Help hunting Small Game for first time...

Not open for further replies.


Oct 29, 2006
Hey all, wannabe hunter here, looking for any advice/help from the pros here. Went deer hunting a couple times w/uncles when I was a kid, but that's been over 10yrs. Wanting to get into it, and take my 11 and 9yr old son's with me. Here in GA, they are not required to attend hunter safety yet, although plan is we are all going to go anyway, that's in a couple weeks. Target date is for us to go out Thanksgiving morning together. Wanted to go Deer, but since I don't know sh*t, and they've never been, figured maybe starting w/small game this year would be the best bet. Obviousely I would love to find somebody to show me the ropes but that isn't possible, so it's me winging it, and hoping I can trick my boy's into thinking their old man knows what he's doing!

So plan is we're going to go small game hunting, I suppose mostly squirrel and rabbit. Spent several years in the military, so know my way around a weapon, but really don't know much about hunting guns. I have a Mossburg 12 gauge (hasn't been shot in about 10yrs). What I'm looking for help with, is what type of gun to use???
Plan is to buy my son's something, they can share it, I'm assuming best for them would be a .22 or .20gauge or .410gauge??? What would be best for an 11 & 9yr old? What would be best for small game? Likely will be in the woods, not wide open terrain. Also would like to take into consideration possibly moving up in the future, hunting deer...I know a .22 would be too small, what about .20 or .410 gauge? Any suggestions? Advice?

Right now Dick's Sporting Goods has a 'Rossi' 'Youth Matched Pair' 22LR/410ga or 22LR/20ga or 802 Bolt Action 22LR on sale for $100(no scope)...Is this a good gun for them to start with? Whats the difference between the barrell options or the 802 Bolt Action option? They also have a 'Remington' Scoped .22LR (adult size) for $150...Would this be a better choice?
Should I really look at making sure whatever weapon I get them is a 'youth' gun and not an adult size?

Also any suggestions for how to actually hunt the animals. What to look for in picking a spot? Should we roll in pre-dawn and sit in a blind? Stalk them? How to judge good spots? Down wind, up wind, does it matter? I know these sound stupid, but I really have no idea where to start...

Here in GA, there are many WMAs(wildlife mgt. areas), that you can publicly hunt, any tips on finding which one would be best to hunt? Terrain? etc.

Thanks for any help, advice, I know I didn't give any real specifics, and probably sound really clueless, but I am that's why just looking for any direction, suggestions...
First off, you're running a bit late for this year, considering how much you have to do.

But: First, kids' guns. The main thing is that the stock length-of-pull not be too long for little guys. Remember, however, that they grow in spurts. Anyhow, you can buy a decent rifle or shotgun, shorten the stock, and then add spacers and a butt pad in later years to re-lengthen it.

A .410 is fine for squirrels and rabbits. Most are full choke, so it's hard to hit birds with one. If you know somebody with a 20-gauge, buy some light loads in #8 or #7-1/2 and see how the kids handle the recoil. Might work out, depending on size.

A main thing is get all the outdoors time you can, if no more than sitting and watching, or easing along quietly. That's an all-year-around thing. Learn what animals do.

The state wildlife folks most likely have a ton of free literature about what the tracks look like for all sorts of critters. Info on habits and behavior and time of day of movement (generally early morning and late afternoon/evening).

Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield are, IMO, the best magazines for how-to information. Most of the others are more into showing what somebody did, not how to do it.

For questions on specific firearms, start threads in the rifle or shotgun forums. You'll get lots of answers.

Glad you're here; hope we can help...

What part of Georgia?


I think your plan is commendable, too many kids nowadays do not get a feel for hunting.

I do think there are a couple of things you can do to help yourself before you go hunting though, and depending on your circumstances, the hunt maybe best put off until next year - but that depends. I fyou think you are ready afte rmaking the proper preparations then go this year.

Since you are wondering which rifle to buy for your sons to use, I am guessing maybe they do not shoot right now, at least not their own or your guns. If they do not yet shoot, then getting them started in firearms safety, firearms nomenclature, and then shooting at a range is the way to begin. Rent guns at the range to see which fits them, but my guess would be a good youth model bolt action repeater rifle would be good for them. A bolt action is inherently safer than a semi auto; it also reduces the chances of them firing away in hopes of doing well as opposed to taking their time on each shot as they would be more likely to do with a bolt action.

