I think we all can agree that doing all we can to grow this way of life should be one of the top priorities for all outdoorsmen. When we talk about mentoring new hunters, our minds naturally tend to think about kids. However, we should be thinking about everyone. There’s not a cutoff to getting your feet wet in the great outdoors. We’ve noticed over the last couple of years that the number of applications has increased and most of the growth is coming from 18+ year olds in North America, in large part due to COVID-19. I believe it made people think about how they’d provide when everything was shut down and we had shortages across the nation.
I know some of you are sitting there thinking that it’s hard enough to draw a tag out west and now with the number of applications going way up in nearly every state it feels like you will never get a tag. I don’t blame you for feeling that way, but we can’t get stuck on that. I like drawing a tag as much as anyone, but I can also tell you from first-hand experience that seeing someone harvest their first animal is dang near just as awesome, especially knowing that you were there with them for most of the journey.
I have had the luxury of being around for multiple firsts, whether it was their first harvest or catching their first fish, and it never gets old. It doesn’t matter if they’re successful either. It’s important to teach them everything you possibly can, from plants, fishing, hunting, and safety to camping, hiking, field dressing, and everything in between. Whether you’re teaching a kid or adult how to start a fire, filter their water, build a shelter, or read a map, you’re impacting them and showing them firsthand how to provide for themselves. That means something, even if they may not understand the magnitude for years to come. Mentoring someone in the great outdoors includes all of the above, not just being successful on a hunt.
There are a few major things to think about when getting someone into the outdoors, even though they may seem silly to you at first. For a fresh new mind trying to learn, they’re monumental. I have listed a few of my top things to focus on and watch for as you begin this journey with a new hunter. Keep in mind, this is not the gospel and I am not a perfect teacher; this is just what has worked for me in the past. Every person is different and will absorb information in their own way.
The most important factor is to make it fun. No matter what, keeping them entertained is a must. I think the hardest thing to recognize is when it’s time to take a break and regroup because they are not having fun anymore. Kids typically have short attention spans. They can be loud in the stand, and they may not even understand the point of what you’re doing. That’s OK, keep them smiling. Find what interests them and focus on that. If they’re not enjoying it, move on. Allow them to go at their own speed to keep their interest high. If they want to do something that you think is silly or not important, do it anyway because it’s not about you. In a perfect world, you’ll be in a highly populated area where they can see wildlife on the first trip out, but as hunters, we know that doesn’t always come easily.
Another major area to focus on when getting someone into the outdoors is their comfort. This is listed as the second priority only because we can’t control Mother Nature, but we can do our best to watch the weather and plan accordingly. This is very important because I know that being in the freezing cold rain or snow at times isn’t that much fun, even though you might have a good argument that the wildlife move better in the harsher conditions. Try to plan your outings around decent weather, if possible, for the first few times out. If for some reason you don’t have the flexibility to wait for good weather, be sure they’re well equipped for what is coming. Don’t send them into a rainstorm without good raingear that keeps them warm and dry. If you give them the right gear to beat the conditions, they will gain so much confidence each time they push through those less-than-ideal situations.
The next important tool is patience. I can promise you that things are not going to go as smoothly as you want or hope for each time. Most of the time, they will have a ton of questions, but there are also individuals who are nervous to ask. The more you communicate, the more comfortable they’ll become. Try to be patient and explain your reasoning with as much detail as you can. It’s important to remember that there are no bad questions, so make sure that your facial expressions or tone of voice reflect that. Stay upbeat and answer them in a calm but exciting tone. This will comfort them and let them know they can ask any questions and not feel judged for it.
Mentoring a new hunter isn’t for everyone. If this is something that may overwhelm you or you know you just do not have the time to spend on doing it the right way, don’t sweat it. This isn’t meant to be a lecture. Many states have mentoring programs or resources that are great for new hunters. Some of these state programs will allow them to get certifications that will benefit them, even outside of their state of residency. For example, the Bow Hunters Ed course and Hunter’s Safety course are required to obtain a hunting license in many cases.
If you are an outdoorsman or woman and would like to be a mentor, I highly recommend you look into classes to teach in your state as well. Most of these states and organizations are looking for more help. If you really enjoy teaching and passing on this wonderful way of life, then please consider becoming a mentor for the great outdoors.