All avid outdoor enthusiasts know that the surest way to keep their interests alive is to get someone new involved. Not only does this offer the opportunity to pass on time-honored traditions, but new involvement ensures the future of the activity you love, through favorable legislation, resource conservation efforts, and positive media representation. It also ensures the production and sponsorship of quality television programming that doesn’t involve angry housewives or celebrity chefs. And continued support of hunting will ensure that farmers think twice about developing their lands…and if they do, hopefully, it will be in favor of a Cabela’s and not a skate park.
Before you consider buying your son another Skylanders Giants or Angry Birds game, consider the following: total hunters in the U.S. decreased slightly (.05 percent) between 2008 and 2009, but the number of female hunters increased by 5.4 percent, netting 163,000 new participants, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. In Wisconsin, of the more than 600,000 licensed hunters taking to the field in fall of 2012, about 25,700 were first time hunters, and more than 32 percent of those were female and 35 percent were youths age 17 and under, according to the Wisconsin DNR. If you have even considered mentoring a new hunter, the opportunity is certainly exists, and now would be a great time to turn the overall declining numbers of hunters around.
As a new hunter myself, I’d like to think that I have something to offer in terms of advice for the potential hunting mentor. I’m one of the statistical women referenced above; fall of 2012 was my first time in the field. I hunted alongside two other new hunters, my fiance’s two oldest sons, then 11 and 12. The three of us would like to offer future mentors the following advice.
Help us be prepared–preferably over-prepared
Because a new hunter has no experience, we have no point of reference. We can’t anticipate B-52-sized mosquitoes in the duck blind in Missouri in late fall (have I mentioned I’m allergic to mosquito bites?). We don’t know how difficult it is to pound a decoy spread into frozen earth in pitch-black dark (boxes of shells really don’t double as a mallet, especially if the cardboard is wet). We don’t know how incredibly unsuitable our “gear” is for the field (those boots from Target looked warm and weatherproof, and I even paid full price).
Help us pack. And over-pack. Because bringing everything and anything you can think of that we might need–extra gloves, snacks, propane heaters, rain gear, bug spray–might make the difference between us having a great time versus a disastrous one. And if we were prepared, we will be back to do it again.
Be patient and encouraging
As new hunters, we are going to make some really outlandish mistakes. Older new hunters, like myself, are deceptive, because we are adults and it would appear we would know what we are doing, or that we would have good judgment. We don’t. Not in these matters. Old or young, we need to be kindly reminded which rope gets our gear up into the tree stand, which end of the call to blow in, and not to lean on the sides of the ground blind. Just as there is “no stupid question,” there is no stupid explanation. Take your time and explain with as much detail as possible.
Don’t forget, you are assisting someone who didn’t know a shotgun shell from a bullet two days ago–someone who thought a “safety” was a football score worth two points. Don’t be shy to tell us, tell us again, and then repeat, all with as much positivity and encouragement as possible.
Help us build a knowledge base
In order to encourage our involvement, and save your sanity, help the new hunter to prep him/herself for the trip well in advance. Provide the new hunter with some easy references to look through in advance of the trip. Point us to books, websites, and DNR publications to get us familiar with where we’re going, what we’re going after, and how we’re going to get it. Did it ever occur to you that a 20-something girl from Milwaukee has never seen a turkey, other than the Butterball on the platter at Thanksgiving? Head to the zoo, head to a farm, head to the range, head to the local DNR office. Do whatever you can in advance to get the new hunter familiar with the tools (including firearms), equipment, quarry, rules, regulations, and terrain in advance.
In addition to possibly saving yourself from a seven hour car ride of constant questions, you are giving us a knowledge base that can give us some degree of pride and dignity.
Don’t over-share our learning process
The last time you lost that gigantic smallmouth on your line, or choked shooting at the Tom of the Century, you may have omitted mentioning those facts, unless of course you went on to catch or shoot an even bigger one (then it just adds to the story).
If we have a miss, or make a beginner’s mistake, we may not want it published to your 4,000 closest friends on Facebook. And boys’ poker night will definitely not be hosted at your house again if you call or text all of your buddies to tell them about my mistakenly identifying that stray dog as a nubby buck. In all seriousness, depending on our personality and overall level of disappointment at the mistake or the miss, we may prefer a modest, discrete description of our performance to a select few.
Make the whole experience count
Your outdoor hobby is more than the big kill, more than the big catch. Days without big kills and big catches will outnumber the days with them. Make your hunt more than just a hunt: make it an experience that you share.
Enter in the special stories, the special snacks, the “lucky” hat that always comes along. Share old traditions or create new ones. Break the rules and let the little guy have his own Thermos of coffee to match yours. Stop for a late breakfast at the same little diner after you get out of the blind. Buy her a new camo/Sherpa blanket for napping in for the long ride home. Let the muddy dog ride in the middle of the bench seat for part of the ride back, so you and the new hunter can congratulate her on a job well done. Incorporate the senses–the smell of cedar on the blaze-orange vest that was packed away, the taste of the powder-sugar donuts in the crinkly bag, the sound of lapping water against the sides of the jon boat before sunrise–and your hunt will permanently ingrain itself in the impressionable new hunter’s mind.
And so you will have accomplished your goal: to create another outdoor enthusiast.