If they already shoot, well then you need to get them ready to walk around in the filed with a loaded rifle. You also need to get yourself ready for the same thing. The hunter safety course will help a lot with this, get it done as soon as possible. Bear in mind all the rules of firearms safety will apply, make sure you and your son's know them all. A good place to look is the NRA web site. In addition some other rules will apply as will be learned in the HS class.

As far as guns go:
For squirrel hunting I would, based on personal preference and safety issues, recommend a bolt action .22LR or .22 Magnum rifle with a scope of about 4 to 6 power. A variable power scope would also be a good bet. I cannot speak for Rossi based on any experience of my own, but Marlin offers some good ones. We also have an Armscor 14Y youth 22 for my son. He loved it when he was smaller.

For deer hunting, I would recommend a rifle or shotgun of fairly large caliber. A 12 or 20 gauge shotgun with slugs, or a .rifle among the many in the 30 caliber range or close to it like a .270. Again I, based on personal experience, would recommend a bolt action rifle, or for a shotgun a pump action.

As far as animals to hunt:
As far as picking which species to hunt, I would stay away from rabbits on the first trip. I just think squirrel will present a better experience for you, and a safer one than three guys on their first hunting trip possibly try to shoot a rabbit as it runs around you in a circle as they often do. You also said your hunting would likely be in the woods, that is squirrel territory. Of course you can go for rabbits too, out in the fields, but learn something about them, and about any species you plan to hunt, before you hunt them. For this I suggest going to your library and reading up old copies of Outdoor Life or another such magazine. They will have lots of good advice, and may even list hot spots in your area to hunt. Another source for info on good hunting spots should be your state fish and game department. Call the official responsible for the WMAs you think you may want to hunt, and ask them if they have a good squirrel population. If not, ask where you can find them. Here in NYS they always are helpful. Of course local hunters may also steer you right.

After you read up some on the species you want to hunt (and really do read up on them in some hunting magazines, and wildlife books, and not just here in a forum, just for the detailed info you will get), then you will want to go afield with your boys a couple to a few times before you actually hunt. Walk the woods and the fields, get to know the areas, see if you can find squirrels the way they told you to in those magazines. If you find hardwoods with plenty of acorn crop, you will likely but not necessarily find squirrels. Make sure to wear camo for squirrel if allowed in your state (note while walking into the woods and out, wear blaze orange for safety especially if another hunting season is on - never wear red/white/blue during turkey season). Walk softly, be fairly quiet. If you spook a squirrel, sit down, and wait. With 15 minutes he should be scampering about again. It takes patience to hunt, teach your sons this by going on these pre-season, or pre-hunt, scouting trips with them.

Above all else, tell your sons you do not know a thing about hunting. Tell them it will be a father/son learning experience and you all three are starting on the same level (except for your knowledge of guns). Make it fun to learn together.

By the way, I highly recommend a book called: The Old Man and The Boy by Robert Roark. Good family reading with lots of talk about nature, guns, safety and hunting. It is not a how to book, so still get those other hunting mags or books on how to do it, but read this one for a way to get into the overall feel of the hunt.

Have a safe hunt, good luck.

All the best,
Glenn B
Anybody who reads Ruark HAS to be a Good Guy!

There's more about morals and ethics in that book and its sequel than any other books you'll ever find. And life itsownself, not just hunting.

I second the suggestion on the Marlin 22 LR single shot. It's just the right size to fit an average 10 year old boy.

You could also consider a Thompson/Center Contender carbine. They are fairly light and their composite stock is fairly short. With that gun, you have the option of adding barrels or getting a different stock later on as hunting needs change and they have a lifetime warranty.
Got a dog? Not a hunting dog, just a dog. But, it must obey you. Take the dog out, and let it range about 100 feet around you, and you'll see game you wouldn't otherwise get a shot at. Just don't shoot the dog.

Others have posted good suggestions...I would probably start 'em with a shotgun, unless you can get them plenty of range time behind a .22.
Ruark is a must. :)

I agree with Art and Glenn Bartley - great posts by each.

Other thoughts.

28 ga shotgun.
A 28ga is better that it is supposed to be. This is what I start new shooters with , including 9 and 11 year olds. It is an "adult gun" and The H&R / NEF is a great gun! .410 is an experts gun, and a kid well.. "I got this kids gun and the big folks have big folks guns" - hurts self esteem.

Forget about the price of shells. One cannot put a value on kids, quality time and the future of shooting, and hunting. A MEC reloader is $100, There is very little that can compare to a family learning to reload, and then shooting them reloads. One cannot put a dollar value on some things, this is one such experience.

