Thanksgiving is a holiday that is celebrated in many ways in the United States. Some people gather to watch football games, while others make foods using family recipes that have been passed down for multiple generations. With hunting seasons in full swing, hunting with family and/or friends is a popular Thanksgiving activity.
Since firearm season for deer just started, many hunters spend time on Thanksgiving in the woods. Others watch the sunrise from their duck blind or wait and get their dogs out to chase pheasants. Regardless of what they are pursuing, they are keeping a tradition going that has been declining nationwide.
If there is any type of silver lining to be seen from the pandemic this year, it could be hunter recruitment. The NYSDEC allowed for potential hunters to take their Hunter Education course online due to in-person restrictions. From mid-April through mid-June (according to a NYSDEC press release), over 24,000 people received their Hunter Education certificate from the online course. This was about 20% higher than the number of in-person participants traditionally that take the course in the same time frame. The only potential issue with this information is that on average, only 60% of people who complete Hunter Education go on to buy a hunting license.
As I have noted in the past, recruitment is important in finding new hunters to try to make up for the nationwide decline. Someone taking their Hunter Education course, buying a license, and everything leading up to them going on their first hunt are all aspects of recruitment. Once their first hunt is over, retention becomes important. What is going to keep them from giving up on hunting?
New hunters who do not know anyone else who hunts can easily decide that hunting is not for them after an unsuccessful hunt. All it might take to convince them otherwise, is to hear from an experienced hunter. Having someone who has been there and can offer help to become successful.
So, the new question is how do you get new hunters and experienced hunters that do not know each other, to meet one another? This is the billion-dollar question in the hunting world. How do you find non-traditional hunters? The traditional way someone gets into hunting is through family, such as a parent or grandparent.
I am an example of a non-traditional hunter who had mentors that kept me interested in hunting. My grandfather stopped hunting when I was young, and my dad stopped hunting when my sister and I were born. He planned to pick it back up when I got older, however he lost his battle with cancer when I was 13. I had already signed up for a Hunter Education course along with a couple of friends when he passed away. My mom made me go to the course because she knew my dad would want me to. After taking the course, I was extremely lucky to have a series of mentors that started with my cousin’s boyfriend and ended with one of my soccer coaches (who I still hunt with). Without them and their words of wisdom, I do not know if I would be avid hunter that I am now.
So back to the question of finding someone to talk hunting with, a simple start is to ask people. Ask friends that do not hunt if they would be interested in going with you or if they know anyone who might be interested. They do not need to be a hunter at first, they can just accompany you as an observer. Make sure they do not assist you, which would mean they are “hunting” (under the Environmental Conservation Law) without a hunting license.
Remember that they are inexperienced so be prepared to take it easier than normal and try to explain what you are doing. Instead of an all-day sit in a treestand, consider a shorter afternoon hunt. Better yet, take them on a waterfowl or small game hunt, where there generally is more action. No kid likes to be told they must sit still and be quiet for hours on end, so bringing them deer hunting can taint their view on all hunting quickly.
Finding someone to mentor into the world of hunting can seem like a tall task, but you just might find yourself making new traditions with them.