By Nick Simonson
Excitement is building for the upcoming hunting seasons, from archery deer and grouse just around the corner, to pheasant opener and the firearms big game seasons starting later in the autumn, and anticipation grows for these fall events that cannot be contained by the four lines which bound their square on the calendar. Undoubtedly, much planning has gone into each of them already, as phone calls exchanged by friends setting up traditional morning-of meetings and sweaty summer evenings at the range have been put in to make sure both gear and hunter are ready. But beyond these traditional dates are perhaps even more important ones, those designed for young and new hunters.
Across the upper Midwest, youth hunting seasons have been enacted and supported by various wildlife management agencies for more than twenty years now. From waterfowl to upland game to deer hunting, options dedicated to new hunters help bring them into the fold with a weekend or short season open just to them, typically ahead of the normal opener. These special days allow the kids a chance to acclimate to the field without the feeling of being rushed, knowing that their shots will be the only ones taken, and that they are in no hurry to beat the mount and swing of their more experienced adult companions along unarmed, solely for advice and encouragement.
Just like those friendly phone calls or time behind the gun in the off-season with veteran hunters, these special days where mentors and students connect are more than just a date on the calendar, they are instead a plan for what’s ahead. That, ideally, is the recruitment of new hunters through a positive first experience which shows them the importance of strong habitat that sustains huntable game and access to it which allows them the opportunity to pursue those birds and deer. This in turn leads to adventures down the road that further solidify their relationship with the land, nature, and the birds, game and watchable wildlife that call it home, ultimately tying them with conservation and preservation of those places and opportunities. The hope then is that they become the next stewards of the land and the protectors of the resources we currently enjoy; but that doesn’t happen on its own.
It is incumbent upon the current generation of hunters to mark those dates on the calendar where their wisdom and experience – and perhaps their well-trained hunting dog – will help fill the blank space of the square with the color of an amazing time afield for a new hunter. Furthermore, there’s no requirement that mentorship end with that date, or be stuck to its bounds, either. Use this time ahead of those seasons to set up a day during any season with anyone who wishes to learn to hunt or be reintroduced to the experience, regardless of age. Be it a co-worker, a friend’s daughter or son, or perhaps a schoolmate of your child that would like to hunt but doesn’t have the means, connecting with those people now, ahead of the special seasons and the primary ones, to dedicate a date to a first trip in the field is the most important step in the process of creating a hunter.
From there, reconnect from time to time. Just as the world around us goes through a dynamic change from September to December, so does the sporting experience, and late season mentorings often point out the way the animals adapt and how the hunt changes as well. Just as vigilance is the price we all pay for democracy, the continuous connection to open spaces and the game that call them home is part and parcel with being a hunter and knowing what is happening when it comes to their world and our conservation of it. Sharing that insight and planning ahead to connect not only on a first trip, but in further adventures are what continue our legacy and the North American hunting model.
Make those preparations now, before the seasons start and those special ones open to young and inexperienced hunters in your area, to ensure the next generation can fill not only one date on their calendar, but also many more with the excitement of memorable times…in our outdoors.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: Whether part of a group effort, or individually, experienced hunters can plan to get new ones out in the field as summer wraps up and special hunting seasons approach. Simonson Photo.