped the deer in its tracks. We continued hunting together through their school years and into college, and do so even today.
In time, both daughters had families of their own. My first grandson was Jake, Beth’s boy. He was followed quickly by twin grandsons Joshua and Justin, who are Theresa’s. Andrew is Beth’s second son and he is three years younger than Jake. He was later followed by Beth’s daughter Kathryn.
As each grandchild started walking and talking, they learned about guns and heard stories about hunting and fishing trips. They soon caught their first fish and learned about the animals mounted in my office. When they started learning to count, they counted the mounts and the number of points on various deer I had on my wall. By the time they started school, they knew a fair amount about guns and gun safety, ammunition, various wild animals and wildlife conservation.
Me and my daughters had Jake, Josh and Justin shooting .22 rimfire rifles by the time they were five years old. At the time, I had my own wildlife management/consulting company, writing about hunting, and I was on staff with “Shooting Times” and other outdoor publications. I was also doing a considerable number of outdoor hunting shows for television. As a result, I was on the road hunting for TV shows and articles a lot, often traveling upward of 250 days a year. However, whenever possible I spent time with my grandkids telling them stories of where I had been hunting, the animals I had hunted and seen and information about the local cultures. Their questions were nearly endless. I took time to answer them and show them photos, plus we watched the TV shows from my many hunts. These occasions were, of course, followed by more questions.
I had taken each of the boys singularly, and occasionally together with me on day trips for Whitetails. They were present when I shot deer, gutted and properly took care of the venison and cooked and ate it as well.
When Jake, Joshua and Justin turned eight, I thought they were mature enough to hunt for their first deer. Thankfully, their mothers agreed. We looked at a lot of photos and videos about hunting. I had them point out where they would shoot a deer, knowing where the heart and lungs were in the body. We talked about taking shots and when not to shoot. We also talked about deer management and wildlife habitat. I stressed the importance of taking does. I told them the first deer they would be allowed to shoot when hunting with me would be a doe. Once they had taken a doe, I would allow them to take a buck, but only the one I pointed out for them to take.
Thankfully in Texas, where a hunter safety course is required for a hunting license, children can be issued a license but must be accompanied by a parent or guardian when afield. I bought each grandchild’s first hunting license. They actually had resident hunting licenses a few days after they were born.
Before going on their first hunt (Jake on the Bowman Ranch near Carrizo Springs, Texas, and Josh and Justin on the Machen Ranch near Pearsall, Texas, then Andrew there three years later), I taught them about the T/C Contender single-shot rifle they would be shooting. I took them to the range to shoot it using a .223 barrel. I wanted them to be totally familiar with how the hammer needed to be cocked before you could pull the trigger. I wanted them to learn the trigger and the scope that topped the single-shot. All three did extremely well. The day before heading out on their first hunt, I switched the .223 barrel to a .375 JDJ and did not tell them about what I had done.
Jake, Josh and Justin shot their first deer, a doe, sitting on my lap. They handled getting ready to shoot like a professional. I could not have been prouder. They waited for a proper shot at the doe. They shot, then reloaded the rifle, pointing it at the downed deer as we had talked about doing. When they were certain the deer was down, they turned toward me with a huge smile, exclaiming, “I got her!” I could scarcely contain myself from the excitement and pride I felt.
Once the deer was down, we carefully approached the downed animal and after an appropriate handshake and hug, we said a prayer of thanks for the animal giving its life. After photos, and taking care there was no blood showing or tongue hanging out, we gutted the deer and prepared to take it home where they could show their respective moms. Then later, each helped butcher their deer.
Going back to their shots, which had literally been “dead on,” if either of them realized the recoil, they never acknowledged it. I told them after they had taken their deer that the .375 JDJ they used was a round developed by J.D. Jones. In 1984, Jones had taken a .375 JDJ handgun to Africa and had shot numerous elephants, and they had taken their first Whitetail with an “elephant gun”! This was something they pointed out many times in telling their own stories about their first deer, and they continue to do so!
Andrew’s first doe was no different. He also used the .375 JDJ. My granddaughter Kathryn used a .223 Ruger Model 77 at the insistence of FTW Ranch’s Tim Fallon, where she took her first deer. One of these days, I will write about her first hunt and deer, but this one is about hunting with “my boys.”
Here’s an observation about taking youngsters shooting and hunting. With both my daughters and my grandchildren, I started them off shooting BB guns. They learned to first shoot with “open sights.” They learned about gun safety and to always determine if a gun is loaded by pointing the barrel in a safe direction and opening the action. I taught them about single-shots, bolt action, lever action, auto-loaders, revolvers and semi-auto handguns. I am proud to say that even today as adults, that is still the first thing they do when someone hands them a gun. If indeed the gun is loaded, they properly unload it and secure it to safety before handling it further.
