how to shoot a rifle and a shotgun. He taught me how to clean rabbits, squirrels and quail. He taught me about the things in nature that sting, bite, stick, poke, poison and chase. He taught me things like you don’t eat persimmons until after the first good frost and that gooseberries are good for making pies if you use enough sugar.
He always made sure that I had plenty of .22 shells and a subscription to my favorite magazine, Fur-Fish-Game, both being a high priority in a young man’s life. Even though money was tight, I was always able to earn a little by doing chores around the house so I could save up to buy that year’s issue of the Hawbaker’s Trapping Supply Catalog or the newest issue of the Herter’s or Cabela’s sporting goods catalogs.
I often wonder what would have happened if my father had not taken the time to be an outdoor mentor to me. I suspect that my passion for the outdoors and everything in it would not exist. I would have been forced to seek other interests, and these would likely have been more of a diversion than an education.
It saddens me to think that I might have missed those experiences and my current opportunity to share my love of the outdoors and nature through the hunting, trapping and shooting programs we offer at the Andy Dalton Range. I have learned that I, too, have the ability to teach and mentor people in much the same way as my father mentored me.
As outdoorsmen and women, and especially as Hunter Education instructors, we have a duty to mentor someone in the same outdoor classroom as my father once did. Hunter Education does not have to end with a temporary certification card and a Safe Hunter patch. Sadly, this is an opportunity that we often miss. I know that I’ve used the excuse that I am too busy or too tired, but then I think of my father. What if he had always been too busy or too tired to spend his time mentoring me?
It is never too late to begin mentoring someone in the outdoors and, contrary to what we might think, it doesn’t have to be an extravagant exercise. It may be something as simple as taking some of the neighborhood families or children on a walk and teaching them the difference between a calm, happy, peaceful birdcall, compared to an alarm or distress call. Or perhaps showing them what rabbit tracks look like in the snow or pointing out a squirrel running along, balancing on a power line and nearly falling with each step. These are things found in our modern outdoor classrooms.
After investing time as a mentor and guide to those new to the outdoors, it is a natural step to begin educating them about hunting and shooting in a safe, responsible, ethical manner. You can teach them about the role hunters and trappers currently fill and how this all ties back to their ancestors. You could also invite your new outdoor students to join you in an activity like sharing a meal of wild game or bringing them along on your next visit to the shooting range.
All of these ideas create prime mentoring opportunities where you can introduce someone to hunter education and reinforce what we teach—the appreciation of the outdoors. I know everyone who reads this will have life experiences, just like I do. Consider how important those experiences were to creating the person you are today. Take the time to become an outdoor mentor and introduce as many children and their families to our way of life as possible. I know that together we can make a difference in many lives. Our future, along with the future of conservation, depends on it.