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Make It Memorable: 4 Pre-Hunt Tips for Both Mentors and Mentees

Considerations for both parties planning their first bird hunts for the upcoming fall.

Make It Memorable: 4 Pre-Hunt Tips for Both Mentors and Mentees

First bird hunts can leave lifelong impressions; here are some helpful tips to make it memorable for everyone involved. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

These are indeed the good old days of bird hunting, my friends. While many of us are fortunate to have been brought up in families that hunted, the reality is that new hunters are emerging from all walks of life with new and different motivations. Hunter recruitment no longer simply means 4H Club shoots and youth seasons to bring new hunters into the fold. Whether you will find yourself on the giving or receiving end of a mentored hunt this fall, here are some thoughtful tips that will help to make that first bird hunt an unforgettable time.


4 Tips for Mentors

Safety First

I’ll skip stating the obvious about safe gun handling because by the time someone reaches their first bird hunt, they will have completed a hunter education course and they should be familiar with handling a firearm. But before setting out on the first hunt with your mentee, it is worth taking a minute for a tailgate safety talk, as we all have different comfort levels and expectations for safety. This briefing should discuss how and when to take safe shots over dogs and around hunters, address any potential terrain dangers, how to communicate in the field, and otherwise outline what your mentee should expect on their first hunt. And if something comes up after the start, don’t be afraid to take a timeout and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. 

two snipe hunters in marsh talking holding shotguns
Make the time to chat about how to remain safe during the hunt, and take a break to speak about anything that might come up along the way. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Keep It Fun

We can say what we want about all of the ancillary aspects of bird hunting, but there will always be a goal of shooting birds to bring home. But on an individual’s first hunt, it should be expressed that while being a goal, birds in the bag at the end of the day are not a true measure of a successful hunt. There are a multitude of reasons why we ourselves took to the uplands and those individual motivations are what compel us to keep coming back.

It always pains me to hop on social media and see the grip-n’-grin glorification of full limits, banner days, perfect points, and everything else that paints a false picture to a newcomer as to what “success” looks like. I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t start out with a limit in mind. I never expect it now and rarely is what I get. We’re doing ourselves and our upland understudies a disservice by fabricating standout success on every outing. It’s ok to just have fun and come home with none. With these first hunts, we can turn the tide on what it means to be successful in the field. 

Set An Example

First impressions matter, especially in this situation. How you conduct yourself toward your dog, the land, the birds, your mentee, and other hunters, can leave a lasting effect, good or bad. This isn’t meant to be a moral maundering or ethical exposition, but heading out with an upbeat attitude and a good etiquette can be one of your greatest contributions to your mentee. 

But don’t stop there. Show what comes with hard-earned dedication, be a standup steward of our sport, and be a positive influence to our bird hunting community—and beyond.

Pay It Forward

I am eternally grateful for my hands-on mentors and those virtual advisors who have helped me along the way. I picked up plenty of advice and had some serious help, but I don’t recall ever taking a single handout. Because I leaned on others to build me up, I am inspired to pass on the knowledge, responsibility, and enthusiasm to others to now share in the synergy. So don’t sweat the details or lose sight of the impact that your simple act of kindness can have on your mentee. 

We’ll never know how important and lifechanging that first bird hunt could mean to an up-and-coming uplander. It might be that initial encounter that sets them on a lifelong path of passion for upland birds and gun dogs. And we need bird hunters on the landscape to contribute to upland habitat and species conservation to protect the perpetuity of our sport. 

4 Tips for Mentees

Be Prepared

It may sound obvious but having the proper gear for your first upland adventure will ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable experience. A good mentor will help you with this, but you’ll want to know about the rules and regulations as well as what type of footwear, clothing, and hunting gear to bring to the field. What does the terrain look like? What’s the weather forecast? What about your shotgun and shotshell selection?

Another important part of being prepared is with shooting. If you’re not familiar—or comfortable—with handling, loading, and shooting a shotgun, now is the time to get out to the range. Learn how to carry, mount, swing, and shoot to build some confidence. Aside from the basics of safe firearm operation, it’s worth shooting a few clays to hone your skills before moving on to live targets. And while a good hunt is not based upon your hit rate, shooting a few rounds in the offseason will improve your fun factor when it comes time to pull the trigger on the real deal.

And lastly, we all have different emotions when it comes to taking the life of an animal, especially for the very first time. There is no right or wrong way to feel about this, and it’s important that you are able to process it and express yourself however you need to. I teared up with my bird hunting mentor after killing my first ruffed grouse. I had taken many other birds before this, but that ruffie represented several years of hard work and was a major milestone for both of us.

two snipe hunters in marsh talking holding shotguns
Everyone processes the killing of their first bird in a different way. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Ask Away

Your first bird hunt is all about you. This is a time to ask any and all questions you have about what you’re seeing and experiencing. What type of cover are we looking for? What do these birds eat? Why did the dog do this or that? There are no dumb questions here and your mentor will no doubt appreciate your childlike curiosity. 

You have an open invitation of inquisition to ask about everything from gear and guns to habitat and hunting tactics. Most of us experienced hunters have put in a ton of time to figure out the answers, and shouldn’t ever claim to know them all, but a few words of wisdom to a first-time hunter can go a long way in empowering them to embark upon their own journey. With my mentor, there was no single tip that he left me with, but rather, an inspirational takeaway of a tenacious drive to explore, study, and admire everything about upland hunting.

Don’t Be Afraid

This is a judgement-free zone. You don’t have to concern yourself with perfection. Your first hunt is designed to be a no-pressure, no-expectation arrangement. The main goal is to simply have exposure and an experience in a way to ensure that you have a good time.

Don’t be afraid of asking questions, looking stupid, being nervous, passing on a shot, or maybe even not shooting at all. I was on a rabbit hunt with a good friend and his son who had just completed his hunter safety course. The youngster enthusiastically followed us around, proudly carrying his .410 shotgun in wait as his father and I took turns bagging a few bunnies. With one in the vest for each adult, we turned to the boy for his turn to gun and he lightly replied contently, “I’m ok for now, I’m just happy to be out here watching you guys shoot.” An individual’s first hunt can often be a little overwhelming and killing game doesn’t ever have to be the main objective or a measure of success.

two snipe hunters in marsh talking holding shotguns
The first hunt (or any hunt for that matter) does not have to be solely focused on killing to have a good time. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Enjoy It

Your first hunt is yours to make it however you wish. As mentioned, many times above, there is so much more to the hunt than shooting and killing. Many first timers become instantly enamored by watching bird dogs at work as they point, flush, and retrieve birds. For you, it may even be something else that makes your hunt memorable.

Be sure to stop and take it all in. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the dogs, the fellowship, the beauty of the wild uplands. We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to run our dogs and spend time together in the field to make memories that will last a lifetime. So, whatever any of this means to you, be sure to make it your own.


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