See if the Game and Fish / Wildlife folks have a clinic with the Hunter Safety. Hopefully, they will have guns, choices that kids can see and handle. Gun fit and a kid liking a gun, is important.

If not, perhaps a visit to where kids do shoot, and letting the kids try guns.
I assist with kids, I have one boy with a NASCAR sticker on his, and young lady with one painted teal blue, and one little girl not big enough to shoot yet, but she has a Pink Cricket (matches Barbie you know) and gets on tippy toes to show how she is growing. :p

These kids all have Ruark's TOMATB .

Shotgunning: The Art and Science - Bob Brister
Is another most have, and some will have once a certain holiday gets here. ;)

You may have started a bit late this year. Main thing is you started. In years past, too many folks have come to me/ us and started late too. I never regretted loaning a .22 rifles to Parents, and letting kids see and pick out which one fit. I never regretted once, the times a kid wanted that gun, that was loaned out for him to use. He/ she did not want a new gun, did not care it had a scratch. That gun went on the first hunt and with big eyes "please, please". That kid got that range gun for their very own.

I didn't take money for it either. If a single mom, watching a budget, she just baked something when we had a potluck. A dad may find another pawn shop special .22 and donate to the club. Another family show up, run the BBQ grill and bring a brick of ammo.

"Here, I cannot wear these rubber bottom boots with leathers uppers anymore, maybe another kid can". Parents watching kids passing down boots, hats, clothes to hunt in.

Beef Jerky Stick makes one a better shooter. The box of jerky is for a kid to grab from and put a stick in hunting coat. I have been doing the Jerky tip since I was 3 yrs old. My Mentors started it with me then.

Folks I assist with went hunting for the first time during Dove Season. Single Moms and kids mostly.

Some of these kids, about 9 or 11 are about to wear out 28 ga shells taking them in and out the box. When small game season hits, and after the first frost ( and they are really wanting a freeze soon) guess what they want to do?

"Mom we can't wait!"
"You do realize it will be cold"
"Who cares? We are gonna be hunting mom!"

It is kind of late to be just starting this year. You have a long way to go. Most have dealt with what gun or gauge. You need experience in the woods. But sometimes it is best to just take the plunge and go regardless. You have to start somewhere and the learning can be done as a family.

When I'm in the woods hiking etc., I constantly am looking for deer sign. It is what hunters do.

If you want to hunt deer this year, I would find an area that you are comfortable with, go there, do some walking around. This time of the year is a good time as deer are moving into the rut and you are seeing more activity. You want to look for tracks, trails, food sources, water, rubs, scrapes, etc. If you go to the woods now, wear blaze orange and be respectful of other hunters on public land. If you see someone, make a wide swing around them. They won't like it, but at least you may jump something and drive it there way.

Hunt between the areas that they feed and bed down.... I know that is not easy. You have to use your instincts. Deer will feed in fields and then move away from the fields into the thicker areas to bed down. They seem to like the sides of hills where they can see, smell, or sense danger approaching. If you hunt on the ground and there is much relief, hunt a valley (draw, hollow etc) as deer will move along these natural funnels. Top of ridges are good places where there is a hollow funnelling deer toward you.

Added: Deer feed on different things at different times of the year. They like many of the farmer's crops. They also love clover (alphalpha sp?) in bloom and apples. (Old orchards are good areas.) They feed on the so called "mast" crops in the woods-acorns, beech nuts, etc. Deer will feed from the time they leave their bedding areas to the time they get back, so sitting in an area which contains food sources is a good approach.

I remember a friend of mine asking where he should hunt... this was in KY and there weren't many deer in that area then.... I said I see deer along the highway in certain areas and I'd move up on the ridge above those areas and keep your eyes open. He did exactly that and shot a beautiful 8pt buck first day out. This was the first time this friend ever hunted deer.

So, just find a place where you can see and get there before daylight. Stay there as long as you can. If you can't be there before daylight, just do the best you can. I sometimes will walk around some in mid day (many hunters do) and continue to scout at that time. IF I find a better spot, I park myself there until dark and come back the next day early. While hunting, you are constantly evaluating your hunting location. Remember you are a guest on public lands, no littering and keep open fires small and under control.

