Several R3 (recruitment, retention, reactivation) coordinators and volunteers gathered at the 42nd annual NWTF Convention and Sport Show to talk about mentorship and its ever important role in preserving our hunting heritage. With recent declines in hunting and shooting sports participation, there’s never been a more important time for people to step up to the plate to become hunting mentors to youth, friends, family, colleagues and more.
“Hunting today is about traditions and heritage,” said Travis Sumner, NWTF hunting heritage and habitat specialist. “We want to make sure it’s carried on.”
About 5 percent of the U.S. population hunts. About another 5 percent is opposed to the sport. For the NWTF and other R3 proponents, it’s the other 90 percent of the population who we can invite to participate in hunting and possibly convert to become an advocate. Our recent R3 efforts have focused on a few different segments: youth, women, families, students and millennials. People who do not come from a hunting family need a hunting mentor to get introduced to the sport and remain engaged in it for years to come.
When you think about who took you hunting for your first time, who comes to mind? For most people, it was their father, but others were mentored by another family member or a friend. Think back to the lessons that mentor instilled during your first hunts: hunter’s safety; how to listen for game; signs and signals to look for in the wild; how to safely load and unload the gun; what ammunition and firearm is best for the specific game you were hunting; and respecting the harvest. These are all teaching moments mentors must pass along to a new generation of hunters — but not just to their immediate family. We as hunters must invite new people to share in our experiences.
Two of the most important lessons for mentors to learn is to ensure the hunter has fun on his or her first hunt and to keep in contact once it’s over. As we all know, a hunt isn’t only about the harvest. It’s about enjoying nature, enjoying each other’s company or some solitary, quiet time. It’s about getting back to the land and basic traditions. These are the values we need to share, whether or not the mentee gets their first harvest. Finally, mentors must keep in contact with their hunter. Call, text or check in periodically to see if they want to go hunting again or if they have any questions. Invite them to go scouting. Continue sharing those teachable moments. We’ll only be able to preserve our hunting heritage and traditions if we pass them on to as many people who will listen.