I grew up Hunting with my father, grandfather and other family members. I suspect that this is the case for most hunters; the love of the game, so to speak, is passed down from generation to generation.
For those who do not have a family that hunts, there are a lot of resources on the Internet covering different hunting techniques, how to get started, what to look out for, etc. We have some great stories on our new #HUNT365 publication, as a matter of fact. These can be a lot of help to first-time hunters, but truth be told there is no replacing hands-on learning from someone that has the experience.
In this vein, the nonprofit Wyoming Outdoorsman recently launched “First Hunt,” a special program dedicated to teaching hunting skills to people that might not otherwise have a chance to learn them.
I had the opportunity to talk to Bruce Salzmann, the recording secretary of Wyoming Outdoorsmen, about First Hunt and the 12 fledgling hunters they trained as part of the two-day event that culminated with a hunt on private land.
“We had 10 youths, aged 12 to 15, along with two adult women,” said Bruce during our phone conversation. Some of the participants had not fired a gun before and no one had ever been hunting. The first time the group met was at a range. This was also the first time the mentors met their students. At the range, they started with basic firearms safety and working on the fundamentals of shooting with .22 long rifles before moving on to .270s and .243s supplied by the Wyoming Game and Fish.
“Tara Hodges with Game and Fish was super excited and immediately signed on to help with this program. All of the biologists and wardens were very helpful and supportive of our endeavor,” explained Bruce.
He went on to say that this program would not have been possible without their help. One of the biggest things that Tara was able to help with involved the simulated hunt for the second day of the training.
Bruce talked a bit about the idea for the simulated hunt, “We wanted to give the new hunters some sense of what a real hunt is like: something more than shooting from a bench, or prone on a flat piece of concrete at the range.”
This was also an exercise in listening to and taking instructions from their mentors. One at a time, the new hunters and instructors walked a course where Wyoming Game and Fish had set up life-sized whitetail targets. These targets were at unknown distances to the new hunters. They had to learn to go prone in the field, find the distance to the target, and take the shot. This set the hunters up with the confidence to take a shot when the time came on the real hunt.
The 12 hunters and mentors were graciously given access to a private ranch for their hunt. Each of the hunters had a doe tag. They set out early in the morning with their mentors. Of the 12 hunters, all of them had a shot at a deer. Eleven of them were able to fill their tag. I told Bruce that I wish I had that level of success every time I went out, “You and me both!” he said with a laugh.
All of the hunters expressed how this experience has given them the skills and confidence to go out on their own in the future. Bruce mentioned that some of them had. His students were Amy and Nora Hart, a mother and daughter. Since First Hunt, they have gone out rabbit hunting and are both excited about what the future holds, said Bruce.
Looking ahead, Bruce hopes that First Hunt is here to stay.
“It really depends on if the landowner of the ranch invites us back or if we can find some other private land to hunt on,” said Bruce about the prospect of doing it next year.
The Wyoming Outdoorsmen hopes this will happen. The Wyoming Game and Fish is also on board and ready to support the program. The group did receive more than 12 applications for the inaugural First Hunt but only had the 12 tags. The Wyoming Outdoorsmen, mostly from donations raised at their annual banquet, funded First Hunt. If you would like some more information about First Hunt or are interested in making a donation, visit their website.