By Karen Butler - Founder/President, SLG2, INC DBA: Shoot Like A Girl
There are hunters among us; many of them don’t know it yet. These will-be hunters need someone (you) to provide them with the experience of hunting. Of the 27,000 -plus participants at Shoot Like A Girl, on average, 33 percent of them say they “don’t hunt, but want to.” Applying that percentage to the 15,202,669 hunting licenses that were purchased in 2020 would result in the sale of 5 million new hunting licenses. However, to significantly increase the number of hunters, we need to recruit the same number of mentors. So, putting this to the tune of Mr. Rogers’ theme song, “Won’t you please, won’t you please, please won’t you be a Mentor?!” This could be you. If you think that you aren’t qualified to be a mentor, then think again. You don’t have to be the best hunter; you just need to be a safe hunter with a passion for the experience of hunting.
If you follow these steps, you can mentor a new hunter that will create in them a passion and desire for hunting:
1. Invite someone to hunt with you by focusing on the experience, not the hunt
2. Ensure your hunter is safe and comfortable
3. Manage both your and your hunter’s expectations
4. Capture the experience in a positive way
The experience is usually the most critical aspect of a passionate hunter, and it is the “why” people hunt. In an article published by The Center for Humans and Nature, Jan Dizard wrote that people hunt “to experience nature as a participant; to feel an intimate, sensuous connection to a place; to take responsibility for one’s food, and to acknowledge our kinship with wildlife.” This sentiment is what we must describe to would-be hunters to encourage them to participate in hunting. Let’s face it, today; people are busy. It seems there is never enough time to take a pause and rejuvenate our souls. Hunting provides an experience of peace and relaxation. If you all close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think of the last time you were out in Nature, you can almost hear the sounds, smell the air, and see the beautiful scenery – you should focus on this experience.
As a mentor, you are responsible for your hunter’s safety. Most states have an apprentice program, where new hunters may purchase a license without a prerequisite for a hunter safety card if hunting with someone who does have a card. Most new hunters fear hurting themselves, someone they love, or only wound the animal. This is where range time is valuable. Practice being proficient. Gun safety is gun safety, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Also, it is vital to ensure your hunter is comfortable, and clothing is critical. The experience can be miserable if your hunter is not prepared for cold or wet conditions or is in clothing that limits their chances of success. There are so many competing requirements for our hard-earned dollars. It is ok to ask to borrow clothes from hunters the same size, look at goodwill or a thrift store, or wear dark clothes and hunt from a blind. The most important thing here is that you give the hunter enough options to be comfortable. The only thing you can’t adjust is the orange requirements for the state you are hunting in. You can also suggest that your hunter utilizes the free NRA Online Hunter Education course from Nrahe.org as a resource to learn about hunting safety.
Like anything in life, expectation management is the key to not being disappointed. If you take a new hunter hunting, not only are you assuming responsibility for them to be safe; you also need to teach them enough to be successful.
If you are new to taking someone hunting, you also must manage your expectations. The expectation you should have for yourself is for your hunter to have a good experience and hopefully a harvest. If you focus on the harvest, you are putting stress on yourself entirely out of your control. It is hard not to show the hunter that disappointment at the end of the day. You and the hunter need to go into the day to have a great experience, and an animal encounter will be awesome, and a harvest will be a bonus.
As an experienced hunter, it is hard to remember all the things you’ve learned or know what you haven’t learned yet; so, here’s a list of some key areas to discuss with your hunter:
Safety. It would be best if you always took the new hunter to the range before hunting. I give a safety brief about carrying a gun in the field, loading the gun, and general safety measures.
Communication. The hunter needs to know when and where they can use a standard or loud voice and that they can whisper talk to you with questions and break the code of silence for any safety concerns. It is essential to make sure your hunter knows that you may call or hoot to stop an animal or get them to present a good shot.
Traveling to the hunt location. Explain to your hunter how to walk in the woods, like picking up your feet to step quietly, not letting a held branch fly back and hit the person behind you, and or stopping to address a blister.
Random questions new hunters have. How/where do they use the bathroom? When/what can they eat? How are they protected from bugs and snakes?
The harvest. Explaining shot placement is vital. Understanding the distance, a hunter is comfortable shooting and explaining the reality of hunting, the kill. Prepare your hunter for the potential gore of hunting. A turkey’s death flop or instance, or the fact that the animal may run after the shot, or it may drop where you shoot it. Tell your new hunter that ethical hunters often have a bit of sadness in their harvest, but what you must do is turn that sadness into gratitude. Gratitude for the animal who will now feed your family and provide you with the outcome of a terrific experience.
There are no guarantees. They must understand that there is no guarantee they will even have an opportunity to harvest an animal. However, if they never go, they will never have the chance to feel that peace that comes only from spending time in Nature.
Hopefully, putting steps 1-3 together results in a successful harvest for your new hunter. Help your hunter capture imagery that will promote hunting without offending people who don’t hunt. The worst thing for a new hunter is for them to be successful, post a picture on social media, and then get hammered by anti or uninformed people about hunting. You know those pictures, where the animal tongue is hanging out, a bath of blood around, or the gut pile is in view. All these things, although part of hunting, don’t reflect the serenity of the experience. Take time to clean the animal up, cut out the tongue, and position it in a natural position with a good backdrop. Shoot Like A Girl has an article by Donna McDonald with tips on capturing the essence of the hunt. If your hunter takes a spike or jake, and it is in an area that doesn’t conflict with wildlife management, warn the hunter that some people may dismiss or criticize that decision. Sadly, some people thrive on shaming others inside our industry, but it is what it is. Let your hunter know to pass if the area’s conservation plan and animal population don’t support that harvest. We should be good stewards of our resources and teaching new hunters about conservation is part of it.
If you are a hunter, please take a new hunter afield. It may be the person you least likely think would want to go. Follow the basic steps of explaining the experience, ensuring safety and comfort, managing expectations, and memorializing the adventure. Won’t you please, won’t you please, please, won’t you be a mentor?!
2021-2022 The Hunting Wire Voice of Leadership Panel
The Voice of Leadership Panel is an appointed group of outdoor industry leaders who have volunteered to contribute their voices on key hunting and outdoor recreation issues to inform, inspire, and educate participants within our community.
- Cyrus Baird - Senior Director of Government Affairs, Delta Waterfowl
- Karen Butler - Founder/President, SLG2, INC DBA: Shoot Like A Girl
- Haley Fitzgerald – Conservation Leader & Hunting Enthusiast
- Eric Morris – Producer & Host - N.onT.ypical Outdoorsman TV
- Ken Perrotte - President of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoors Writers (AGLOW)
- Brenda Weatherby - Director of People and Culture, Weatherby, Inc.
- James “Jay” Pinsky, Editor, The Hunting Wire
- Peter Churchbourne, Director, NRA Hunter Leadership Forum
- Jim Curcuruto, Executive Director, Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation