By John Bradley
I’ve always been drawn to getting new hunters into the field. I was lucky enough to have a large family of hunters and never had a shortage of people to take me out as a kid. It’s clear from my work in the conservation field that not everyone is so lucky. I feel that it’s my duty to pay my good fortune forward to those new hunters who need a mentor.
Chances are you’ve seen the headlines highlighting the national decline in hunter numbers. Despite all the trucks that you see when you visit your favorite Wildlife Management Area, fewer people are buying hunting licenses and heading afield than ever before. In fact, we’ve lost nearly 2 million hunters in the U.S. just within the last five years. Baby Boomers are aging out of hunting, and we aren’t replacing them fast enough. That scares me, the state and federal wildlife agencies and – if you truly care about the future of North Dakota’s hunting heritage – it should scare you too.
So, I’ve tried to do my part and be a mentor for anyone who shows interest in hunting – friends, relatives, and others I’ve met along the way. Being able to help some of these folks taste their first success as a hunter has made for many of my favorite moments in the field. Some of my friends that I took out duck hunting have grown into die hard “do it all” hunters and are now mentoring other beginners.
I have made it a personal goal this year to get more beginners in the field; and the sole purpose of this article is to get you to set a similar goal, if you haven’t already. Maybe you don’t know any kids or adults around who need a hunting mentor. That’s okay. There are plenty of others out there — kids and adults alike — who would love the opportunity to go hunting. They just need someone to take that first step and invite them out.
This past weekend, I did just that as part of a months-long planning session across hundreds of miles. It started earlier this summer around a campfire in Minnesota after my sister’s wedding. My cousin and his son from California were asking a bunch of hunting questions and wanting to know where to start. I guided them through the hunter safety program and got them squared away on their licenses, duck stamps and secured all the equipment they were going to need for ducks. (The more that you can personally supply initially, the better in any mentoring situation. Don’t let equipment expense be the hurdle that keeps a beginner from getting involved.)
Fast forward a couple of months, add in a couple of uncles and a brother-in-law jumping in on the trip, and an ill-timed snowstorm to scramble travel plans and we were in the marsh waiting for ducks. With tough conditions, we didn’t get the bird numbers that everyone had spent months dreaming about. That’s okay, everyone got shots and dropped birds, the dog made some great retrieves on birds that would have otherwise been lost, and new hunters learned to take their harvest from slough edge to supper table. Most importantly, everyone is excited to come back next year and hunt again for ducks and the new hunters are excited to try their hand at the added adventure of pheasant hunting.
If we are to turn the tide on declining hunter numbers, it is going to take a group effort. If each of us would just recruit one new hunter this fall, we could easily reverse the trend and hunter numbers would skyrocket. Sadly, many will not make that effort; but I urge you to be one who will. Let’s unite and ensure the future of our hunting heritage by being a mentor this fall.
John Bradley is the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation and a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer.
Featured Photo: The author’s cousin Chris (R) and cousin’s son, Diego (L) of California on their first waterfowl hunt in a North Dakota WPA. DEO Photo by John Bradley.