The following appears in the October issue of California Sportsman:
By Tim E. Hovey
Many of my hunting friends are around my age and have been hunting for quite some time. Since we all have kids, it seemed only natural that when they got old enough, we’d begin to teach them how to hunt.
Over the last decade, our kids have not only grown up together but have also become regular participants on our hunting trips. We were able to train them safely, gauge their interest and then move on from there.
While it seems obvious to train your kids in activities that you may also enjoy, this action is far more delicate when it comes to outdoor activities like hunting. Unlike regular sports, where children can be exposed to the activity through school or friends, safely entering into the hunting guild requires guidance by experienced individuals. Recruiting new hunters into the activity usually requires experienced hunters willing to share their time and knowledge of hunting.
I believe there is nothing more important for the future of hunting than recruiting new hunters into the fold. For my friends, and me it was easy to bring our kids along and teach them the specifics. However, if you’re a hunter, I believe it’s even more important to offer up your time and experience to those who have an interest in getting started, even if they’re not related to you.
START THEM OUT WITH DOVE HUNTING
Despite their blistering speed and their almost supernatural avoidance maneuvers, I think dove hunting is an excellent way to introduce new hunters to the sport. If you set up in the right area, shot opportunities will be abundant. And there aren’t too many forms of hunting that incorporate a chair.
Some of the early hunting trips with my daughters were opening-day dove hunts. Not only were birds abundant during the early flights, but the carefully arranged set-up allowed me to make sure my new hunters were safe and would only take shots I allowed. It gave them frequent examples of safe shots to take, as well as situations where shots should be held for safety.
Setting out decoys in specific formations can bring birds in closer, slowing them down quite a bit for new hunters. I’ve used this technique dozens of times to help put birds in the bag of beginners.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to help several new hunters get started. Thinking back now, it really didn’t take much effort on my part to bring them along. Sometimes all it takes is to have a casual conversation about hunting.
I met my friend John Mattila over a decade ago. His daughter Carly was in the same grade as my daughter Alyssa and they’ve known each other since second grade. Consequently, we’d bump into each other at school functions and for several years we’d take the kids out during Halloween together. It was during one of these neighborhood hikes to collect candy when John found out I hunted.
John had mentioned that he had hunted when he was younger, but had fallen out of the activity because he didn’t have anyone to go with. I felt like I had to change that. I told John what I tell everyone who expresses an interest in hunting: take the safety course and get a hunting license. This takes effort, of course, and I feel if you’re truly interested in getting started, moving through this process will prove it.
With his new California license in hand, I took John out on the dove opener several years ago and he had a great time. Soon he was mentioning that his son and daughter had started showing an interest in hunting, and before I knew it Carly and John’s son Tanner were also regular fixtures during the early-morning dove hunts.
I had turned a casual conversation about hunting years earlier into three new hunters.
Matt Harrison and his family were new to the area and attended the local gym where my wife coaches. During our annual gym Christmas party, Matt began to study the hunting photos I have in the hallway. If you’ve never been to my house, you’ll know that I hunt within seconds of entering.
Matt and I started talking and he mentioned that he was interested in hunting but had no idea where to start. I told him what was required to get his license and asked him to get hold of me when he had it. A month later he texted me that he had his safety card and would wait until the new hunting year started before purchasing his license.
For the next six months, Matt and I stayed in contact. I even steered him through the tangled California rules of purchasing his first shotgun. With the sun peaking over the horizon on 2017’s opening day of dove season. both Matt and John were sitting at the edge of a field anxiously waiting for birds to fly.
Matt finished the day with only two birds, but he couldn’t stop talking about how much fun he had. He commented on the doves’ speed and the difficulty in hitting them. That didn’t dampen his enthusiasm one bit.
Before we got home, Matt was asking when we could go out again. He doesn’t get out as much as he’d like, but when I think of him, I think of how a chance conversation at a Christmas party produced a brand new hunter.
Dylan Dozal has the distinction of being my daughter Alyssa’s first serious boyfriend. Our first meeting took place in my living room, where I was getting ready for a hunting trip. Surrounded by gear, which included a few firearms, I welcomed Dylan to our home.
Over the following months, it became clear to me that Dylan was a respectable young man who treated my daughter like a queen. Hardworking, polite and willing to just sit and talk to me about work and life, Dylan has become a welcomed part of our family.
Last year, Dylan showed some interest in hunting. He came along as an observer during our opening-day dove hunt. Over the course of the morning flight, I could tell he was hooked. On the drive home, he searched the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website on his phone for a schedule of hunter’s safety classes.
Dylan came with us for the 2018 dove opener, brand new hunting license in one hand and a shotgun of mine in the other. We made the pilgrimage to our favorite spot with John, Tanner and Carly. We arrived at the area with sunrise still an hour away. We got everything set up and anxiously waited for the birds to fly.
This year the birds were scattered and the numbers low. Shots were infrequent and at times long. When all was said and done, Dylan had killed his first bird and so had Carly.
As we always do, we gathered everyone up for our traditional hunting photo, our birds proudly placed out front. I took several photos in different combinations, but what I really wanted was one of all the new hunters. We placed the kids in a line and took a few photos. After that, we cleaned up our area, leaving only footprints, and headed to IHOP for breakfast.
When I got home, I downloaded the photos to my computer. When I came to the one of the new hunters, the first thing I noticed was that the smiles told of a good time. I then realized that with chance meetings and a little encouragement, three new hunters had been shown the path.
I had always known that I was going to train my daughters to hunt, but seeing Dylan, Tanner and Carly there smiling with the look of success made me smile. The next generation, I thought.
If you hunt regularly and feel comfortable passing on what you know, please share your knowledge with anyone, young or old, who may be interested. Thinking back on the last several years of dove hunting, I’m grateful that I was able to take so many new hunters out. I’m even more pleased that many of those have been young hunters wanting to experience the outside world.
Training the next generation to enjoy the outdoors is truly the only way our heritage will live on. We need to show interested youth there is life beyond the sidewalk and explain to them why the outside world is such a powerful influence in our lives. I have noticed that if the interest is there, a little advice on direction and some encouragement go a long way in getting individuals started. It’s time to train the next generations. CS