Hunting & Heritage  |  05/30/2023

Creating Connections Through Mentoring in Nebraska


Nothing beats the excitement of introducing someone new to the uplands

By Marissa Jensen
Learn to Hunt: Creating New Hunter-Conservationists for the PF & QF Mission

Over the years, mentoring has looked a little different to me.

As a program manager, most of my support consists of working behind a computer instead of in the field where all the action is. But last fall I had the incredible opportunity to reconnect with the roots of our efforts and spend time with mentees afield.

On the weekend of October 31, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, in partnership with Minority Outdoor Alliance and ALPS OutdoorZ, hosted a Learn to Hunt weekend experience for new upland hunters in Tekamah, Nebraska at Pheasant Bonanza Lodge. It was a truly collaborative event with representation from our partners and participants who came in from across the country.

The weekend kicked off on Friday evening as everyone sat around a campfire sharing their “why.” Why did our participants sign up for this event? Why do they want to learn about upland hunting and grassland habitat? 

This approach lets everyone get to know one another and understand individuals’ expectations for the days ahead. Mentors have an opportunity to understand what a “successful” hunt looks like for their mentee. Hint: It is not always what we think!

Saturday morning started bright and early with breakfast and assigning mentors and mentees their roles. A basic gear and equipment brief helped participants learn what they would be using in the field and get comfortable with their items. Each mentee was gifted an ALPS OutdoorZ blaze orange upland vest and hat to start their journey off on the right foot. 

After a robust firearm and upland hunting safety discussion, it was to the range for a little target practice. There is nothing like watching someone hit a clay for the first time. The image of one of our mentees doing just that will forever be a memory that makes me smile. 

The group was in for a treat as we went from trap range to a sporting clay course, which can humble any wingshooter. It was a great opportunity for mentors and mentees to relax, have a little fun, and shake off any first upland-hunt jitters. 

A brief lunch to fuel up was followed by an introduction to the day’s starting lineup, the bird dogs. After that, the team split up and headed out in search of pheasant and quail. The hunt provided ample opportunities for birds flushed, shots fired, shots missed, and even some shots that hit their mark.

Those crisp, new, upland vests soon became baptized with a collection of feathers and memories that would last a lifetime. 

As someone who hasn’t spent my entire life in the uplands, I am always amazed at how little I care to carry a shotgun in the field when I’m with someone new. A new hunter’s success means more to me than my own. It is a unique opportunity to be part of someone’s “first.” It doesn’t get much better than that. 

I took my shots with a Nikon that weekend in hopes of capturing moments for mentees to look back on and remember. 

We all know what comes next: the nitty-gritty of getting your hands dirty as participants learned multiple ways to dress their quarry.
To top it off, chef Kris Cohen from the lodge brought us back to his kitchen for a lesson in Pheasant Piccata. That evening was unusually quiet as everyone sat around a table enjoying the savory taste of their day in the field.

The next morning provided another opportunity to fill their vests. Participants woke up with excitement and anticipation of what the day would bring. A bright, sunny day greeted us and before we knew it, the afternoon was upon us before anyone was ready. We came together back at the lodge sharing stories of the morning’s adventures, successes and what-ifs. 

I lingered around this circle of new friends, not wanting the magic of the weekend to end. It was too soon. We were just getting to know each other.

But in the same breath, I knew I had developed lifelong connections and we would, no doubt, hunt together again. I left with a new hat, after swapping mine with a new companion. I wear it often and I smile every time I put it on.

Not long after the event I received a text from one of my mentees. She had gone out on a hunt with her husband and son, and built new memories as a family. I still see her face lit up with happiness when she crushed her first clay. 

These are the moments that keep us coming back for more. I continue to find happiness in the field alone or alongside another. But nothing, nothing, that beats the excitement of introducing someone new to the uplands and knowing the impact we can make when we share the outdoor lifestyle. 

This event was made possible thanks to the generous support from our partners at ALPS OutdoorZ. Visit our website to learn more about our Adult Learn To Hunt program.

Marissa Jensen is the Conservation Leadership Program Manager for PF & QF.