A big part of my job is to encourage people to take part in outdoor recreational activities, especially when hunting. Regardless of whether I am hunting for the first time, continuing to enjoy my time abroad or want to immerse myself in a forgotten hobby, my job pays off in many ways. Something the hell I enjoy is watching someone hunt for the first time. Looking at a beginner, it becomes clear that the muscle memory that a hunting veteran flaunts is not yet earned. However, the enthusiasm for the hunt and the exhilaration when it all comes together is rarely seen in people of many years. The beginnings of a new business offer both the best rewards and the toughest hurdles. The means to an end are the same across the board, but navigating the rough waters of inexperience can be made a little easier with a few tips I noted while delving into the unknown world of highland hunting.
First, cover the beginner phase. Leave the ego in the truck. After all, nobody wants to pass on their hard-earned knowledge to someone who already knows what they’re doing. Everyone was a beginner at some point. Everyone has asked these classic “beginner” questions and felt just as lost and intimidated as someone who was just starting out. Understand that nobody expects you to know everything. Accepting this gives you the confidence to ask questions, make mistakes, and grow; All of this is made more difficult when the ego gets in the way.
Second, understand that it is okay to make mistakes. There is a lot to learn to become a skilled hunter. Which weapon is the best? Which shot size? What should you wear What does the quarry look like anyway? Even highly skilled hunters still make mistakes. Shortly after I moved to North Dakota, my father took the long hike from Indiana to visit me and hunt highland birds together. We were hunting pheasants when a group of pointed-tailed chicken lined up in front of him. I laughed as I watched him from across the field; stood there and admired them as they flew over the hill, not realizing they were grouse until he heard them chuckle out of range. I heard him laugh as he yelled, “I thought these were chicken pheasants!” I’ve never hunted with a better waterfowl hunter than my father. He’s hunted all his life and taught me everything I know. But the pointed-tailed chicken was new prey for him. If he mistook them for chicken pheasants, he wasn’t embarrassed or angry or sad. We laughed together and Dad was able to add a new lesson to his collection of hunting knowledge.
Third, find the right mentor. This can really make or break the right entry into a new hobby; especially hunting. There will be mentors who are perfect for some beginners but terrible for others. It’s important to understand that the approach to self-confidence and enthusiasm is unique to each individual. Most importantly, a mentor should have a comfortable environment in which to study, ask questions, and make mistakes. For some, this can be a reassurance when birds are overlooked or mistakes are made; for others it can mean making fun of each other or laughing together. Regardless, when you leave a supervised hunt, it’s time to find a new mentor. A mentor should also provide ample opportunities for success. Greed has no place as a mentor when it comes to hunting grounds. A good mentor should understand the importance of opportunities and the impact that regular success has on a new hunter’s desire to continue the sport.
Fourth, you say yes. Try everything you can. There are so many different hunting strategies, so many different quarries to discover, and so many different habitats and landscapes to explore. Each excursion is an opportunity to learn more about hunting and develop a deeper appreciation for nature. Most of the time there are people who have mastered every type of hunt and who would like to take the beginners to their first hunt. I think the people who do the most good things in the hunting community are the ones who value the time they spend helping a new hunter get started more than a tailgate full of birds.
Fifth, don’t give up. No matter what steps you take to get into the world of hunting, perseverance is the only factor that guarantees your success. The only way to learn your prey is to keep chasing it. You can’t learn where to go on rainy days, sunny days, cold days, morning or evening without going out in each of these conditions. The only way to find new hunting spots is to explore new and unfamiliar areas. Be consistent in your efforts, but diverse in your methods. Try hills one day and creek bottoms the next. Try different brands of cartridges and different shot sizes until you find the one that you shoot best. Regardless of how often you rearrange things, the most important thing is to get out and give yourself a fair chance to learn the sport.
Sixth, stay connected. Get involved in your local community and find a support system to help keep your hunting commitment going. There are plenty of resources to get you started. For example, conservation organizations like Pheasants Forever have local sections in most states. Chapter members work together on conservation projects while creating hunting opportunities among themselves and their community. Joining a local chapter is a fantastic way to prepare for future success. Be it by connecting with the chapter members yourself or by receiving recommendations on where and with whom to hunt. It is incredibly valuable to just sit with the experts and gather information from their conversations.
While every path you take to venture into the world of the hunt will eventually get you where you want to be, there are certainly strategies you can keep in mind that will make getting there a little smoother. Being persistent and humble, and surrounding yourself with the support you need to be successful will ensure that your introduction to the sport is effective enough to get you going for more.
Hanna Hayes is a writer for Dakota Edge Outdoors and the education and public relations coordinator for North Dakota Pheasants Forever.
Featured Photo: Take your best photo. Finding a good mentor is just one way for new hunters to successfully turn the hunt into a lifelong activity. DEO photo by NDPF.