I mentioned my two daughters shot their first deer with a .270 Win and my four grandsons shot their first deer at eight years of age with a .375 JDJ. Both have considerable recoil. Too often, I have seen a child handed a recoiling rifle or shotgun and warned, “Now this is going to hurt when you pull the trigger. It kicks!”
Doing that immediately puts doubt and a little fear into the child. They then expect recoil and really feel it! I can assure you that this is NOT the thing to do, based on my experience introducing quite a few young and new shooters to guns. Instead, show them the proper way to hold a gun, then allow them to shoot that recoiling gun from either a sitting upright or standing position (and certainly not from a bench situation). When situated upright, the body moves backward with recoil, lessening the effect. When I have seen a recoiling gun rock youngsters, I immediately say, “How fun was that?” I usually see that a smile comes onto their faces immediately, and they will most likely want to shoot it again!
In the case of hunting and shooting a deer, my daughters and grandkids never felt the recoil because of the excitement of the moment.
I wanted my “boys” to start with a doe and not be concerned about how big a buck’s rack was or was not. Far too many times, I have seen children introduced to hunting by shooting a monster buck for their first deer. In most instances, those who do that soon lose interest in hunting because they may have shot the biggest deer they might ever take in their lifetime. What do they have to look forward to?
Start with a doe! With taking a doe, I wanted my grandsons to look forward to the future and possibly taking a buck. With my boys, when it came time to hunt for a buck, I wanted them to be small-antlered bucks, those with age and small antlers. I also did not allow them to shoot small-antlered young buck. While in the field hunting and back at home looking at photos and footage, I taught them how to age deer on the hoof and how to judge antlers. After the basics of field judging, we looked at mounts. Then we guessed spreads, tine length, mass and beam lengths. After our guessing, we would then measure those to see how close they came.
As my grandsons got a bit older approaching their teens and into them, I started setting up a hunt for the five of us during their schools’ Christmas holiday. I mentioned our annual Christmas hunting trip with Tim Fallon who owns the FTW Ranch where he teaches Sportsman All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) Hunter Training. He said, “Bring them to the ranch to hunt, but while we’re here we’ll also put them through our SAAM training.” Thus, not only did they get to hunt, but they also received the finest hunter/shooting training available in the world. We continued our annual FTW/SAAM hunt/training until the older boys graduated from high school and were off to college and jobs. Instructor Doug Pritchard and Tim as well had a tremendous influence on my grandkids, which I greatly appreciated.
During the early years of hunting with my grandkids, we filmed our annual hunting trip for various TV shows I hosted and co-hosted, including the three years I hosted “Winchester’s World of Whitetails with Larry Weishuhn.” Those episodes can still be viewed on various internet streaming networks. We also filmed several of those hunts with my grandkids for my “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show, which I gave to Blake Barnett a few years ago. This continues to air on Pursuit Channel. During the early years of the show, Blake was our cameraman on several of those hunts.
On the FTW Ranch, the boys got to hunt does (Whitetail, Axis and Blackbuck) and Whitetail management bucks. They went through the SAAM course learning ever more about guns, optics, ammo, and shooting positions both in the classroom and on the ranch’s numerous rifles ranges. They also learned about shooting range, long-range, and through the SAAM instructors learned that hunting meant trying to get as close as possible before pulling the trigger. During those hunts and trainings, I participated by watching and spending true quality time with them at the range and occasionally in the deer blinds.
On other hunts where I could take only one of the grandchildren, I alternated which one could go, trying to give them all equal opportunities but also spending time with each one on an individual basis. During those hunts, we talked about guns, hunting and wildlife management. I told stories of hunting with my granddad and their granddads, and we talked about life in general, as well as what they hoped to do in the future.
Watching “my boys” mature as young men and as hunters is something that is most difficult to articulate and describe. I am proud to say that all my grandsons and my granddaughter have grown up to be responsible adults. One of my grandsons, Andrew, went on to be an Army Ranger. Justin is with the Air Force as a drone pilot. Jake works with a national company and Josh manages a company in the central part of Texas. Kathryn is currently in college. All love the outdoors and continue to hunt and fish whenever possible.
Justin and his wife have a son, Graham, who is my great-grandson. Jake and Josh are about to be married and will undoubtedly soon have their own families. Good Lord willing, it will not be too long before I will get to have a hand in teaching and hunting the next generation of “my boys!”