By Joe Genzel:
As a kid, I was lucky enough to have a few precious years hunting with my father. He taught me how to blow a goose flute (poorly), make full-body decoys out of used 100-gallon oil drums, and eat a greasy breakfast after a morning in the duck blind.
But when I was 10, he died suddenly of a heart fibulation, and I not only lost my hero, but also my hunting mentor. I’m almost 40 now, and of course I still miss the old man, but his death brought more (and different) hunters into my life, and I glommed on to all that they could teach me. So even though I grew up a hunter, I also understand what it feels like to be lost in a sea of hunting questions you can only find answers to if you have access to a seasoned outdoorsman or woman. It can be damn frustrating when you don’t have that person in your life full-time.
So, if you are looking to get started in any form of hunting there are several outlets to seek out mentorship. Oftentimes it can be found amongst your own family tree, but if that’s not possible, there are plenty of non-profits and state agencies at your disposal. You just have to be willing to find those folks, and do a bit of legwork.
Find a Family Member that Hunts
I was fortunate to have an uncle that hunted, and when my dad passed he picked up the slack, enrolling me in a hunter’s education course, buying my first shotgun, and taking me rabbit and squirrel hunting whenever he could. If someone in your family hunts (or knows someone that hunts) call or text them and ask if you can go along. There’s a good chance that person will have enough gear to get you through that first hunt. If they don’t, it’s likely they know someone who does.
This is the optimal way to get started in hunting and find a mentor, because you already have a relationship with this person, and you know their quirks. Also, since you are related, they will likely be more honest with you. Tell you to be quiet when you’re making too much noise in the deer woods, or to stop pie-facing ducks on approach. I have a similar relationship with my younger brother. I’m not his mentor per se, but he didn’t have much experience in hunting when we started chasing waterfowl together. I was the boss back then, but now we help (and argue with) each other on an equal footing. He can do things I can’t and vice-versa. It’s also helped us become closer because we have a shared passion. If we didn’t have hunting, I honestly don’t know if we would be as good of friends as we are.
Join a Conservation Organization
National conservation groups are a great way to meet new and traditional hunters and get the guidance you need while helping fund habitat for the animals you wish to pursue. There are organizations dedicated to most wild game pursuits. Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, Quality Deer Management Association’s Field to Fork program, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are all great places to get started.
Many of these organizations have local chapters near you, and all you have to do is go to one of the websites and sleuth around to find that information, or just email the communications person and ask where the closest chapter is. I’ve worked on the local Ducks Unlimited board in my hometown for years and it has introduced me to many new hunters who I am glad to point in the right direction and take hunting. All of the groups have some kind of mentorship program whether it’s official or not. Plus, you’re adding to the resource by volunteering, and that’s a critical stop on the path to becoming a mindful/experienced hunter.
There are all kinds of resources at your fingertips through your state fish and wildlife agency. Most (if not all) states have an R3 (recruit, retention, and reactivation) coordinator, and it is actually their job to help you learn to hunt and keep hunting. So they are invested in you from the start. All you have to do is contact them, and they can answer, or send you information, about any questions you have.
As far as state programs go, there are mentored hunts, veteran hunts, youth hunts, and clinics. State-run hunting clinics typically fill up fast, so be patient. But while you wait, try and gather as much information as you can and talk to the instructors that run the clinics. They can definitely help you through email and over the phone, and will be eager to do so in most cases. If they aren’t, I’d suggest finding another clinic.
You won’t get a physical person to talk to in most cases, but utilizing hunt-focused magazines, websites, YouTube, and Google search can answer all kinds of questions for new hunters. One of the most comprehensive online resources for new hunter’s is Outdoor Life’s How to Hunt. It will serve any new hunter well to read that story in it’s entirety. GearJunkie, Field & Stream, Hunt to Eat, The Hunting Public, Project Upland, and MeatEater are media brands that are focused on creating content to assist new and traditional hunters. They can all help you along, and grow your hunting knowledge exponentially.
Certain podcasts can be beneficial as well. Some you will find useful are The Tailgate Podcast with Bill Roden and Andy Anderson, Hunt Talk hosted by Randy Newburg, Hunt for Real hosted by Tony Peterson, and Wired to Hunt with Mark Kenyon. All these podcasts cast a wide net, and there’s enough diversity in all of them that at least one of the shows will resonate with you. They are also very inclusive, and accepting of new hunters. They will encourage and inspire you to get outdoors…so listen close.
Books are still the most comprehensive in terms of hunting instruction, and offer a solid foundation you will eventually branch out from through trial and error in the wild. A couple that will get you started: Andrew McKean’s “How to Hunt Everything,” Steve Rinella’s “The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game (Vols 1 & 2),” Robert Ruark’s “The Old Man and the Boy,” T. Edward Nickens’ “The Best American Hunting Stories,” and anything written by Thomas McGuane or Jim Harrison. Some of these books will help you learn to hunt, and some will give you a better appreciation for hunting—both are equally valuable.
The Local Sportsman Club
There are plenty of shooting ranges and sportsman clubs in the U.S., and if you live within a drivable distance of one, they are a fine resource for learning how to hunt. Now, some of these places have old codgers lurking about, but if you can handle someone telling you “I told ya so,” and “this is how ya do it right” every now and again, your hunting aptitude will sky rocket. That’s not to say there aren’t nice old guys and gals (and young ones too) willing to help you become a better hunter—there are. I just want to caution you, that you might run into some salty dogs venturing in to one of these places.
I grew up with old men cursing at me, so I don’t much mind that sharp edge. Plus, a few jabs pale in comparison to what you can learn in a single afternoon if you’re a willing participant. Just being around someone with experience and asking them questions (they’ll love to answer all of them at-length, trust me) is invaluable. It’s like having a town hall meeting with an accomplished hunter and the only person in the audience is you. Bring a six-pack of Pabst, so you can sit on the tailgate after the shooting is over and listen. Soak up as much knowledge as you can.