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The Tartini Grand Slam - junior hunters learn the ropes

It’s no secret that the average age of hunters and shooters in Australia is usually on the older side, and no-one can argue the fact that children are indeed our future, especially with recreational hunting and the shooting sports. Several years ago, with that in mind, the SSAA-affiliated hunting club that manages hunting activities on our South East Queensland property introduced an incentive for the children and grandchildren of our members, which encourages them to sample shooting and hunting of all the available feral species on the acreage.

With the advent of the SSAA Sponsored Junior program, this hunting opportunity was further widened to encompass children who may not otherwise have had the chance to participate in hunting and shooting activities.

We are quite fortunate with the diversity of feral species that are available for hunting on the property, including rabbits, foxes, pigs, goats, fallow deer, feral cats (which appear to be on the increase) and the very odd wild dog. Bearing in mind that all these species need to be controlled and managed, there was a golden opportunity for our members to teach their youngsters how it’s done and to pass on our hunting and shooting knowledge and skills to the next generation.

During discussions on the subject with some of the elder statesmen of our club, including past Australian Shooter columnist Warren McKay, and several other experienced members, it was evident that there was a veritable treasure trove of knowledge about firearms and hunting within our group. Everyone was enthusiastic about the project and we came up with the idea of awarding an individual trophy of some kind to encourage the junior hunters to participate.

A few ideas were thrown around and we agreed that the award should be for the taking at least one animal of each of the five most common feral species on the estate: these being rabbit, fox, pig, goat and fallow deer. Thus, the Tartini Grand Slam award was born - ‘Tartini’ being the name of the property.

The award would be a significant achievement for each of the kids so we decided that the shield should be something special, that they could keep to remind themselves of their hunting experiences and achievements on the land. A photo is sometimes worth a thousand words and as can be seen the shield turned out extremely well, made from stained timber with the five pewter feral animals clearly displayed.

The excitement generated among the boys and girls was greater than anticipated and there was immediate competition as to who would be the first to achieve the honour. The pressure was on the parents, grandparents and other members to go hunting at every available juncture and to learn all aspects of targeting the different species.

As some of the kids had never used firearms, we set up an area where they could be trained and coached in safety procedures, starting with Z rounds in .22LR rifles. Many years ago, I purchased a set of steel mini metallic silhouette animal targets for target practice. As I’ve written before, many kids tend to enjoy reactive targets as they offer immediate feedback on their shot. There’s no doubt about the result, with the satisfying response of an audible ‘tink’ and the falling silhouette to indicate a hit.

We start the youngsters shooting from the bench over sandbags and eventually transition to the other field positions including, prone, sitting supported and unsupported, standing supported and unsupported, and our all-time favourite, standing and shooting over ‘shooting sticks’, which has been warmly accepted by many of our members hunting with their juniors.

I hunted in Africa with Warren McKay many years ago, where it was the norm for all hunters to use shooting sticks, either the two- or three-legged variety. Professional hunters employ them for many reasons, but mostly because they work so well as a steady and immediate rifle rest. Therefore, this contributes to their high success rate and to satisfied clients.

I was impressed with the practicality of shooting sticks and immediately adopted them back home in Australia for my own shooting, especially when hunting with the kids, where a solid rifle rest was now always available exactly where we needed one. There was no more need to move that bit further forward to that tree for a rest, which usually ended in disaster after being detected by our prey, or have the kids shoot from the prone position over a bipod, which is often impractical due to long grass and other factors.

Just like hunting clients in Africa, our own success rate skyrocketed, with the boys routinely taking animals cleanly over varying distances. The other aspect of shooting sticks worth mentioning is that when a standing shot over sticks is taken, the kids don’t need to hold up a heavy rifle (which is done by the sticks) and the felt recoil is far less to the shooter, which is important when teaching kids to shoot centrefire rifles.

