By Hannah Hayes
A big part of my job is encouraging folks to participate in outdoor recreation, particularly hunting. Whether that’s hunting for the first time, continuing the enjoyment of time spent afield, or diving back into a hobby left forgotten, my job is rewarding in so many ways. Something I enjoy the heck out of is watching someone hunt for the first time. When watching a beginner it’s clear to see the muscle memory flaunted by a hunting veteran has not yet been earned. However, the excitement to be hunting and the elation when it all comes together is something rarely seen in those with many years under their belt. The beginnings of a new venture present both the best rewards and the most difficult hurdles. The means to the end are the same across the board but navigating the rough waters of inexperience can be made a little easier with a few tips I’ve taken note of as I’ve dove into the unfamiliar world of upland hunting.
First, embrace the beginner stage. Leave the ego in the truck. After all, nobody wants to pass on their hard-earned knowledge to someone that already knows what they’re doing. At some point, everyone was a beginner. Everyone has asked those classic “beginner” questions and has felt just as lost and intimidated as someone just starting. Understand that no one expects you to know everything. Embracing that will give you the confidence to ask questions, make mistakes, and grow; all of which are made difficult when ego gets in the way.
Second, understand it’s okay to make mistakes. There is a lot to learn in order to become a proficient hunter. What gun is best? What shot size? What should you wear? What does the quarry even look like? Even highly skilled hunters still make mistakes. Shortly after I moved to North Dakota, my dad made the long trek from Indiana to visit me and hunt upland birds together. We were out pheasant hunting when a group of sharp-tailed grouse got up in front of him. I laughed as I watched him from across the field; standing there and admiring them as they flew over the hill, not realizing they were grouse until he heard them clucking out of gun range. I heard him laughing as he yelled, “I thought those were hen pheasants!” I’ve never hunted with a better waterfowl hunter than my Dad. He’s hunted his entire life and taught me everything I know. But sharp-tailed grouse were a new quarry for him. When he mistook them for hen pheasants, he wasn’t embarrassed or angry or sad. We shared a moment of laughter and Dad got to add a new lesson to his collection of hunting knowledge.
Third, find the right mentor. This can truly make or break the proper introduction into a new hobby; especially hunting. There will be mentors that are perfect for some beginners but terrible for others. It’s important to understand that the approach to growing confidence and excitement is unique to each individual person. But above all, a mentor should create a comfortable environment for learning, asking questions, and making mistakes. For some, this may mean reassurance when birds are missed or mistakes are made; for others, it may mean poking fun or laughing together. Regardless, if you leave a mentored hunt feeling dumb, it’s time to find a new mentor. A mentor should also provide ample opportunities to succeed. As a mentor, there is no space for greed when it comes to hunting spots. A good mentor should understand the importance of opportunity and the influence regular success has on a new hunter’s desire to continue in the sport.
Fourth, say yes. Try everything you can. There are so many different strategies to hunting, so many different quarries to figure out, and so many different habitats and landscapes to explore. Every outing is an opportunity to learn more about hunting and grow a deeper appreciation for the outdoors. More often than not, there are folks proficient in each type of hunting that would be more than happy to take beginners on their first hunt. I think the people that do the most good in the hunting community are those that value the time spent helping a new hunter get started more than they value a tailgate full of birds.
Fifth, don’t give up. No matter what steps you take to jump into the world of hunting, persistence is the only factor that will guarantee your success. The only way to learn your quarry is to continually pursue it. You cannot learn where they like to be on rainy days, sunny days, cold days, mornings, or evenings without going out in each of those conditions. The only way to find new places to hunt is by exploring new and unfamiliar areas. Be consistent in your efforts but diverse in your methods. Try hilltops one day and creek bottoms the next. Try different brands of shells and different shot sizes until you find the one that you shoot the best. Regardless of how often you switch things up, what is most important is getting out there and giving yourself a fair chance to learn the sport.
Sixth, stay connected. Engage in your local community and find a support system to help maintain your hunting engagement. There are many resources to help you get started. For example, conservation organizations like Pheasants Forever have local chapters throughout most states. Chapter members work together on conservation projects while at the same time create hunting opportunities among themselves and their community. Joining a local chapter is a fantastic way to set yourself up for future success. Whether that’s by connecting with the chapter members themselves or getting recommendations on where to hunt and who to hunt with. There is incredible value in just sitting among the experts and gleaning information from their conversations.
While any route you take to venture into the world of hunting will eventually get you to where you aspire to be, there are certainly strategies you can keep in mind that will make the road there a little smoother. Being persistent, humble, and surrounding yourself with the support you need to thrive will ensure your introduction to the sport is effective enough to keep you coming back for more.
Hanna Hayes is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer and the Education & Outreach Coordinator for North Dakota Pheasants Forever.
Featured Photo: Take Your Best Shot. Finding a good mentor is just one way for new hunters to succeed in making hunting a life long activity. DEO Photo by NDPF.