Judith Browning wrote:My concern is that at six years old a child has no concept of what he has done...other than the praise and attention heaped on after the fact. My husband and I were brought up that if you killed it you cleaned it, fish, squirrel, deer, whatever...a child that young can't even lift the gun on his own....
My lived experience tells me that it depends on the child, the circumstances, and the gun.
When I was five, my family of six moved into an 18x20 cabin on some old mining claims on a tributary of American Creek near Eagle, Alaska on the upper Yukon River. I was taught to set small leg-hold traps for ermine and marten and snowshoe hares, set picture wire snares for snowshoe hares, and I was given a pneumatic BB gun (very low powered) for hunting squirrels, which were a pest and needed for dogfood.
I annoyed a lot of squirrels with that low-powered BB gun, but I learned to shoot with it too, and eventually got to where I could kill the small sub-arctic red squirrels with it at short ranges. It also served as a platform for learning the basic rifle safety rules.
By the time I turned seven we were closer to town, squirrels were a bigger problem in our storage, and I had been taught to shoot both a .22 rifle and
my father's backup moose hunting rifle -- an old British military pattern bolt-action .303 with a brass buttplate and many metal finishings. (He carried a much more modern 30-.06 with a scope.) A child that age can lift and carry that rifle; ask me how I know! I couldn't fire it freehand with the barrel waving in the sky and supported by my puny left hand, but that's not how I was trained to shoot at wild game; I was trained to drop and find a rest to steady the barrel, like a fallen log or a piece of driftwood. Or, at a pinch, the branch of a tree. My recollection is of my father telling me the .303 "only" weighed 12 or 13 pounds because it had been customized by having the bayonette lug and various other military hardware removed; but I have no idea what it actually weighed, all I remember is that it was very heavy to carry in the woods.
For my seventh birthday I received an old and durable single-shot bolt action .22, a box of .22 short ammo, a very strict refresher course in gun safety, and permission to hunt independently (for squirrels and hares) in the vicinity of our cabin and garden under the protocol that I was to take with me only one shell at a time. I had to check in with an adult after expending each shell and account for its firing -- not with a dead animal, although this was strongly encouraged, but with, at least, a good and responsible-sounding story about what I had shot at and why I had missed, if I had. Only then could I leave again with a new shell.
At about that same time I started going with my parents on moose hunting excursions, carrying that terrifying .303. I could indeed carry it, I could indeed lift it, I could indeed shoot it. I was not expected to make any independent kills. I was trusted to keep the bolt closed on an empty chamber until instructed otherwise, and the safety on until instructed otherwise. I had a moose tag. The plan and protocol -- which we executed on one highly memorable occasion -- was for Dad and I to shoot more or less simultaneously at the same moose, ideally both putting bullets into it; whereupon I would notch my tag, leaving him free to take me home with the moose and still go back out hunting with a clean tag. The time we did this, Dad (looking through the scope from about 400 yards) claimed that it was my bullet that went through the moose's Achille's tendon, and then he took credit for two rather more vital shots that dropped the animal. No responsible hunter would take that shot alone at that animal with that gun over iron sites at that range, much less at the age of seven -- but for what we were doing, it made sense. And I was proud of my contribution to the effort. We didn't perform spectacles of marksmanship that day; the moose was on one side of the Yukon River and we were on the other. Both of us took shots that terrorized driftwood and ravens. It would have suited Dad's purposes to claim that one of my bullets hit that moose whether it did or not. Honestly it struck little me as an improbable shot for me. But I was prone with a good driftwood rest and shooting at a target the size of an automobile. It's possible.
Did I have the skills at that age to be hunting big game unsupervised? Hell no. Did I have the concept of hunting clear in my head, the ability to clean and assist with butchering/processing, the moral understanding of what it meant to kill animals? Oh so very much yes. I also by that age had been taught to despise sport hunting and sport hunters, whose illegal wasted carcasses we would find several of every year while out scrabbling for subsistence meat.
So, yeah, like everything else we talk about here on Permies: it depends.