ACTON — Christine Barnes’ hunting partner on opening day of deer season this fall was very different from years past. But in many ways, she treated him like any other.

As Barnes walked slowly through the woods of southern Maine, she spoke to her son, Connor, in a whisper, asking him what he thought about the forest. She told him he was being good, staying quiet.

For his part, Connor seemed curious. He smiled and took in the surroundings, but he also slept a lot. After all, Connor is only 7 months old. Christine Barnes hunted with him while he was perched in a baby carrier on her back.

Hunting with children is a long-standing tradition in Maine, an opportunity to introduce them to wildlife, the woods and firearm safety at a young age.

Barnes, 28, is a Registered Maine Guide and has hunted since age 10, although she recalls accompanying her grandfather on hunts when she was at least 5.

“I heard it since I was 10, people asking why I hunt. Plus I was a girl, so they questioned that,” Barnes said. “I’m at home in the woods.”

She grew up in York, but spent summers as a child helping her grandfather, Dennis Barnes, with his bear-guiding service in Washington County. He taught her how to find her way in the woods and find her way out if lost.

“She is one of the youngest people to ever get her guide’s license, at age 18,” said Dennis Barnes, 75. “She is one tough person to stay up with in the woods. She can field dress any animal.”

Christine Barnes took several precautions with Connor. She changed his diaper in the truck before dawn, then wrapped him in three layers of fleece. She put two hats on his head and a small pair of ear muffs to protect his hearing. She wrapped the entire backpack in a hunter orange poncho so they were visible and identifiable.

“I wouldn’t do this if he was crying or fussing. But when he’s like this, why not?” said Barnes as Connor slept in her lap during the hunt. “He’s down with this. This is what we do. I want him to know the woods.”

Jessica Libby thought nothing of bringing her two daughters – Kayla, 10, and Charley, 3 – bird hunting in a baby backpack when they were several months old. Later, she brought her girls bird hunting in strollers on logging roads.

Libby grew up in Aroostook County in a hunting family and has raised her family while running Libby Camps in the North Maine Woods west of Ashland. She said taking her children hunting at a young age introduced them to nature, got them away from video games, and most of all taught them firearm safety.

“They got to learn about the outdoors and be in the fresh air,” Libby said. “But I think the biggest thing Matt (their father) and I instill in them every year is gun safety. Our kids know a gun is nothing for a child to touch without an adult. They know how dangerous a gun is. They know what a gun is for: To hunt. And whatever they hunt they eat.”

Libby’s son, Parker, accompanied his parents while they were hunting before he was 2 – and shot his first grouse at age 7.

There is no minimum age for children to hunt in Maine as long as they have a junior hunting license and are in the presence of an adult.

Jason Spencer of Palmyra took all four of his daughters hunting at age 5 or 6. Two hunt today: Carly, 18, and Haley, 15, who last year shot a 410-pound bear.

“As a 5-year-old, Carly loved hearing the hounds run and loved traveling the dirt roads,” Spencer said. “When we’d get ready to run the dogs, she’d be right there. Later, she took a little break doing gymnastics, but she came back to it. Now she’s finding it interesting reading deer signs. That surprised me.”

Tom Poirier of Biddeford took his son, Travis, hunting at age 5. Poirier said the first 10-12 times they went hunting, it was not about shooting an animal. He didn’t even load his gun. At first, Poirier said it was simply about watching and listening. Sometimes they only went for 20 minutes, long enough to stop and have a snack.

Poirier said these early hunting trips gave his son a love of the woods.

This year, Travis Poirier, now 11, shot his first animal when he tagged a turkey.

“I wanted to give him as much experience as I could hunting before he ever harvested an animal,” Tom Poirier said. “Because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about being outdoors and being with friends.”

Christine Barnes did not get a deer on opening day this fall, but she has shot six deer in her lifetime. Last fall, when she was five months pregnant, she shot a 120-pound doe, field dressed it, and got it home by herself.

Barnes wants her son to have the same experiences in the woods.

“If he chooses not to hunt, that’s his choice,” Barnes said. “But I want him to understand it.”

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or:

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