Tag Archives: hunter education

Get a look inside the mind of a new hunter


Students from the University of Delaware pose for a group photo during their waterfowl hunting education course at Blackwater NWR, Credit: Chris Williams

Recently, a group of University of Delaware students visited Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland to learn about waterfowl hunting and wildlife conservation. Although they’re each pursuing studies in natural resources, all of them were first-time hunters.

The program, offered through a new partnership among Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, offered hunter education, shotgun safety training, and background on managing waterfowl populations.

Aside from the practical training and experience in the field, the program prompted the students to explore their feelings about hunting in general. Here are some of their individual thoughts about the experience.

How I dealt with feelings of  guilt:

“My fears spawned from the action of the hunt itself; if I do succeed, how will taking that life affect me, either on site or after I come home? Can I personally consider taking a life, “success”? Will I let my leaders down if I cannot bring myself to squeeze the trigger after all the effort in training me?”

– Dawn Davin


Credit: Chris Williams

How I made it through my first hunting trip:

“In fact, I was calm up until it was time to shoot. Everything happened so quickly. I am not used to shooting a gun, I am used to shooting clay birds, and I have no idea how a bird even lands in the water. I shortly found out, very quickly. I am up first. I see birds coming in as Jerry tells me to get ready. I respond as if I have never shot a gun before. I forget how to even hold the stock into my shoulder. As I am struggling to think straight, the birds see us and fly away.”

– Morgan Cochran


Students pose with a collection of duck decoys, Credit: Chris Williams

How my opinion on hunting has changed:

“I find that my opinion of hunting has changed considerably through the course. I always knew intellectually that hunting was an integral part of managing many species across the globe, but really honing in on the specifics and taking a part in that management connected me to the topic more. I learned so much about how setting goals for certain waterfowl species can aim to stabilize their population, and I got to participate in making those goals a reality.”

–Josh Zalewski


Two students prepare for their hunt, Credit: Chris Williams

My final reflections on the day:

“The one time I began to feel guilty and question exactly why I went hunting was when I talked to my boss about it. She knows there are population control benefits to hunting, but wasn’t sure why I personally wanted to be a part of it. Like many of my friends and family members, she was surprised to hear that I, animal lover extraordinaire, truly enjoyed killing an animal. It was difficult to explain why I wanted to and enjoyed the hunt when put that way, but I was able to “change her mind a bit” after I told her about the economic benefits, the reasoning behind certain policies, impact of invasive species, and so on. I will certainly have to do some more self-examination to determine my true stance, but that is a challenge I welcome.”

– Samantha McGonigle




Hunting & Fishing Courses at Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge

“I’ve always been interested in learning to hunt, but never found the time due to many other interests,” says Stephen DeFlorio. Luckily, the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge in Sudbury, Massachusetts, has partnered with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, or MassWildlife to offer year-round introductory classes to novice hunters and anglers. Inspired by his son who participates in hunting, DeFlorio thought the basic education course would be a great opportunity to learn tools and techniques from seasoned outdoorsmen and women.

Last summer, in addition to hunter education courses, novice anglers had the opportunity to pick up a rod and reel for the first time. Participants learned how to bait a hook, cast and reel, and how to remove a fish from the hook during the children’s fishing clinic for youth under 18, and through the introduction to fishing course for adults. “Seeing the excitement that fishing brings to new anglers every year is what I enjoy most about teaching these classes,” says Jim Lagacy, MassWildlife Angler Education Program Coordinator.

Later in the year, participants in the winter beginner fly tying course were hoping to enhance their skills and become more independent in learning how to tie their own flies, like husband and wife team Van and Krista Berube who were preparing for a fly-fishing trip to Montana. Fishing since she was a young adult, Krista finds fishing to be a fun and relaxing wildlife-dependent activity, but felt she never had the time to learn new angling skills. With course length ranging from afternoon clinics to multi-day classes, there is opportunity for everyone to learn new angling skills.

These classes also foster an appreciation for the natural world and national wildlife refuges. “The more people that are involved in any outside activity, the more likely they are to support efforts to preserve the space and resources needed to continue their outdoor activities, like fishing,” says Van Berube. MassWildlife’s Jim Lagacy adds, “if you enjoy fishing, you’ll learn to respect the resource…and appreciate the outdoors.”

“Partnering with MassWildlife on programs related to fishing and hunter education makes perfect sense, since they have long-established programs and the dedicated resources to implement them,” says Refuge Manager Tom Eagle. “By offering the Refuge as a location to hold these classes, we can educate participants about the Service, the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the many outdoor recreational opportunities that we offer on the refuges in their neighborhoods.” Hunting and fishing are only two of the refuge’s “Big Six” wildlife dependent recreational opportunities, the other four being wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, and environmental interpretation.

For more information on beginner hunting and angling courses offered at Assabet River NWR, click here for hunting and here for fishing.

For more information on the “Big Six” at Assabet River NWR, click here.

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.

Sheila and Angus

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.

Hunter Education, 2018

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.

Wendy Butler and Granddaughter Isabelle

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!