Mentoring New Hunters in Vermont
Today guest blogger Wendy Grice Butler, shares her story of how mentoring one new hunter can influence many new conservationists in return.
A few years ago, a worried colleague approached me, expressing concern around her son’s intense interest in hunting. Being self-described left-leaning hippies, Sheila and her husband could not understand what was driving their son, Angus’, interest to take up hunting. I recommended a week of Conservation Camp for Angus where he would participate in Hunters Education followed by finding Angus a mentor.
Eventually, I became Angus’ mentor. Am I a duck hunter? Not really, but you bet I scouted ducks that fall and in the early morning hours of duck season, I dragged a kayak loaded with decoys through a cornfield to be a mentor, guide and retriever to Angus. His mom, Sheila, would drop him off early in the morning, we would hunt ducks for a couple of hours and then she would deliver him to his private school, complete with camo paint on his face. As a family, Angus and his parents prepared the game he brought home and they grew to understand the importance of conservation through hunting. Sheila and husband, Bill, eventually took my Hunters Ed Course themselves.
As it turned out, one of his classmate’s father happened to be a chef, restaurant owner and more importantly, landowner on Lake Champlain. “Not a duck hunter”, Angus explained to me, but he would take Angus hunting. Very quickly, the “non-hunting, lake-front owning, chef” took up duck hunting, which makes perfect sense, really, and wild duck was on the menu for the next staff dinner. Remarkably, this very French restaurant now hosts an annual game dinner, attended by hunters and non-hunters alike. In this case, mentoring just one person introduced many people to hunting as a means of conservation. It also allowed a new hunter to bring at least one more hunter into the field.
When youth turkey season rolled around the next spring, I took Angus to my very best hunting spot. The place I prefer to hunt myself. I plan for the highest success rate possible for every brand new hunter I work with. Angus was not the first new hunter to take advantage of my favorite turkey hunting location, nor was he the last. Abby Copeland contacted me for turkey hunting tips and I invited her to join me on a hunt. She bagged her first turkey that morning and one or two springs later, I had an excited email from her, describing an exciting hunt where she had been the mentor for a college student friend.
I teach Hunters Education at a local college for students, faculty, staff and adults from the community, who, like Angus and Abby, are interested in becoming hunters. The challenge for these new hunters without the benefit of growing up in a hunting tradition is where exactly to begin after their certification. My point in this is to say, in times when hunting license sales are declining and food culture is changing, we as a hunting community must invest our time in mentoring new hunters. Mentoring truly is not a sacrifice, it is an investment and maybe, even more thrilling than hunting for myself. At least its close!