After years of waiting, it’s finally happened.
Maybe it’s your little one who’s now old enough to go hunting for the first time.
Or it’s your spouse who’s slowly transitioned from “no, thanks” to kinda curious about hunting, and has now reached “I wanna go” territory.
It may even be that one guy from work who’s always wondering when you’ll bring in the elk jerky.
Regardless of who, what, why, when or… where?... You have the opportunity to take someone afield for the first time. Not only does this make you a lucky duck, it makes you a (angels sing, heavenly light warms your silhouette) mentor.
Now, if you are anything like we were the first time we got to be a mentor, you’re absolutely freaking out. I mean, who can blame you? This is the one chance to make their first impression of hunting a great one. If you blow this… Whoa… Wouldn’t wanna be in your hiking boots.
Relax. Calm thyself. Unclench.
We’ve got your back, dear friend.
The key to making someone’s first hunt a great one is preparation. I don’t mean scouting out the perfect location, building a luxury blind complete with Wi-Fi or putting in a Golden Corral-level food plot to ensure success.
No, the preparation we’re talking about is getting your mentee ready for the adventure ahead. Here are the key foundations to begin working on now.
Depending on your state or region, your first-timer may need to get their hunter’s ed certificate. No time like the present, we always say. Starting here level-sets a foundation of knowledge from which you can build upon with experience.
Whoa… that was deep. Especially for us.
But seriously, contact your local wildlife management agency and get info on the first available hunter’s ed program. Help your mentee, but also make sure they take it seriously. It’s easy for a friend or spouse to maybe want to breeze through this because hey, you’ll be there, right? Help them take the matter seriously. That may mean helping them connect it to real-world experiences... which you just happen to have.
Summer is also the time for newbies to get acclimated with tools of the trade. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking bow, crossbow, or boomstick.
Walk them through the ins and outs of the huntin’ stick in a quiet, focused place (read: NOT AT THE RANGE). Make sure they understand how to safely load, unload and fire the weapon.
This is often the first speed bump. It sounds great to go out and come back with delicious venison, turkey, duck, etc., but when going over the bow or rifle, it suddenly becomes very real for people. Let them process at their own speed, which may vary from “uhhh…” to “YEEHAW!!!”
Once they have a handle on the operation, start making a few trips to the range. Start slow and close. Build up confidence through easier shots then slowly back up or challenge them with harder shots. Photo or anatomically correct targets can come into play here, reinforcing what awaits.
Let them go at their own pace. If they still prefer you to load the shotgun for them, go ahead. As they get used to it, they’ll gain comfort and confidence.
Now that they are legal and proficient, you can start the really fun part of the pre-hunt. Gearing up!
Help them get proper clothing and a field kit together. Help them make a plan, either through an in-field scouting trip or through an app like onX Hunt or Huntstand. Get them envisioning the hunt in their minds, and challenge them. What will it be like if it’s raining? What do we do if the wind is wrong? Where should you aim on a quartering bull? Where does one dispose of the gas station breakfast burrito that quickly became a bad idea?
Have fun with it, sure, but studies show visualization can be as effective (if not more so) as real practice. If your mentee can visualize it well enough in their minds, then it will be more familiar to them, at least subconsciously, when the real deal happens. Pre-viz exercises are the surefire vaccine against Buck Fever.
Helping your mentee see all the excitement and fun that can be had before the season even begins helps take the pressure off of you to deliver an animal on the ground, and it takes the pressure off of them to NOT MISS THAT ONE-TIME SHOT, ZOMG!!!!!!!
Make it fun now and the results in the field matter less, so even a bowl of tag soup contains enough good memories and exciting times to fuel the hunger for next season.
Good luck and good preparing!