November 29, 2021
By Josh Honeycutt
Those who’ve enjoyed the outdoors with others understand the value of having a good hunting buddy. These relationships take time to build, but they’re worth it. There’s nothing quite like sharing the outdoors with friends, both new and old. And knowing you have someone who you can count on is everything, especially in a world where it seems as if a lot of people might let you down. Here’s input from six individuals who’ve spent decades introducing others to the outdoors, and their best advice for introducing others to the outdoors and being a better hunting buddy.
Sharing the Outdoors
The power of simultaneously creating a new hunter and a hunting buddy is strong. It breathes new life into our hunting heritage and helps preserve it for generations to come. Plus, it’s just fun to share the outdoors with others. It’s certainly more fun than going afield alone.
“All hunters know there is so much more to the hunt than finding success in a punched tag,” said Pete Muller, Public Relations Manager for NWTF. “The enjoyment of watching the sun rise and hearing the woods wake up, the excitement of a close encounter with a deer or turkey, and the meals shared, all are part of the reasons why hunters enjoy the conservation-hunter lifestyle.”
Of course, sometimes it’s easier than others to find hunting buddies. That said, there are many people at work, church, and other places you interact with people who would love to become hunters, but don’t know how. But once you take them afield, focus on the right things.
“Focusing on the kill as the main point of the hunt is a sure way to have a potential hunter become sour on the idea,” Muller said. “A former co-worker of mine was converted into a hunter simply because he heard the countless stories my hunting buddies and I told of backcountry hikes, early mornings hunting geese, even just talking about our trips to the archery and gun ranges. But another avenue is through food. I have enticed people to join me for a hunt simply by feeding them meals prepared with wild game I harvested.”
Furthermore, reassure non-hunters they have what it takes. We all start somewhere. They must do the same. And we’ll help get them there.
“I have heard far too often that the jump to becoming a hunter is too great of a leap for a non-hunter simply because they don't feel welcomed,” Muller said. “You see it all the time on social media — new hunters are chastised for asking novice questions, and the idea of asking for advice on where to hunt is laughed at on many occasions. We as hunters must be welcoming to those wanting to join our lifestyle, regardless of what they look like, or if their reasons to hunt are different than our own. Be ready to answer questions and take those new hunters into the field more than one time. Create a hunter [who] is confident enough to go out on their own and knowledgeable enough to take someone new themselves.”
Serve as a Mentor
Those who’ve had someone introduce them to hunting understand the importance in sharing the outdoors with others. But that takes time. Those who are willing to offer their time and serve as a mentor are giving one of the greatest gifts.
“As busy as we are these days, it’s easy to overlook the importance of the small things in life, including the people around us,” Colby R. Kerber of Pheasants Forever said. “But over time, you grow to appreciate the people who educate and inspire. Many outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the solitude offered by hunting and guard their limited time and secret beloved wild places, but there is an incredible fulfillment to have someone to share in the successes and endure the mistakes along the way. A good hunting partner knows when to entice you to get outdoors, how to challenge you to try new places, but also helps keep you grounded in a balanced family and social life. To be able to share the beauty of the great outdoors with a likeminded hunter-conservationist, is a bond like no other.”
Those struggling to find a hunting buddy can likely find one at local events, such as Pheasants Forever, National Deer Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, and Whitetails Unlimited meetings. Then, just ask them to join you.
“It’s as easy as inviting them to hike with you,” Kerber said. “Once you find that interested individual, it’s extremely important to learn what they are passionate about and discuss each other’s expectations. Is it healthy food, exercise, experiencing wildlife, the bird dog? Whatever the driving factors, try to make a point to incorporate their passion into the journey as much as possible. Having fun is the No. 1 priority, so allow them to bring their mobile devices, take lots of pictures, make sure they are comfortable and create memories that will last a lifetime.”
Another important reason to have a hunting buddy is for safety reasons. This holds true for the mentor and mentee. Hunters sometimes find themselves at odds with nature. Having someone there to help is beneficial.
Also, for those struggling to find a hunting buddy, start spending time where other hunters go. Local hunting events, stores, and even social media are good places to try. If you’re the mentor, and find a mentee, retaining these new hunters and helping them build confidence is important, too.
“Inviting new people is a big part of what it means to be a hunter,” said Powderhook's Eric Dinger. “As far as I'm concerned, the best stories are the ones where an experienced hunter gets to experience a hunt through the eyes of someone new. But, for most people it's not enough just to invite them once. Until someone is able to go hunting on their own — with the gear and access they need — your job isn't done.”
More Rewarding Success
One of the biggest things to remember is that you’re helping others. But it’s crucial to remember just how rewarding this is for yourself, too.
“Having a hunting buddy is awesome for so many reasons,” said Kayla Nevius, a pro staffer and social media influencer. “Between strategizing and collaborating to sharing the excitement of successful hunts. I enjoy having a hunting buddy to push me to hunt harder when times are tough, and I feel like giving up. I've learned that even if you and your hunting buddy don't agree on things, it is beneficial to share your ideas and opinions anyway. There is always something to learn and sometimes it takes two people putting their ideas together for everything to fall into place. It is also so awesome to be able to share the moment when it all comes together with someone else.”
Enjoy the Camaraderie
The big focus is camaraderie. Those who have someone to enjoy it with stick with hunting longer than those who don’t. It’s also good to keep learning, and learning from one another is a positive experience.
“We are very fortunate to have accessibility to so many like-minded outdoor enthusiasts,” said Rachelle Hedrick, an outfitter, pro staffer and social media influencer. “Social media plays a huge part in connecting hunters. For instance, it gives a first timer the perfect opportunity to not only follow and learn from more experienced hunters and anglers but also the chance to reach out and ask questions, make friendships, and plan hunts together.”
Naturally, before going afield, all new hunters should take necessary courses, and even work hard to learn proper etiquette. They should also have the right expectations.
“(Safety) is always at the top of my list,” Hedrick said. “Everyone should complete their Hunters Safety Course before purchasing a hunting license. Treestand safety is important information to share with beginners. Shot placement should be practiced. Remind them that they aren't going killing. They're going hunting. Don’t get discouraged if they do not harvest an animal right away. That's the perfect time to teach them about patience and appreciation for nature.
Friends for Life
Just exposing novices to what we love can result in a hunting buddy for life. But when you help another person find their passion, they in turn pass that on to someone else.
“Keep the experience simple and fun,” said Hunt Club co-host Michael Pitts. “Don't expose them to the elements of trophy hunting. That is overwhelming. Let beginners harvest smaller animals that are legal as an introduction to the sport.”
Another thing to do is take them to the range. This helps them get comfortable with equipment. Of course, give them pointers along the way, and tactfully correct any wrongs. The more knowledge they have and confidence they build, the better.
“I think introduction and retention should follow the same process of keeping it fun and simple,” Pitts said. “Let the hunter progress at his or her own pace. Some might take longer than others. Be patient; allow the hunter to feel comfortable with the information being processed. After a comfort level is reached, be supportive of the hunter if he or she wants to expand his or her knowledge. Be an endless source of information.”