Hear the words “deer hunting” and you’ll likely think of the ubiquitous whitetail—and for good reason. You can find this species in 44 states, usually in plentiful numbers on private and public lands, while Alaska and California are home to the elusive black-tail, Nevada and Utah and several other states have mule deer, and the diminutive Coues deer can be found in Arizona.
How do you hunt a deer? East of the U.S. center spot the treestand is king, with the South and Texas also utilizing ground blinds. The Northeast’s quiet forests and those of the Pacific coast can be great for spot-and-stalk hunts, while long-range glassing and a tactical approach to getting within range are the provenance of western states. For a unique thrill, the South’s deer drives, often using dogs, are about fast shots, filled tags and a celebration feast for the community.
(Trivia: The only state that lacks a native deer population is Hawaii!).
Safety — First, Last, AlwaysHunting has one of the lowest percentage rates of accidents of all sports. This is because hunters have been taught right out of the gate that if not handled safely guns can be dangerous — and we take that seriously. Once your new charge is ready to actually participate in a hunt as a hunter, rather than an observer, firearms safety should be the first thing you teach them. If you’ve been doing your job as a mentor up to this point, you will already have imparted many lessons — load your gun only after you’re in your treestand or blind, don’t cross a fence with a loaded gun, make sure of your target and what’s beyond it, etc. — but now that the gun will be in their hands, strict attention to all aspects of safe firearms handling must be adhered to until your new hunter is fully, consciously committed to the rules of firearms safety. When your new hunter is a youth, know that keeping them from holding a firearm only makes them more curious. Under your supervision, allow your children to handle your firearms. Show them how to check and make sure the gun is fully unloaded. Let them hold the weapon and show them how to point it in a safe direction. Explain to them to never take the safety off or to put a finger on the trigger until they are sure of their target and ready to shoot. [caption id="attachment_3112" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Gun safety is top priority when introducing anyone to hunting.[/caption] My first gun was a BB gun. With this gun, I was able to learn how to properly handle a weapon. It’s still a great tool for teaching new hunters safe firearms handling (even adults). Start by treating the BB gun exactly as you would a rifle or shotgun — all the safety rules apply. Allow the new hunter to carry it alongside you in the woods, at first unloaded, and correct their hold, carry or aiming as needed so that the good habits become ingrained. When your charge is becoming reliable in their handling and demonstrating good safety, introduce BBs into the picture and head to the range for the lessons on aiming, breathing and trigger control. Allow one round in the weapon at a time initially. When both of you are comfortable, move on to a centerfire rifle or shotgun appropriate to the hunt you’ll be participating in. This is the time to talk about game anatomy and the importance of making a lethal hit. Stress that, in hunting, there is nothing worse than wounding an animal and not being able to recover it. Emphasize that a hunter should exhaust all efforts in the recovery process in the case that an animal is wounded — and explain that at one point in every hunter’s time afield, an animal will be wounded and not found. It’s unfortunate and tragic, but ethical hunters minimize the chances of it happening by practicing with their firearms and understanding how to place a proper, quick-killing hit on the vitals of the game they’re pursuing.
Dealing with the KillThe death of an animal is part of hunting. Some will have a harder time accepting death than others, especially children. For new youth hunters then, help them understand that although it’s okay to be sad, hunting is important to keeping wildlife populations at healthy, sustainable levels. If you’ve already talked about that when they joined you in the field as an observer, it will be easier for them to see that hunting isn’t just about the killing. [caption id="attachment_3111" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Whether it is hunting deer, squirrels or anything in between, it is vital to be a positive role model.[/caption] Sadness isn’t the only reaction you’ll get from a hunter who has successfully taken their first game animal. Some will rejoice at a kill, others will be sad, and some will be scared to death. Whatever their reaction is should be acceptable, so long as they show respect for the animal. Understand that some will not be able to wait for their next hunt while others will not want to go hunting again. When the latter happens with a child, particularly younger kids, leave it at that. Do not pressure him or her to hunt again, as it will only drive them further away. Sometimes people, kids included, need time to digest the totality of hunting and will return to participate again whenever the “I’m ready” strikes them — but undue pressure is a sure way to make sure that “ready” never happens.
Their First “Trophy” is Whatever They Want it to BeA new hunter should be allowed to harvest any legal animal. That may not be your choice. If you are, say, a deer hunter who won’t shoot anything less than a 130-class buck, that’s fine. Just don’t expect someone who’s just getting excited about hunting to show that kind of restraint. You want this to be fun! Asking a new hunter to continually pass up shots on legal game just because you wouldn’t take them is a great way to kill off their enthusiasm.
Emphasize the PositiveEvery experienced hunter made mistakes on the way to getting that experience. If we were lucky, we had someone alongside us to correct us as we went along. That’s the position you’re in now, as a mentor, the position of making corrections. But a constant stream of “You’re too noisy,” “Sit still” and “Don’t do that” can quickly knock the excitement out of someone new to the hunt. When you’re in the field with a new hunter, make sure to let them know when they’re doing a good job. Let them know when they’ve made a good shot, handled the firearm properly, and made a good, quick recovery on a downed animal. This will give them the confidence they need to handle firearms safely and hunt on their own
After the InvitationContinuing the tradition of hunting depends on the recruitment of new hunters, but recruitment is just half the battle. Once you’ve extended the invitation and it’s accepted, now the real work begins. If it were not for my dad who passed down his love for hunting to me, I would have missed out on some very special times between a father and his young son. We started with squirrels, then upland birds and then eventually big game such as my favorite, white-tailed deer. I consider myself a fortunate man to have had my dad teach me about hunting when other kids my age were off playing in the backyard. [caption id="attachment_3097" align="aligncenter" width="650"] There is no age limit on introducing someone to the outdoors.[/caption] Certainly, the actual hunting was a big part of the whole experience, but Dad took care of the details, and that’s critical to successful mentoring. When mentoring, there is much a mentor needs to instill in a future hunter before that person ever picks up a firearm or bow and heads off to the woods. Things like gun safety, hunting ethics and dealing with the death of an animal are all things we as mentors and experienced hunters need to help new sportsmen and -women understand, especially if those new hunters are youths. Covering these details — presenting the wider picture of hunting — is even more critical when you consider that many people who want to get involved in hunting don’t have a father, grandfather, mother or aunt to teach them what they need to know. They don’t know anyone who hunts — and that’s where you come in.
Talking TruthNone of us mentor someone so that person can have a one-time experience. We mentor because we want them to become a hunter for life. Getting to that requires imparting an understanding of the role hunters play in wildlife conservation. Explain where your license fees go, talk about why tags and bag limits are necessary, show them public hunting lands and non-hunting habitat that benefit from hunters. There are many anti-hunting groups that are all too happy to tell your child how hunting is cruel to the “poor” animals. When you demonstrate the opposite, you help your mentee understand why hunting is not just a pastime but critical to healthy wildlife populations and habitats.
Hunter EducationI firmly believe that every hunter just starting out, young or old, should successfully complete a hunter education course offered by their state’s wildlife agency. Not only is it required in most states to purchase a hunting license, those taking the courses learn valuable lessons that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. [caption id="attachment_3096" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Time on the range is vital to learn proper gun handling and safety.[/caption] Of course, not everyone who wants to try hunting is sure they’re going to stick with it. Thankfully, there are many states that have apprentice hunting license programs. These programs match mentors with those interested in hunting, but because the mentor stays with their charge throughout the entirety of their first experiences in the field, it is not required that the person being mentored first complete a hunter ed course. The approach is “try before you buy,” and it’s one many states are finding to be a success at improving hunter numbers. If you’re reading this, you’re already interested in being a mentor, and if your state offers an apprentice license program, you’ll have a natural entry point to introducing someone new to hunting.
Before the FirearmGetting a person involved in a hunt before he or she carries a firearm afield is essential. I prefer to start off someone new with a hunt for small game — squirrels, rabbits, etc. — but waterfowl and upland bird hunts, especially those that involve dogs, can really spark excitement in someone new to hunting. The emphasis on this pre-gun phase should be fun. Fun-fun-fun-fun-fun. Do not plan an all-day hunt, especially for children. Many children simply do not have the patience for an all-day hunt, and an all-day hunt where there’s little action quickly becomes tedious whether youth or adult. When you notice your mentee losing interest, call it a day. [caption id="attachment_3094" align="aligncenter" width="650"] A great way to get someone interested in hunting is to have them help you track a downed animal and help you pack it out.[/caption] I’ve found a great way to get kids interested in hunting, even if they don’t want to sit through a hunt with you, is to allow them to help in the recovery process of big-game animals. Once I have an animal down and located, for instance, I’ll go back to the house for the young one. Point out to them the blood trail and hair that was left on the ground. Explain to them which way the deer went after the shot and let them follow the blood trail. Allow the child to find the deer as if you had not already found it — it will bring their enthusiasm to a whole new level, promise. Downed animals bring us to the next step, processing. You will know better than anyone if a child is ready for that part of the hunt. Regardless, and with both youths and adults, you want to have the conversation about not wasting the animal and demonstrate the pride you have in putting meat on the table that you harvested yourself.
Why We HuntWith any new hunter you’re mentoring, the question about why we hunt is bound to come up at some point. it’s good to explain that not that long ago, people had to hunt to survive. Indeed, you can add that there are still pockets of America where hunting is essential to keeping food on the table. If that’s not the case for you, now’s the time to explain that while it is not a matter of life and death if you kill a deer this season, the act of hunting is a spiritual thing to the mind and body, and that’s something you want your new hunter to feel and understand. [caption id="attachment_3092" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Educating a new hunter properly includes discussions and demonstrations of field dressing, butchering and dinner prep.[/caption] This is also the perfect time to talk about charities such as Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry that accept venison donations. Explain to your new hunter that there are millions of hungry people who would love to have deer meat in their freezer and on their dinner table. If donating the meat will not put your family in a bind, ask your new hunter if they would like to share some of their harvest with others. Any person new to hunting who knows they can help the less fortunate is guaranteed to put a smile on their face — and go a long way toward making them a hunter for life.
Continue reading: Introducing the Next Generation of Hunters — Part 2
The Basics: What is Upland HuntingThe term Upland isn't as easily understood as say waterfowl hunting or deer hunting. Upland refers to non-water fowl game birds such as Doves, pheasant, grouse, quail and others. Upland hunting can be done in a variety of locations but is most often depicted and done in open fields. This environment provides thick ground cover for the birds which is why many upland hunters bring along trained bird dogs. Hunting dogs help flush the game out of the brush and into the air, many dogs will also retrieve the downed birds.
Safety First when Upland HuntingBefore you can take your friend or family member out into the field it's important they understand safe and lawful hunting procedures. They will need to take a hunter's education course where they will learn all about firearm safety, hunting fundamentals, conservation, as well as hunting laws and regulations. Start an online hunter safety education course for your state at Hunter-ed.com. This course will teach them all they need to know, but it's always good to go over safe firearms handling and hunting procedures with your buddy before and while afield.
https://youtu.be/1I1o4t0xUA0In this video, NSSF offers a few upland hunting safety reminders that will help ensure your next day in the field is a safe and enjoyable experience. The video offers experienced hunters a quick review and is the perfect tool for introducing newcomers to the rules of the field.