You can hunt with one teen, it will be hard to have two with you at a given time. Too much noise and temptation to talk. (Also twice the human scent.) You can also post a young hunter a few hundred yards away from you and check on them. Other side to that is you are there to have fun and do what is fun. Even if you only see a few deer at a distance along a field, it will give you the hunting spirit. Deer will frequently move along the inside edge of a field and stay out of sight.

Do read some of the outdoor magazines; Outdoor Life, Field & Stream etc..... check out the news stand and look for specialty hunting annuals or whatever that have stories on technique.

We all learn as we go along. Maybe you should just take the plunge and go.

There may be information of last year's deer harvest in GA on the internet. This is good info as it gives you an idea of the number of deer in a particular county. Talk to a game protector. They may have suggestions.

Squirrel hunting would be a great way to get you out into the woods. It really is not a group activity, but it is more so than deer hunting if you are quiet. Walk very slowly, few steps at a time, stop, look, listen, take a few steps, repeat. 22 rifle works well for squirrels, just be sure you understand that the bullet can travel one mile or so without a backstop.

Best Advice! Buy a 22 rifle and start shooting with the family. If the kids are interested, they will start looking at catalogs and what is available. I like the Marlin 39A (lever action) or a reasonably good bolt action (with magazine). Autos are fun, but shooting fast is not what you are trying to train the kids to do. Be Safe. You can use the 22 for squirrels. Don't buy a 22 WMR rifle for small game.

For centerfire rifles, think 270, 30-06, 308 range of calibers for deer. 243 is smaller and many like it for its low recoil. 243 is the minimum caliber to consider for deer hunting. Anything smaller is an expert marksman game and don't buy something like a 300 win mag or any of the short mags. Ammo is more expensive. 300 win mag is over powered for deer in most situations. Great rifle caliber for long shots for game up to elk sized just a bit more than needed for most whitetail situations.

Shotgun; 20 ga is large enough for deer if you go the shotgun route to start. Remember slugs will kick a lot more than regular loads, but that's is okay. You won't be shooting bunches of them. Shoot at 25 yds; then 50 yds, then move to 100 yds for giggles (use bigger targets the further out you shoot).... Practice does help. Most deer are shot at under 50 yds in the woods. Hit a 6" paper plate and you'll be okay for starters.

I would get regular sized guns and let the kids grow into them. I tend to work from a limited budget. (This is the part that is much dependant on your ability to provide equipment when they are growing like weeds.) There will be a lot of things to buy to get started. Relax and you can add to the pile next year. You don't have to have every little gadget. Do take binoculars with you. I use Nikon Monarch 8x42..... yep, costs as much as many guns. Even an inexpensive pair is a better choice than none at all. Try to avoid using a scoped rifle to scan areas; scope the deer, but not the general areas looking for deer. (Hunters don't much like someone aiming their rifle at them.)
Last edited:
I see from looking at the Georgia DNR website that squirrel season runs from 15 Aug through Feb 28. There's no reason you all can't get out in the woods this season! Deer might be better saved for next year, though.

Now, for firearms, if it were ME, I'd buy a single shot .22 and a single shot .410. Even with the hunter's safety course, your boys will be WILDLY excited their first time hunting - it's nice to know that if one of them takes a shot, he won't be able to get TOO fired up and KEEP SHOOTING. At least this is how my husband and I did it with my stepsons.

The nice thing about a .410/.22 combo is you can give them "jobs." IE - "you, with the shotgun - if the squirrel is on the ground, it's YOURS. If it's perched in a tree, it's the .22."

I would ensure at least one opportunity to shoot in a non-hunting environment (even if it's just at 2-litre plastic soda bottles in your neighbor's pasture). In fact, that sort of thing might be better than an organized "range." That way it's just you and them - fewer distractions and easier to control the situation.

As for squirrels - mostly I know about northern squirrels, but I bet Georgia squirrels are very similar. I always had good luck just walking back on some state land and checking out stands of good-sized oak trees. Often, you'll see squirrel activity from a distance. Farther than you might want to shoot. The thing to do is to SLOW DOWN, keep an eye on where you saw the movement, and when you get to the area, start watching HARD for movement. Squirrels are squirrely - they'll move.

Squirrels are a great start. Just do a google search for "squirrel field dressing" and you'll see how easy they are to "peel." FYI - this is easiest if done sooner rather than later. And THAT is educational for the young'uns. :D

Oh yes - and they're easy to fry.

Good on you for deciding to do this with them! Don't let confusion keep you out of the woods - there's nothing wrong with buying a book and sticking it in your pocket!
Not open for further replies.