By Mark Fike
The world has changed a lot in the past twenty years. I am a teacher at a middle school and I get caught “showing my age” all the time. Today the kids asked me how I remembered my friend’s phone numbers when I was a kid and there were no cell phones.
I guess they have them all stored in their phones and don’t bother to remember them.
The hunting world has changed too. In the old days (not so long ago) youth begged to go hunting and anticipated tagging along in the woods. While as kids we would shift and squirm some, it was not a horribly big challenge to sit tight for a squirrel or even a deer to show up most of the time.
With many states offering special days for youth and apprentice hunters in an effort to recruit new members to our hunting traditions, it will take a seasoned hunter to not only take the new hunter afield but it will take someone with patience and understanding.
Today’s hopeful hunter has grown up in a world where everything happens on demand and if anyone has to wait for anything for more than a few minutes, focus and attention is long gone. Patience must be taught and expectations should be explained well before heading afield.
When taking youth afield, it is important to educate them about the tradition. Explain why we hunt and how it is part of the conservation of the land and management of game. Explain how we use the meat we harvest and how nutritious it is for us while explaining how “cool” it is these days to have deer jerky you made to take to school.
I have personally witnessed many times a young person bringing deer jerky to school only to be mobbed and within seconds be cleaned out of the jerky while classmates stand there with big eyes listening to how the hunt went down while chewing on the jerky.
We are competing with a fast-paced world, but trying to get kids to understand how to enjoy a slow-paced one. It takes a lot of patience to teach it and to exhibit it. We all want our young people to harvest something, yet we all know each hunt does not end with a heavy game bag or a drag to the truck.
Besides explaining why we hunt and the purpose of getting afield, we obviously need the young person to take a hunter safety course and we need to show them proper firearms handling. Finally, we need to practice with them so that when they do get a shot they make an ethical and humane kill. Nothing ruins a hunt more than wounding an animal and not recovering it or having to “put it down.”
Besides the obvious things above, there are other things we also have to do these days to try to make the experience a great one so that the youth wants to keep hunting. Here are a few ideas.
First, have them help scout and plan the hunt. Guide them in the choices for the hunt as to where to set up, clearing shooting lanes (explain why you don’t cut EVERYTHING down), and where the prevailing wind is not to mention safe directions of fire.
Second, help them choose hunting attire. Explain why you would choose certain clothing for certain reasons related to weather and exertion getting to the hunting location.
Third, make a big deal about getting them their hunting license. Create an account online for your state game agency and explain they are now licensed (if they need a license) and they are responsible for their actions. That license ends up being a badge of honor. It may be their first “license.”
Let them pack snacks and lunch but encourage them not to overpack or pack things like chips that make noise. Anything you can do to make them a big part of the hunt gives them ownership.
As you get ready to leave, reiterate that they will need to sit still for a long period of time and explain how they can move and when they should move if a mosquito is biting them or something to that nature.
If you can hunt from a blind or in a stand, don’t discourage them from using their phone to keep their stamina the first time or two out but don’t let them get on the phone right away. The whole point of being outdoors is to get away from the phone!
Pace them with their phone. When you can tell that they are really getting antsy, either offer to leave and come back later or allow them to send a few quick messages or play a silent game on their phone but cap the time they are on the phone. Tell them that you need help keeping an eye out for game.
I made the mistake of allowing a young man total access to his phone. He spent the entire hunt scrolling through Facebook posts of huge trophy deer while lamenting that he was never going to see a deer. I kept trying to get him to hunt and watch from the blind but he would not.
I watched several does walk by that he would have gladly shot. He never saw them. I finally pointed one out and he got so excited he rushed the shot and missed and went right back to staring at his phone having a pity party.
We had a long talk later about his phone usage and how those successful hunters he was looking at were not scrolling nonstop through their phone to harvest that big buck.
Use your best judgement on the phone issue, but I would advise holding off on allowing it except when needed. At the very least tell the youth when the prime time for the hunt is likely to be and don’t allow the phone during that time.
Another big mistake many mentors make is getting young hunters up at the crack of dawn or before and then wondering why they don’t make it past 9 AM without wanting a nap. Keep hunts short as needed and plan strategically. I prefer to take new hunters on evening hunts when we can see where we are going, walk quieter and not be in a rush. Also, as the sun drops the deer activity tends to increase!
That is not to say that a morning hunt would not be a good idea. Just be sure your youth can handle getting up early and that you have an easy walk to the stand or blind.
Although successful harvests are not required, they sure help keep the flame alive. So, do your best to make the conditions of the hunt such that success is reasonable. Take your youth to your best spot, but tell them you are taking them to your best spot so they appreciate your efforts.
Later you can help them learn how to find their own good hunting ground!