It’s full-on hunting season here in eastern Montana, but I haven’t been out much for myself. Instead, I’ve spent the last couple weeks guiding brand-new hunters to their first deer.
It’s been alternately rewarding, frustrating, euphoric, and deeply memorable. But here’s my biggest take-away in these first days of real-world mentoring: this is really a working version of hunter education.
You’re probably familiar with our nation’s hunter education program. Each state delivers its program in its own way, but most utilize volunteer instructors to teach beginning hunters in a classroom setting. Here in Montana, where I’m a state-certified Hunter Ed instructor (Bowhunter Ed, too, if you’re counting), we require students to spend 12 hours with textbook, classroom, and hands-on instruction—plus passing a written test—in order to be qualified to buy a hunting license. That’s pretty common.
Our classroom instruction is pretty good. We have a well-rounded and dedicated cadre of instructors, and we cover everything from how to ask for hunting permission to how to survive a cold night outdoors to how to hunt from treestands to how to tell the difference between a whitetail and a mule deer. It’s a great course.
But it’s not nearly enough. And that’s my biggest discovery of this season of mentoring. There is simply no replacement for time in the field, figuring out how close you can get to wild animals, how and why the wind can bust a hunt, how to deploy a rifle bipod, how to gut an animal when your hands are frozen, and how to trim out bloodshot meat. These are all the practical first steps that every hunter needs to experience. And there’s no way to teach those things in a classroom.
Many beginning hunters get this hands-on, real-world experience. They have built-in mentors, whether fathers or uncles or sisters or best friends. Only many beginning hunters don’t have those field guides, and that’s where you and I come in. You know a person in your life who has an interest in hunting but no support system. You know someone who would go with you, if only you asked them.
So, ask them. And then be prepared to pour your knowledge into them.
That’s the second take-away from this season. The things you think are so basic that you don’t even consider them—taking into account the wind, and what it will and won’t let you do; how to choose the right bullet for big game; where to place a shot on a deer; how to tell the difference between gut wall and abdominal wall when you field dress an animal—are brand-new to beginners. Spend your knowledge. Become a hunter education instructor, not in a classroom, but in the field, with an eager new student ready to learn. From you.