Mentoring makes everyone a better hunter

My last day of the 2020 Pennsylvania Deer Rifle season couldn’t have been more perfect – clear, cold skies with little breeze in the cool, restorative air of a winter day. Those finishing their season in this region couldn’t have dreamed of a better start to three months of winter blues.

The woods were moving with an occasional small creature or a reflection from a nearby underground source. I did my best to just be there every moment until sunset.

But the zen of the hunt escaped me, for that day my mind was about 200 yards above my left shoulder, where my friend Matt was stationed. This evening hunt was our best chance for him to fill a tag before the highly unlikely late seasons of archery and flint.

We had started the trip the previous season, he a new hunter and I a mentor. The experience was nothing if not interesting for both of us. I can only imagine what it was like for him to see and experience the hunt for the first time, to unpack and digest everything there was to learn and consider. It can be difficult to grasp everything from equipment and weapons to creating a lumberjack skill set and understanding your prey. But hunting and fishing are fun – the more you learn, the more curious you become, the more you accomplish, the more you want to be successful, and the wild creatures of the woods and water are always up for a challenge.

Even adults benefit greatly from hunting mentors, and no experience level is too big or too small. The insight of someone who’s been through it takes you further down the learning curve. My first hunting trip was full of weaknesses and hiccups, so I at least helped him avoid the pitfalls. I helped explain the important outlines and sometimes I would speak overhead, having to go back and break things down further. A good mentor cannot assume that someone who discovers something knows something, even if they are an adult.

In sharing things, I have sometimes realized the error of my own methods, gaining a cruel but necessary perspective. Needless to say, we both learned those early seasons together. Miraculously, he was unwavering in his pleasure of just being outside to see animals, but his elusive first deer was beginning to weigh on my own conscience.

With 60 minutes of light remaining on a calm December evening, the familiar nervous pressure crept in to help a friend.

It was then that his blow rang out.

Hearing the click of his gun, I couldn’t have grabbed my cell phone any faster.

In the cold that night we celebrated all the premieres presented to us, and I, having seen worse, was grateful that the money had fallen where it was.

Now that Matt is less of a mentee and more of a hunting sidekick, I’m excited to focus on my son David. The little guy was very interested in archery and made several trips to the shooting range to perfect his marksmanship.

At the age of 7 he still has a long way to go, but with every scouting adventure, training session and trek up to the tree with Daddy, he is getting closer to his own opportunities for success.

But children simply cannot afford an adult, and often the mentor has to conjure up seemingly endless reserves of patience. Children will only tolerate so many aimless wanderings in the woods, so many missed targets and boring hunts. Your best bet is to teach them their terms and remember the big picture.

So far, I haven’t once regretted his company in the woods. At least I hope he sees this as some quality time with his father; greater hope is that he will become my long term hunting partner. Hey, I won’t always be able to drag a deer myself.

It is essential that hunters devote time to mentoring others. It is not always easy and it may not work in the end, but showing your passion to others is the best chance for the tradition to continue. A friend, a neighbor, an adult or a young person; everyone can enjoy the pursuit of wild game. Many people are indifferent to the hunt and their opinions can easily change to one side or the other. Whether they stick to it or not, if we positively share the experience with curious people, future hunting advocacy will be priceless.

Many hunters are ready to share their harvest, perhaps we should share the wisdom and experience of winning it instead. After all, some of the strongest friendships are made abroad.

Thomas Ham is an archery enthusiast, conservationist and active in his Berks County Sports Club. He has a passion for everything that is outdoors. Contact him at: [email protected]

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