Q&A: Mentoring new hunters for the future

Bobby Armstrong is a volunteer Save the Hunt Coordinator in Oklahoma. Last fall, he participated in the NWTF Facebook Live “Mentor Mondays” series on the importance of mentoring. Here, Armstrong gives advice for chapters/volunteers looking to engage more mentors for their events

TC: How long have you been a member of the NWTF?

BA: If my memory serves me right, I attended my first banquet in 1998 with the Foothills Chapter in Searcy, Arkansas.

TC: When did you become a volunteer Save the Hunt Coordinator?

BA: 2016

TC: You said your father was a new hunter while you were growing up so your older brother, grandpa, and uncle took turns "babysitting" you in the deer stand. How important would you say it is to get youth involved in the hunting process, even at a young age?

BA: This is a difficult question to answer. I believe it is of utmost importance to teach our youth the hunting heritage and way of life. Unfortunately, in my experience, if the parents weren’t of the outdoor/hunting mindset, the child didn’t pursue the lifestyle for lack of parental support.

If an individual has the opportunity to take a youth in their life under their wing and mentor them through several years, I believe there is a great reward in it. I took my triplet boys with me when they were five. They tagged along while I hunted and learned. Kids learn by watching. Now that my boys are grown and I await grandkids old enough to cart along, I tend to focus my time on older teens and young adults. This youth range is more likely to have transportation, means to acquire equipment and be more confident in pursuing the sport on their own if they were to lose their mentor.

TC: One of the biggest challenges you noted in the Facebook Live session was recruiting mentors. What are the reasons people give for being reluctant to volunteer to mentor a new hunter? How do you overcome those challenges?

BA: There are several.  

  1.  Some feel they are not experienced enough to take someone.  
  2. Some feel like they do not have a place to take someone new because they would not be guaranteed a harvest.  
  3. Some do not see the need for new hunters. They think there are too many.  

So how do I overcome them?

A. I try to explain that all hunters, even new hunters, have more experience hunting than a person who has never been and can give someone with less experience pointers on lessons they already learned.

B. I point out that as a hunter, most of us are not successful with a harvest every time we go afield.  A successful hunt is not about harvesting an animal. Most hunters do not measure success on the harvest, but rather the experience. We forget that when it comes to taking someone new. 

If a harvest is a must, then take the new hunter on a small game hunt where the likelihood of harvesting game is better than on a deer or turkey hunt.

C. Every chance I get, I try to inform sportsmen about the decline in hunters and what that will do to conservation if it continues. 

TC: You mentioned the five stages of hunters/hunting in our Facebook Live session. Can you explain what those are and how hunters move from one stage to the next throughout their hunting lifetime?

BA: The first stage is where most hunters, including myself, start out; it is called the shooting stage. In this stage, I wanted to shoot and shoot a lot. I guess I wanted to build my confidence up as a marksman. Luckily, this stage is usually short lived.

Then, I, like most hunters, moved on to the limiting out stage. I still liked to shoot, but now my goal was to reach the bag limit of whatever I was hunting. Growing up in Arkansas, the bag limit for squirrels was 8, so that was my goal. I did not want to quit hunting until I reached that limit. 

After several years of hunting, I moved to the trophy stage. I am still somewhat in this stage when it comes to deer hunting. I will not harvest a buck that I will not get mounted. Otherwise, I only harvest antlerless deer for food if I am unsuccessful at harvesting a buck.

The stage most hunters will find themselves in next is the method stage. In this stage, it’s all about the method used to hunt. A lot of hunters who enter this stage will switch from using a firearm to hunt with and start using archery equipment. I started using a pistol instead of using a long gun when it comes to deer hunting. With the hype of using a .410 with TSS now days, I have hung up the ol’ 10 gauge and carry the much, much lighter .410 when I am turkey hunting. When a hunter enters the method stage, they are usually looking for more of a challenge.

And the last stage is the sportsman stage. I can see me partially in this stage as well. I measure the total experience of the hunt as being a successful hunt. I am just as happy sitting around deer or turkey camp sharing stories with like-minded people as I am to see a big, old longbeard at the end of my barrel. It is important that hunters realize the different stages and, more importantly, realizing that other hunters may not be in the same stage as you. And that is OK.

TC: What would you say is the best way other volunteers/chapters can start finding willing mentors in their area?

BA: The best way that I’ve found to do that is to jump off the ledge and have your chapter plan to host a hunt. Regardless of the size or type of game, just do it. Once your chapter decides what type of hunt they want to do, get the word out to other hunters that you could use their help.   

Although, most of us want no recognition for taking someone out, it is important to get the word out. We live in a world driven by media; post pictures and tell the story of your hunt, both on social media and in newspapers. The community will see what the chapter is doing and it becomes contagious. Mentored hunts are the most rewarding thing you can do.

TC: How do you inspire and encourage those with only a few years hunting experience to mentor newer hunters?

BA: I remind them to think back when they first started hunting and ask if they had a mentor. I ask them how much having that mentor advanced their knowledge. If they did not have a mentor, I would ask them how much they would have liked to have one, even if the mentor only had couple of years’ experience.

I let them know that no matter their level of experience, they can offer something to a new hunter. Worst case is you may have a hunting partner and learn from mistakes together as you continue. 

TC: What are some of the past successful mentored events in your area?

BA: My local chapter, the Elk Creek Strutters, has held a couple of Wheelin’ Sportsmen deer hunts. After our first event at the post-event meeting, I asked the committee if this was something they would want to do again, and everyone said yes without hesitation. That first event was one of the most humbling events that I, and most of my fellow volunteers, had experienced. We have hosted a Wheelin’ Sportsmen hunt every year since and plan to keep doing them.

TC: Any final thoughts?

BA: I appreciate everything that the NWTF is doing to recruit hunters. Currently, hunting is a dying sport. But it does not have to be. If you are on a chapter committee and your chapter does not host a Hunting Heritage event, I beg you to do so. Whether it be a WITO, Wheelin’ Sportsmen, JAKES or a mentored hunt event, if all the chapters did one event, this sport would thrive.  

If you are a member but don’t volunteer with a chapter, I encourage you to do so. And if not, find someone to take hunting. Not just a hunt, but invite them on several outings to include scouting and any prep work. You will not find a more rewarding thing to do, and you may change someone’s life by introducing them to what we all love to do. 

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