By John Bradley
“How do you want to push these cattails,” my uncle asked me on a bluebird day in Central Montana. My uncle already knew the answer as he had been hunting this section of state land for years. He knew where the pockets and bends were that always seemed to produce a flush. After checking the wind, I apparently gave the right answer, as he responded, “Let’s get the dogs then.”
Wearing his extra pair of rubber boots and shooting the Benelli he had gifted me earlier that year, I pushed through the cattails with him. After an hour, we both had tail feathers sticking out every which way from our game vests. Thinking back there is not a doubt in my mind that my uncle knew that we would end up with a limit by the end of our push.
Most hunters have a story like this, maybe a dad, grandpa, or a friend’s parent who had the knowledge, time, and gear to share a great hunt with a novice hunter. These individuals play an important role in the recruitment and retention of new hunters. Dwindling hunter populations and R3 campaigns are hot topics in hunting media, and most would agree that mentoring is crucial for recruiting and instructing new hunters.
The traditional way to get someone into hunting is unquestionably by inviting them along on a hunt. Because the mentor can demonstrate where to go, what to do, and can even lend some equipment, it removes many of the entry obstacles. This approach is especially effective for young hunters who might not have the resources or physical capacity to travel and spend a day hunting alone. The time spent together in the field provides an opportunity to talk about crucial subjects like firearm safety, habitat recognition, conservation, and hunting ethics. This kind of relationship can have an enduring effect on both the mentor and the mentored. Often we think that mentoring someone requires a major time commitment over multiple seasons, but there are other methods that can be equally successful.
In my early twenties, still green when it came to hunting on my own and with very little “green” in my pockets, my uncle provided me with his knowledge and gear to hunt everything Montana offered. His garage, filled with wildlife and hunting photos, and packed with hunting and fishing gear, served as a “rental store” that allowed me the freedom to chase everything from ducks and geese to deer and elk. I’d simply tell him where I was going and what I was hunting, and he’d supply me with the necessary gear and some advice on how to hunt that area and animal.
Over the years, I have bought my own decoys and game calls, accumulated more than enough shotguns and deer rifles in my safe, and have a closet with every camo pattern known to man and game alike. I have taken a lesson from my uncle and started lending gear to friends and family members who are getting into hunting. Once I know they will be respectful of the gear, I give them an “open invitation” to my garage for tents, coolers, decoys, camo jackets, and calls. They shoot me a text asking and we figure out a time for them to swing by. If I am available, I will join them in the field. I am always hopeful that it empowers them to get out and hunt and builds their confidence in the field the way my uncle and his gear did for me. With enough mentors willing to invest in mentoring relationships, we can fight the decline in the sport and see hunter numbers increase over the coming years.
Is there someone at work who wants to go hunting but lacks a hunting companion? Or a neighbor who likes to eat sustainably and wants to know where their meat comes from? Do you have a friend who is interested in waterfowl hunting, but doesn’t want to drop hundreds of dollars on decoys, calls and clothing? When a veteran hunter can establish a genuine relationship with a novice hunter, the novice hunter can receive the knowledge, confidence and support they need to venture out alone. This gives the mentor something to be proud of, as it helps ensure that our hunting traditions will continue well into the future.
John Bradley is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer and the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.
Featured Photo: Getting in Gear. Experienced hunters have the time, experience and advice along with a sampling of tools for the field to help new hunters succeed. DEO Photo by John Bradley.