By Brittany French
Mentoring new hunters is a valuable way to pass on knowledge, ensure safety, and promote ethical hunting practices. There is a lot of content out there about how to be the best mentor, steps you can take to make an impact, and best practices for mentorship.
While those are all great resources, I have found that moments of mentorship in the field have been the best resource for me. I have been mentoring youth outdoors since 2015, and there are a few stories that I want to share with you as hunting season quickly approaches.
I will start with the young lady that I first started to mentor. Autumn and I had been matched through Big Brothers Big Sisters since 2012. You did the math right; that is 11 years of mentorship.
We have enjoyed doing art together, kayaking in the Arkansas River, going to the movies, and rollerblading together over the years. Autumn was never one to take an interest in the sport of hunting, and I respected her choice in that, even though I had many colleagues encouraging me to get her out.
One day she told me she was interested in taking Hunter Education and wanted to learn how to hunt. You can imagine the beaming smile on my face when she sent me a picture of her holding her Hunter Education card.
We hosted a controlled pheasant hunt, and I made sure that Autumn was there. Autumn did a great job that day and harvested her first bird. She was thrilled and couldn’t wait to take her game home to show off and cook for her family.
On the way home that evening, Autumn said something to me “Thanks for taking me hunting when I was ready.” Through all those years of mentoring Autumn, I learned she was mentoring me and encouraging me to be a better listener. My friendship with Autumn painted the landscape for my mentoring journey with other youth. Sometimes being the best mentor, you can be is just to listen.
I was in Arivaca, Arizona mentoring a deer and javelina deer hunt with one of the most resilient kids I have ever met. We hunted through some tough conditions for a week with no luck. That is when Danner looked at me and asked me to go out and try one more time before the hunt was over. My friend, Danner, has persevered through more in his 16 years of life than most folks will go through in a lifetime. He has pushed through
countless surgeries and conditions that have left him with different abilities due to his diagnosis. There he was, putting all of those ailments to the side and showing us all that he was going to persist on with or without us.
Danner tagged his trophy mule deer that evening and was soaring with confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Mentoring can take time. Connecting with someone and passing on your love for the outdoors will require the same resiliency Danner demonstrated. Keep showing up!
Finally, I will leave you with a lesson I have learned from Ka’nya. Ka’nya and I have been hunting together since 2015. She was the first youth that I mentored through the Pass It On – Outdoor Mentors program. We were in Glen Elder, KS and at the age of 11 she shot her first rooster pheasant.
She was overjoyed with excitement. She wanted to carry it around all day and to show everyone what she had accomplished. Since then, we have hunted turkey, deer, antelope, and waterfowl together. She makes me smile because she keeps me in the loop on what kids are into these days and what they are going through.
While out deer hunting one cold January day, Ka’nya shot a beautiful doe and before sundown, I had the chance to tag a doe as well. Sure enough, that opportunity presented itself and while I was looking through the scope at this doe, I heard Ka’nya in the background, “Do you see her?She has her head down feeding and is broadside.” “This is a great time to take a shot.”
I had to let the tears that were in my eyes fall before I pulled the trigger. It was in the moment that I realized mentoring is a full circle. Ka’nya was mentoring me. Youth do not want perfection. They want honesty.
They want your honest feedback on if they are being a safe hunter. They want your honest opinion on how they should navigate life. When you can demonstrate the power in being honest, you can change a life of a young hunter.
When you go to mentor a new hunter this season, I hope you keep these mentorship moments in mind. Be that listening ear. Make sure you take the time to listen before you respond. Practice resiliency in connecting and showing up for that new hunter. Lastly, don’t try to be perfect, be honest. We all have the ability to make a generational impact outdoors through mentorship.