Mentoring is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, like raising a foster child. And it’s the easiest thing you’ve ever done, like joking with your buddy.
I’ve heard both those analogies used to describe mentoring, but both seem to add an unrealistic weight of expectation to the experience.
As I’ve written in this space in the past, mentoring is a handmade thing, crafted between the participants. In that way, no two relationships are the same. But they do have some commonalities, and the relationship between a mentor and a mentee (note – the entire community of folks committed to this effort is struggling with how to describe the apprentice hunter. Is “mentee” really the best word? If you have a better alternative, would you let me know?) generally starts with some questions.
“Why do you hunt?”
“Why do we need hunting licenses?”
“What gun should I shoot?”
“How does a riflescope work?”
Some of those questions are the topics of entire books. They can be intimidating and complicated to answer, but any prospective mentor already knows the answers. And they’re just as singular and unique — and as simple — as the questions. Don’t overthink them.
Why do you hunt? It’s probably not because of some lofty abstraction such as the fulfillment of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation or because you feel obligated to help states manage wildlife. It’s probably because you like to eat wild meat. Or maybe it’s because you like to reconnect with nature in an elemental way. Maybe it’s because you feel happy when you hunt. Or because it is fun.
Be ready to explain why you use the specific gear you use. Be prepared to explain the basics of ballistics, and how a bullet or shotshell pellet kills. Explain why you aim for the vitals of an animal and why the direction of the wind is so important.
You may get some pushback and some even more difficult follow-up questions. Embrace them. That’s the sign that you’re getting through, and that your “mentee” is listening and learning. That, after all, is what a mentor should do – educate, teach, inform. And inspire.
The best evidence of inspiration is inquisition. And as the cat knows, curiosity kills not only felines, but all sorts of other animals, too.
One more thing. The hardest question you will ever be asked is this one? “Why are you interested in mentoring?” I cannot wait to hear your answer.