Most of the hunters that I know were introduced to the tradition by family members. Whether that was their father, grandfather, mother, uncle, or older sibling, everyone gets introduced in a different way. Some potential hunters that do not have a family tradition of hunting are left to find other ways into a sport that can be intimidating. Many potential new hunters are becoming interested in hunting due to the food aspect, and as hunter numbers continue to decline it is more important than ever to help new hunters get into the field and enjoy the traditions that we love. I have put together a few tips that will help you on the path to encouraging and mentoring a new hunter at any age.
Pick the Right Hunt
Choosing the right hunt can make or break a new hunter. If you choose something that involves extreme weather or long boring sits you might scare them off. For these two reasons, I have three go-to hunts that are usually foolproof: Antelope, Dove, and Turkey. These are what I consider the gateway hunts. They all provide the right level of action and stimulation with the ability to have control over the hunter and keep them calm and safe. I choose each one for a specific reason and hunter.
Antelope offers a lot of action and visual stimulation. On most antelope hunts you can see many animals without having to cover huge distances. It also usually offers the hunter multiple opportunities at success. If your new hunter misses an antelope, chances are they will get another opportunity.
Dove hunts are great for the novice hunter because it offers control. Having a new hunter in a stationary position is great, especially if they are not very familiar with operating a firearm. Dove hunting is great for this. You can mentor the hunter through the entire shot.
The group atmosphere of dove hunting really lends itself to a new hunter. They are usually not too far from another hunter and can watch how it is done. This sense of community and comradery can really show a novice what hunting is truly about. Dove is also great for new hunters that might have the “Disney” image of big game. Dove doesn’t seem to have that connection for many hunters, which allows them to enjoy the experience.
Turkey hunting is great for a new hunter because it combines the best aspects of both dove and antelope. There is usually a lot to see and you have the hunter in a controlled situation. The added benefit is the audible aspect. I have yet to take a new hunter on their first turkey hunt and not have them shake when a turkey is gobbling and strutting.
Make it Fun
Don’t make the hunt about just taking an animal or reaching a limit. Remember that for a new hunter the first of any animal should be an accomplishment regardless of size. The right animal for a new hunter to take is the first one that they feel excited about and express the want to shoot. I have seen many new hunters be thrilled by taking a doe or cow elk. And as a mentor, you should express just as much excitement as your hunter.
When a new hunter joins the ranks, you should be both a mentor and a guide. You should be willing to field any questions or do any activity that the new hunter deems necessary. Obviously, it would be great to take an animal but, the overall end goal is to get that new hunter to come back and be a lifetime hunter. If that means taking the time to explain a seemingly routine process, then you should take the time to go over it until the new hunter is comfortable with what is going on.
Shown in the video below is my wife’s first deer. You can see that it doesn’t have to be about the size of the animal. She got a great shot at close range and was thrilled.
Being patient must be the biggest part of mentoring a new hunter. Remember, this person is experiencing everything for the first time. So, things that might come as second nature to you might not necessarily come as easy to the new hunter. Being understanding of this will make the hunter feel less out of place, and the less they feel out of place the more willing they will be to ask questions, which will lead to a more informed and comfortable hunter.
Know the Limits
Making this first experience fun is the most important thing that you can do for the new hunter. Nothing will turn someone away from hunting faster than a miserable experience. I am not saying to baby them, but if the weather is not cooperating know when it’s time to call it a day and go in for some food and warm up.
Long hikes are also something that can put a bad taste in the mouth of a new hunter. Trudging up a mountain or across a swampy field caked in mud will often lead to frustration and ultimately the end of a hunt that could have been a positive experience. An important thing to remember when knowing the limits of a new hunter is you, as a mentor will have to make the decision on what the limit is. The newbie is not going to have the confidence most of the time to tell you they are ready to go in. It is always best to air on the side of caution. If they look uncomfortable then be the leader and find a place where they can get warm and dry.
Introducing new recruits to hunting is an important part of the hunting tradition. Whether it is passed down early on in life by a family member or someone comes to it later in life because of an interest in where their food comes from, we all start somewhere. It is important to have someone who can teach you the basics and guide you through instances where you need direction. Equally important is being a person that can guide and mentor new hunters. Our sport needs more people that are exposed to the world that we love and at least get a glimpse into why we do what we do.