We always match the calibre to the animal hunted, with the .22LR by far the preferred one for the bunnies. However, with the right projectiles the .222 and .223 are plenty of gun for everything else on the property, including fallow deer. That being said, most youngsters usually have no trouble using the .243, which would have to be one of the best ‘kids calibres’ around for medium game. Giving more than adequate performance on game up to the size of red deer with minimal recoil, it’s a no-brainer where kids are concerned and it’s a favoured calibre with them on our property. We also noticed that it wasn’t long before some of the more adventurous kids were happily hunting with their dad or grandad’s rifles, right up to .270s and even 30-06s firing full loads without any problems.

I have also used reduced loads in the .270 with great success, negating the need to carry a lesser calibre for the smaller hunters, but giving nothing away in performance on game. My favourite .270 reduced load of 40 grains of AR2206H behind the excellent 110-grain Barnes TSX projectile is a real winner, as it shoots less than MOA in my rifle and only 1” lower than my regular 130-grain load at 100 yards with .223-level recoil.

Hearing protection for the kids while we are hunting on the property is always obligatory, with a minimum of earplugs and preferably electronic earmuffs. When the junior hunters use electronic earmuffs, they can be quietly coached through the shot, to enhance their marksmanship and shot placement.

The outcome of all this has had an extremely satisfying and positive effect on everyone involved. It almost goes without saying that hunting and shooting are family-orientated activities where the participation of parents or grandparents with the kids is a mandatory condition. Consequently, we have all managed to spend a lot of quality time bonding with the kids, teaching them many meaningful life skills that they may not otherwise have acquired. The hunting and shooting skills they have been taught just can’t be learned from any other source.

The success of our junior hunter program was further enhanced in April 2014 when my son, Macen, was awarded the SSAA 2013 ‘Junior Hunter of the Year’ for Queensland. Much of what Macen had learned about the different aspects of hunting and game management relates directly to the input from many of the wise old hunters in our scheme who are only too willing to share their considerable hunting knowledge with the kids.

Hunting success is one thing, but the kids have also been exposed to the quality deer management scheme that we operate on the property. This has given them the opportunity to learn about game management firsthand, where they have each gained an understanding of the principles involved.

Not only do the children hunt for trophy animals, but meat hunting is also a large part of their hunting experiences where deer and other species need to be culled to maintain optimum game numbers, in line with the management scheme. With an abundance of deer, rabbits and goats on the property, it makes good sense to use this resource with many of the families hunting for and preparing game meat for the table.

As a result, learning how to prepare game animals for meals is yet another aspect of their experiences. You would probably be surprised just how many people in the wider community have absolutely no idea how to prepare an animal from the paddock to the plate. Our kids learn it all, and enjoy themselves immensely in the process, acquiring the necessary skills on how to safely use sharp knives. A by-product of the butchering process is the anatomy lessons, showing the youngsters where the internal organs of each animal lay within the individual species chests (as they are all different). This knowledge enhances their shot placement and ensures the ethical hunter’s desired outcome, that being one-shot kills.

Just sharing time in the bush with the kids is great, but apart from the hunting and shooting, there have also been other enjoyable learning experiences. Teaching the kids to fish in the river for cod and yellowbelly, both with lures and bait, has been both fun and rewarding for all concerned with an emphasis on catch and release.

As the kids grow (and their legs are long enough to reach the peddles), most of them have also learned to drive manual vehicles, which is no load to carry through life, and a breakthrough that some of them may not otherwise have had.

Watching the children grow as they learn the practical life skills afforded to them through this hunting program has been a rewarding event for the tutors as well as the children. It’s been my view that properly supervised exposure to hunting and firearms teaches children responsibility and respect for the animals they hunt, which leads to a level of maturity that is not always seen today.

We have definitely fostered a love of hunting and the outdoors with the kids, and the tutors have all learned a thing or two along the way! It’s an ongoing and enjoyable labour of love to educate the next generation of hunters and shooters to take over where we will eventually leave off.

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