I’m a passionate firearms owner and competitive shooter, but I didn’t grow up hunting. I grew up in Western Canada and spent Sunday afternoons on my uncle’s farms shooting gophers, but because my Dad was not a hunter, I didn’t grow up a hunter. I didn’t spend time in a duck blind or a tree stand and I have no idea how to field-dress an animal after I’ve harvested it.
But I want to learn, and now that I’m older and into my middle-aged years, that is proving to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated.
I participate in a wide variety of shooting sports: I shoot USPSA, IDPA, 3 Gun, precision rifle and sporting clays on a regular basis, and enjoy all of them. While the skill set required for these sports is diverse and covers a number of different shooting techniques, one thing they all have in common is an easy entry path for new participants.
There are no licensing requirement to shoot practical pistol, and the state isn’t handing out a limited number of sporting clay tags each year. In addition to this, based on my experience, there are always people who are ready and willing to help grow the sport with training programs that introduce people of all shapes and sizes into the sport, and mentors who are eager to impart their knowledge to others. If you show up at your local shooting range for a practical pistol match and let them know you’re new to the sport, chances are you’ll have a more-experienced shooter assigned to you to help ease your way into the sport and help keep you safe.
This is true for some elements of hunting, as there are many youth organizations dedicated to helping young people get involved in hunting such as the National Youth Hunting Association and the NRA Hunting Programs. There are also groups that help women learn to enjoy the great outdoors such as Becoming an Outdoors Women and others, but there is nothing out there for middle- aged men who want to learn how to hunt.
As far as I can tell, as an adult male, my options are to ask around and see how many of my fellow practical shooters are also hunters and see if they’ll let me tag along on a hunt, or pay out hundreds of dollars for a guided hunt. The first option is great, as long as I have friends who actually hunt when they say they’re going hunting, but too often “going hunting” means going into the woods to camp and drink beer. I like camping and I like drinking beer, but I already know how to do those activities, I don’t need someone else to teach me how to do either.
As for guided hunts, I’m not looking for someone to find my prey for me and let me shoot it, what I need is someone who can teach me the basics of finding prey, and let me go from there. I wouldn’t hire a chauffeur to teach me to drive, I’d hire a driving instructor. I’m not a tenderfoot: My family enjoys camping and we head outdoors as often as we can.
Maybe it’s because that, by its very nature, hunting is a solitary sport. It’s also a sport that limits the total number of participants through tags and seasons, which is probably why the only hunters I’ve found to be open and welcoming to new people participating in their sport are predator hunters and feral hog hunters. Predator calling groups (at least the ones in Arizona) regularly have hunts designed to introduce new shooters into the sport. Hog hunters are another group that welcomes new hunters with open arms, and I’ve also had good luck teaming up with dove hunters to clean out pests from local dairies.
Hunting has a storied tradition in American culture, but if it wants to continue, it needs to reach out beyond its rural roots and engage people who live in the cities, but long for the country.
Hunters are justifiably proud of how they’ve passed on their legacy from father to son, but to grow, more fathers are needed to pass on the tradition to their children. I want my sons to learn to hunt, but first, I need to learn it myself, and I wish there was more organizations out there to help guide men into becoming the hunters we’ve always wanted to be.