For reference, I’m just going to point out that a teenager in the Middle Ages is an adult. This is especially true for a peasant who would have transitioned to womanhood the day she got her monthlies. It was not uncommon for women as young as fourteen to be married off and having babies by the time your talking about your character receiving her “training”.
This is a basic misunderstanding that a lot of people suffer from: the idea that the world has always been like it is now. I recently saw a pitch about the daughter of a Pirate Queen being kidnapped by her mother and taken from her home to be trained to take over her position. (Ignoring that the position of Captain on pirate ships being non-hereditary, for a second.) The biggest issue with her pitch was that the Pirate Queen returns for her daughter when she’s nineteen. Traditionally, sailors of the time period began their careers at the age of nine or ten. If the Pirate Queen wanted a successor, she’d already have been training one from within her crew. Nineteen is too late, by this point her daughter is a “landsman” and has missed a critical window for her future profession.
In modern day America, the idea of child labor is abhorrent to us. In the Middle Ages, the major reason to have children was to provide free labor on the farm. Whether wealthy noble or poor peasant, kids were expected to work and learn the trades of their parents. A wife wasn’t just a homemaker, she was an extra hand in the field and, in some cases, little more than slave labor. A peasant in the Middle Ages was lucky to make it to forty. If you’re waiting half their life to start training them, then you’re waiting too long. The concept of childhood only dates back to the 18th Century in European cultures. Your character isn’t benefiting from it and it’s best if you stop thinking of them as being “like me”.
Gender roles aside. What I’m saying is that your character isn’t training to become a hunter, she already is one. By the time she was eight or nine, she was already assisting her father or mother in the field as part of her training. She’d have been given small jobs, helping to make and set the traps, learning the best spots, building the hutches, learning to track, being taught what plants are edible, etc. How to cook the game they catch, skin and prepare the game they catch, and where the best places to sell it to the locals. Before the bow, she’d learn the sling, and before all those she’d learn the different types of game and the means used to catch it. (Shooting is not always preferable or even logical.) It’s also worth remembering that when you shoot an animal it doesn’t just keel over and die like it does in Skyrim or the movies. Sometimes, your character is going to have to track it to where it expires. This can be an arduous process depending on how wounded the animal is.
Hunting is as much a matter of patience as it is skill. It relies on “getting lucky” because, even if the hunter knows the forest like the back of their hand, animals are not automatons. They don’t show up 100% of the time, even when they’re in a place that’s usually a sure thing. A peasant hunter may have one dog, but they won’t have access to the pack used by the nobles and the family horse is better off on the plow. You kill what you can carry. Depending on how amenable their local lord is, they’ll mostly be hunting small game like rabbits and birds (small to large). They may go after rats too. If they’re a hunter by profession (as opposed to hunting for food or for recreation like a noble), they might make most of their money by helping their parent set traps and hunt game on their neighbors’ farms to trap, kill, and drive off the animals eating the crops. While your character might be able to subsist on their gains from foraging and hunting alone, there’s very little reason for them to and they’re more likely to starve come winter. If they’re keeping an animal to assist them with the tracking and hunting then they have to be able to feed it. (You’d be surprised how many fictional pets never seem to need to eat.)
Of course, this is all me avoiding the most major piece of historical trivia. In the High Middle Ages, hunting was no longer a primary means of sustenance and transitioned into a noble’s only activity. By nobles only, I mean more and more nobles prohibited hunting on their lands and those lands that didn’t belong to the nobles belonged to the king. This where the concept of the King’s deer from Robin Hood comes from. The penalty for an individual caught poaching on a noble’s lands was death and since the King owned all the lands that meant all the deer belonged to him. (For any incensed History buffs: it’s obviously much more complicated than that.)
Nobles, especially in England, during the Middle Ages was more than just a recreational activity. They used hunting as a means of training their youths for warfare. Hunting allowed them to learn the skills they would need like tracking, horsemanship, and the use of weapons. Most of the information you’ll be able to find about hunting in the Middle Ages will relate to the ruling class as it’s the best documented.
Because hunting was dominated by the nobility as a sport, Forest Laws during the Middle Ages became increasingly strict. Peasants were only allowed to hunt on common land and not on any land owned by a noble or a monarch (which was most of it). While this didn’t stop peasants from poaching, the penalties were very severe. According to the site Medieval Life and Times, they included “hanging, castration, blinding, or being sown into a deerskin and hunted down by ferocious dogs”.
If you thought your character was going to be like Katniss, just remember: she never had to worry about being caught by men and women on horseback who’d be only too happy to use her as the day’s special hunting lesson or just unleash the hounds and ride her down. It’s a case of low-risk versus high-risk. Poaching on the local lord’s lands is high-risk.
Possibly Helpful Research:
The good news is that hunting, wilderness survival, and foraging are skills that haven’t changed much and transition easily (so long as you remember to cut out the technology aspects). Here’s a list of several useful tools you can dig into that may help you with your setting building.
The Boy Scout Handbook – Starke is the one who has read this in detail, but the Boy Scout Handbook is chock full of useful information about foraging, camping, wilderness survival, and other stuff that you will need to know when writing your character. I put this one first on the list and at the highest priority for you to pick up and learn from.
The Dark Wind (Navajo Mysteries #5) by Tony Hillerman (And all Hillerman’s novels). If you’re interested in Navajo culture, Hillerman’s books are well known their accuracy. For the author who wants to write a hunter, Hillerman’s POV character Jim Che spends a lot of time discussing tracking and will give you some good ideas on how to track and how to fit those descriptions into your story so they feel natural to your character.
When Christ and His Saint’s Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. Penman’s novels dealing with the Plantagents are a very accurate snapshot for life among the nobility (and the peasantry) at the time and may be helpful to you for starting to get an accurate sense for the social and political aspects of your setting. They’re also really good, really in depth, and have awesome footnotes that will help you further your research.
Whitley Birke’s Hunger Games sporks over on her blog Reading With A Vengeance have a lot of good information buried in them on world building, bushcraft, and how to survive when you’re starving. Her critique of the first novel may help you avoid some critical errors and First World Problems which may end up in your novel. You can check out Farla’s too.
Scholagladiatoria’s Youtube channel is full of a ton of information dealing with swords and HEMA, but the key thing is that he also spends a lot of time talking about the Middle Ages, life during the Middle Ages, and developing technology plus dealing with a lot of misconceptions.
There are a variety of treatises from the time period dealing with hunting available online.