Q&A with Steven Rinella: How to Raise an Outdoor Kid

Q: Most people who hunt or fish want to pass their love of the outdoors on to their kids. But besides the obvious benefits of spending time doing these activities as a family, why do you think it’s so important to get kids outside?

A: Yeah, there’s that obvious motivation of if you love something, you want your kids to love it too. But when I think about why it’s so important to me, I think a lot about values of adaptability and being self-sufficient. When I was a kid, my dad surrounded himself with outdoorsmen who had tremendous life skills, practical knowledge that you learn from doing this stuff. Getting stuff unstuck. Fixing stuff. That ability to be self-reliant serves you well in all areas of life. I also really value a perspective that is informed by the frontier spirit of America. I want my kids to know what it feels like to take care of themselves.

Q: What are some of the challenges to getting kids outside that you’ve personally faced when raising your own children?

A: One is just having too many of them. My boy who is 9 is easy now, but it gets more complicated when you factor in two younger siblings. But a lot of the struggles are straight-forward, practical challenges. Gear management—keeping all their stuff together. The cold, of course. Making sure they stay warm and dry. You constantly need to be aware of them being hungry or thirsty.

Another challenge is a lack of patience—both theirs and mine. It’s hard to find the right balance of situations, ones that are challenging and ones that will hold their attention. For example, I take my kids out to catch sunnies on a dock because that’s a ton of fun with a lot of action. They love it, but that’s what fishing comes to mean to them. So, then when I take them out to catch halibut and it’s tougher, it’s like what the heck. It’s a challenge to guide them through this kind of progression.

Q: Give us your number one tip for raising an outdoors kid?

A: This is a cheap shot, but it works. We limit candy consumption in general, but I save it as a reward when we’re out hunting and fishing. At home they may not get candy, junk food, juice boxes, etc., but when we’re ice fishing, they can have all the Jolly Ranchers they want. It’s good to have those rules at home so you can break them when they’re outdoors.

In general, snacks and drinks are key. Hot chocolate and things like that. You can’t let them get hungry or thirsty. Cold either. Bring insulated ponchos and extra layers. Keep them happy and comfortable.

Q: Sometimes kids would rather turn over rocks in the creek than fish. How do you balance letting them goof around and have fun with getting serious about learning how to hunt or fish?

A: A lot of it depend on their age. We tend to lean pretty heavily into screwing around. My daughter loves to go ice fishing, but she doesn’t care if she catches one or not. She loves everything about it: drilling the hole, the bait, seeing other people catch fish. And that’s fine. If they’re out there and having fun, that’s cool. I think at the age of 8 or under, just playing along is fine.

But as they get older, you can start to have some expectations. And some of this develops naturally. My oldest son is 9, and he still doesn’t know how to tie the right fishing knots, and that’s fine. But he’s starting to fish with his buddy, a neighbor, and now he wants his own tackle container, wants to be able to do it without me. Once they have that interest, that kind of independence develops naturally.

Q: What’s the most fun you have with your kids outdoors?

A: We haven’t done a ton of it, but we love to go out and check muskrat traps. They love to hunt pine squirrels. We have lots of fun mushroom hunting. Right now, they have the most fun doing  stuff that involves a lot of moving around. They’re not eager to go out and sit still and be quiet.

Q: How do you raise kids so they’re comfortable with things like butchering and cleaning animals?

A: We’ve never not done that. We got them comfortable with that early enough that we never had to deal with that ick. We never tolerated that kind of “ew, that’s icky and gross” attitude. Even with things like dealing with garbage and stuff like that. Early exposure to seeing the messy but natural part of life spares you as a parent from that dealing with “icky.” My kids are not perfect, but that’s one thing we do not have to deal with.

Q: How old is old enough for a first knife, and what’s the best choice

A. It depends on the kid, but a multi-tool is a great first knife. The blades aren’t as menacing, and there are lot of cool tools that kids love to learn how to use.

I thought my boy was ready for his first legit pocketknife at age nine. The biggest issue is losing it. He’s taken a shine to my Griptilian, but he can’t just have it. It has a place it stays in the shop, and he has to check it in and out. He gets it at appropriate times and doesn’t just have it laying around.

I don’t expect he’s going to leave for college without ever having cut his hands. I still cut my hands on occasion. But when you teach them right, it’s a lot safer than a lot of kid’s toys. We had our swing set one day when my son broke his arm. My kids have gotten stitches, but from scooters and Legos. It’s just one more way hunting and fishing can teach them responsibility and self-sufficiency.

6 thoughts on “Q&A with Steven Rinella: How to Raise an Outdoor Kid

  1. Seth Davis says:

    I dont have kids… yet. But I plan on having a family within the next few years. My brother and I weren’t raised in a family with lots of guns and fishing lures, but now that we’re grown up there’s nothing we’d rather do. We hunt as much as possible and fish even more. How would you reccomend getting kids started? (and staying interested) We see with parents that want their kids to play a sport or an instrument, pushing them so hard to do it, that ultimately it pushes them even further away from it. What would you say (aside from snacks) keeps a kid loving the sport of hunting and fishing?

  2. Mike Fry says:

    I have two boys (8 & 10). I have taken them to our hunting cabin a few times during hunting season to sit in the woods. They last about 45 minutes. We go on hikes and I try to show them deer tracks etc. they are really interested in riding the golf carts up and down the driveway right now. I don’t push them into the outdoors, just try to get outside as much as possible. They like to camp so that helps. Sit around a campfire and look at the stars. I found if you push them, they go the opposite direction you hope.

  3. Chris Johnson says:

    Thank you Steve, I’m relatively new parent of two boys 3 and 1. I was a fanatical fly fishing addiction who spent every free minute in the river for 15 years before getting married and having kids. Instilling a love of nature, hunting and fishing in my boys is something I aspire too. I’m a regular meat eater podcast listener and a novice bow hunter thanks in part to your inspiration. Please keep the kid tips coming.

  4. Andrew says:

    Great post. Introducing my kids to the outdoors in the right ways is always on my mind.

  5. Nate L. Questelle says:

    Awesome. Raising two of my own and the 9-12 ages are golden. Life seems to get busier as they become teens and struggling to keep my now 15 yo daughter interested. My 11 yo son is all about it. He can sit in the coldest weather in a ground blind and never complain. Hell hes tougher than me on this!

    Keep asking and giving opportunities. Figure out what piques their interest and maybe even try a few new outdoor activities yourself. Find that common ground and I have no doubt we will have many fond memories to share.

    Thanks for all you do and Happy Holidays to the entire Meateater crew…even Mark Kenyon

  6. Ted Sommer says:

    This is a great topic and would be awesome to see more mainstream vids and stories about raising outdoor kids. Kids are a lot more resilient than most parents think. Taking them out early and often is the key that I’ve seen work the best. Not every activity sticks, so it’s important to introduce variety and go with the things that are the most fun for their age and build off of that.

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