Think back to the instructions you’ve gotten on life’s fundamental lessons. Many of those important commands are given in a do or don’t format. Do your homework. Do what your mother says. Don’t lie. Don’t touch the stove. Those imperatives are clear and easy to understand.
So don’t keep the greatness of hunting all to yourself. Do the right thing and take someone new to hunting afield as soon as you can.
Lori Card is the owner and founder of Wild Card Outdoor Adventures, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Michigan that educates, encourages, and promotes opportunities for women and children to enjoy the outdoors. Card organizes fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreational events for beginners to try. She and her husband are certified bow and hunter education instructors who mentor at least five people annually. They started in 2014 and have learned what to do and what not to do when taking a new hunter out for the first time.
Mentoring a newcomer helps give them the guidance and tools they need to succeed in hunting. It also helps protect the hunting culture, supports conservation efforts via increased license and equipment sales, and educates people about obtaining healthy, organic food.
To get started, use these 20 dos and don’ts from Card. She said someone’s first exposure to hunting can make or break their experience with – and connection to – the sport. So if you lead the way, your mentee might come to love bowhunting as much as you do.
- Take a hunter education course together. Every newcomer must pass this course before they head afield. Help them find a reputable course, and consider taking it with them to refresh your own memory.
- Know the rules and regulations. An inexperienced hunter will look to you for guidance. Be sure you know what to do and follow the rules. You don’t want to teach a beginner incorrectly and accidentally get them in trouble.
- Meet with the person ahead of time. A beginner probably doesn’t know how to prepare for a hunt. Meet with them before your hunt to ensure their license, equipment, clothing and skills are in order.
- Give a safety briefing before heading afield. Just before you head to your blind or stand, discuss the rules and safety strategies taught in the hunter education course so everything’s fresh in their mind.
- Consider the participant’s age and attention span before planning. If you have an adult mentee, they can probably sit for several hours. If you have a child, the “hunt” might look a little different. Plan accordingly and always pack snacks, regardless of the beginner’s age.
- Be patient. Give yourself and your mentee grace. Allow them to think and act on their own before you step in. You should also be patient and understanding with their decisions and desires regarding the situation.
- Be flexible. If your mentee isn’t having fun, change your plans. It’s OK to adapt as you go.
- Focus on the experience. Bowhunting isn’t only about harvesting an animal. Talk about and share the joys of scouting, practicing, meeting new friends and being outdoors.
- Provide tips and instruction. If you see something the beginner could improve upon, tell them. They’ll appreciate your expertise and willingness to help them learn.
- Make time for the mentee. Show them your commitment to helping them get started by connecting and working with them several times throughout the year. Mentoring isn’t a “one and done” gig.
- Don’t assume they know how to use their equipment. Even though the mentee passed their hunter education course, they may still be unfamiliar with aspects of their gear. Show them how to use everything so they feel more comfortable and confident.
- Don’t force them to do something they don’t want to do. Dealing with new experiences can be mentally and physically challenging. If your mentee doesn’t want to hunt from a treestand or shoot an animal, don’t push them. Give them the time they need to take each step at their own speed.
- Don’t make a big deal if they miss. Have you missed? Probably. Missing an animal is unfortunate, but it is also a great learning experience. Reiterate how they must practice so they can make ethical, humane shots.
- Don’t dodge the mentee’s questions. If the beginner has a question, answer it. If you don’t know the answer, vow that you’ll find it together. Newcomers are bound to be curious. Acknowledge this and help them satisfy their craving for information.
- Don’t force the relationship. If you don’t connect or mesh well with your mentee after a few interactions, don’t fret. Instead, ask around to find another mentor who’s willing to step in. Not everyone will be a good match for your personality, and that’s OK.
- Don’t forget about safety. Always think about safety, and remind your shadow to do the same. Wear your safety harness, watch where you step and ensure your broadheads are stored correctly. Take care to travel in and out of the woods without injuring yourselves or anyone else.
- Don’t be too selective. You might practice quality deer management or hunt for trophy animals, but your mentee is not you. Allow them to take any legal game animal they want. Then, celebrate the harvest and all their accomplishments up until that point.
- Don’t let them overdress or underdress. Newcomers may not think to check the weather or understand how to layer properly before going out. Make sure their attire is appropriate for whatever the day will bring—warm layers when it’s cold and breathable materials when it’s hot.
- Don’t break the rules. Never go against any state, local or federal law. If you accidentally break the rules, set a good example by voluntarily reporting it to law enforcement.
- Don’t act disrespectfully. Don’t say or do anything inappropriate, including swearing, drinking, littering, or taking risky shots. Teach your mentee to be ethical and responsible.
Whatever you do, start slow. Let your mentee be as involved as they want to be. Remember to make time for them and vow not to abandon them. Answer their questions and be their role model and support system. Having a dedicated mentor helps ensure the newcomer will have a positive interaction with hunting, making them more likely to continue with the sport.