Introducing the Next Generation of Hunters — Part 1
By Jason Houser
Imagine if just one out of three hunters made the pledge to introduce a new person to our sport. The difference would be felt for generations to come. That is exactly what NSSF is working to accomplish with the +ONESM Movement.
Letsgohunting.org makes it easy for you to get involved. Start by taking the +ONE Pledge and inviting someone to join you for your next hunt. Of course, that doesn’t automatically make your mentee a hunter, so let’s talk about what it takes to make that happen.
After the Invitation
Continuing 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.
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.
None 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.
I 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.
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 Firearm
Getting 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.
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 Hunt
With 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.
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.