By Jim Casada
Archibald Rutledge, a sporting scribe for the ages who was one of the most prolific hunting writers of the 20th century, was a thinking man’s hunter. Old Flintlock, as he was fondly known to family and friends, pondered deeply on the wider meanings of hunting, how it shaped character, and what it meant in the making of America. He was especially interested in mentorship, no doubt thanks in part to the fact he was the father of three sons. One of his enduring stories, “Why I Taught My Boys to Be Hunters, ” offers some wonderful thoughts on passing on the grand tradition of hunting.
Noting he wasn’t a wealthy man, Rutledge said he felt that to “do the best” by his sons he would make them hunters, “for I have a conviction that to be a sportsman is a mighty long step in the direction of being a man. ”
In his view, “hunting inculcates patience, demands discipline and iron nerve, and develops a serenity of spirit that makes for long life and long love of life. It is my fixed conviction that if parents can give their children a passionate and wholesome devotion to the outdoors . .. they will always enjoy life in its nobler aspects without money and without price. And because they know and love the natural world they will always feel at home in the wide, sweet habitations of the Ancient Mother. ”
It is difficult to find fault with that wonderfully crafted statement of hunting philosophy, and it makes quite clear that a mentor who gives a youngster the love of hunting has presented a gift to last a lifetime. That’s a legacy to warm the cockles of any heart, especially when you realize that in serving as a sporting mentor you are fostering an enduring, endearing tradition that lies at the heart of the American way of life. We have, from the first settlers, been a nation of hunters. With that in mind, and realizing that few acts in the sporting life offer more magic or have deeper meaning than being a mentor, let’s take a look at some key points connected with filling that noble role.
- Start simply, safely and sensibly. That means making a careful judgment about when a youngster is ready to be introduced to guns. You must realize that age can vary by several years according to the maturity and outlook of your understudy. The time-honored BB gun is a fine way to start, as it works well for instruction in areas such as gun handling, safety and marksmanship. There’s also the fact you don’t have to worry about recoil. At the appropriate point, the student can transition to a. 22 rimfire or. 410 gauge shotgun.
- Keep it fun. Try to remember that it is the youthful student, not you, who is the focus of attention. One part of that fun, which should be in the mix long before actually venturing into the fields or woods to hunt, is what old-timers used to call “plinking. ” Do some target shooting, and in the course of this you can teach even as you share your protégé’s enjoyment that comes from a bull's-eye, a tight group or a satisfactory pattern.
- Small game can equal big enjoyment. In connection with the “start simple” idea noted above, I think it a significant mistake to start out novice hunters on big game. Squirrels, rabbits or perhaps doves make for a much better apprenticeship than deer or turkeys. They promise every likelihood of action, some welcome heft in the game bag, and the ideal first footsteps on the long road to becoming a complete hunter.
- Make sure the beginning hunter is exposed to the totality of the experience. That means instruction in woodsmanship, knowledge of basic survival techniques, taking part in cleaning game which is killed, and joining in the preparation and consumption of that game.
- Consider limiting the beginning hunter to a single cartridge or shot shell at a time. Or maybe start with a single-shot rifle or shotgun. Rest assured if a boy or girl who is squirrel hunting has but a single bullet, targets will be selected with care. My father did this by letting me hunt bushytails on the opposite side of the ridge from him, and I’d have to come back for another shell after each shot. Obviously it reduced the potential for a heavy game bag on both our parts, but when I had to answer for and justify each shot, I learned a great deal about target selection, accuracy and patience.
- Teach by example. Youthful companions may not say a word, but rest assured they observe with the keenest of insight how their “idols” handle guns, approach ethics, and generally conduct themselves while afield.
- Explain the basics of conservation. This can vary widely, embracing areas such as:
- Why bag limits and seasons are needed,
- The logic behind harvesting does or a spring gobblers-only approach to turkey hunting, or why you should never shoot down a bobwhite covey to too few birds,
- Principles of good land stewardship,
- Importance of respect for landowners,
- Need for active involvement in conservation organizations.
There are other attributes, many of them, which define a first-rate mentor. The sensible teacher will draw on his or her experience, keenly aware that teaching a new hunter is a noble and challenging task. Finally, keep in mind Rutledge’s thoughts on what it means to be a hunter and to teach others to become hunters. “This privilege of hunting is about as fine a heritage as we have, and it needs to be passed on unsullied from father to son. Hunting gives a sense of balance, sanity, comprehension of the true values of life, and allies us to the pioneer past. In a deep sense, this great land of ours was won for us by hunters. ”
Those are thoughts to ponder, and rest assured being a mentor means moving through a world filled with wonder.
Why You Should Join Outdoor Roadmap:
How-to articles for hunting, shooting and archery
Comment on articles and join the ORM Community
Latest Gear News
Access to Our Online Outdoor Training Courses
Latest Outdoor News and Events