OUR FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT
For many of us, hunting is a tradition and a natural part of our lives as we enjoy spending time outdoors with family and pursuing wild game with friends. Unfortunately, there are lots of other interested people who would love to experience wild places and learn outdoor skills, but most of these individuals have limited social support and the perception that hunting is too complicated to learn, and those factors have held them back from their first hunting experience.
Sharing our hunting heritage can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both the mentor and participant. It is a role we as hunters must take seriously. It is our responsibility to make certain that new hunters are not only given the knowledge and skills, but the history and moral compass to engage in ethical hunting and land stewardship.
RECRUITMENT, RETENTION AND REACTIVATION “R3”
Even as America’s population continues to grow, participation in hunting has been generally decreasing in the U.S since the 1980’s and the resulting decline in conservation funding poses an ever-increasing threat to wildlife conservation. R3 stands for Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation which seeks to generate new hunters and increase participation rates of current or lapsed hunter-conservationist.
Our partners at the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (CAHSS) have put together some great resources explaining the significance of R3. Pheasants Forever is dedicated to continually working with our current members, other conservation organizations and state/federal wildlife agencies in national coordinated hunter R3 efforts.
WHERE TO START
When it comes to finding someone new, keep it natural and start by thinking about your neighbors, coworkers, friends and your family. Mentoring should start within your inner circle but be on the lookout for aspiring hunters in all sorts of surprising places as it is vital for us to engage different audiences who are interested in hunting.
The first step is simply asking some to join you outdoors, it’s as easy as inviting them to take a hike with you. You’d be surprised at who may be willing to give hunting a try if someone just asked, but we must be willing to seek them out and properly show folks what hunting is truly about.
Once you have found that interested individual, it’s extremely important to learn what they are passionate about and discuss each other’s expectations. Is it healthy food, exercise, experiencing wildlife, the bird dog? Whatever the driving factor, try to make a point to incorporate their passion into the journey as much as possible.
Help develop a comfort with guns by taking them to the range and let them practice on clay targets. Cook a meal of wild game together, so they can relish the flavors of the field. The first outings with your new friend aren’t about shooting limits, or even shooting anything, it’s about helping someone else find their passion.
Remember…be patient. Don't constantly be so serious and always enjoy just being out there together. Try to keep things short, fun and positive.
Having fun is the number one priority so allow them to bring their mobile devices, take lots of pictures, make sure they are comfortable and create memories that will last a lifetime! Time spent afield is about much more than the harvest, it’s about a quality bonding experience.
KEEPING THEM INVOLVED
Being a good mentor goes beyond just taking someone hunting one time, we need to continue to provide them with support until they are self-confident enough to go on their own. People rarely stick with a new activity without a community of support, so continue to invite these new hunter-conservationists along throughout the entire year and build an outdoor experience not just during the hunting season.
Everyone has a different comfort level, some may be able to go on their own after one or two mentored hunts, others need more time. By simply including them, even if they can’t go, they feel like they are welcomed. As a mentor, you need to keep them engaged multiple times if we are to have any hope of turning them into lifelong self-identified hunters.
Simply encourage them to share their story with others and be proud of their connection to wildlife. Hopefully someone within their social network will be inspired and want to learn, as the ultimate goal is for the mentee to become a mentor. Together we can be a unified voice and we can spread the message of habitat conservation, hunting heritage and advocacy in our communities!