Getting More than the Harvest: Introducing First-timers to the Sport
This waterfowl season, I introduced a couple of new hunters to the sport: my roommate, Evan—who would see me come home with piles of birds and fresh breasts in the freezer and wanted in on the action— and my girlfriend, Hannah—who had voiced interest in learning to hunt, but I suspect really just wanted to be with me the three days a week I was gone for four months out of the year.
Regardless of their ulterior motives, I dressed them up in camo and headed for the blind.
I’ve been taking notes on my hunting experience for years, my phone acting as a compact archive of tips and lessons learned. Flipping through the memories, I was now trying to apply everything I usually did to ensure I had a good season and applying it to ensuring that my new recruits would have enough fun to want to come back.
Tackling the First Time Jitters
On Evan and I’s first outing, we headed out by kayak for a jump shoot experience. No more than 100-yards from the boat launch, I caught glimpse of two-dozen Bufflehead lounging in the middle of the pond.
I told Evan to go wide on the group and went to push them in his direction. The chubby birds fly to him, as shots flew from the very enthusiastic new shooter leaving every bird unphased. After a chuckle, we regrouped and set out on another group of feeding birds in the opposite direction glad to have the first-time jitters out of the way.
Putting your Mentee in a Position for Success
Evan’s second go turned out to be an unforgettable experience. Almost like a covey of quail, the buffies flushed Evan’s way. With a sure shot, a gorgeous mature drake bufflehead fell from the air. He went on to harvest one more drake and a hen scaup. Evan’s face was an irreplaceable picture of excitement.
Believe in that First-Time Hunting Magic
Now, with Hannah, our first outing was in mid-November with her wading through the marsh in borrowed waders two sizes too big. Anyone who has walked through a march can imagine how improper boot sizing coupled with the sucking mud could make a nun swear—but this girl endured with hardly any complaint.
I let Hannah take some shots, but the bb’s just weren’t connecting with feathers. The birds were plentiful, and any Central Valley hunter knows that if you are experiencing that kind of flight on a mid-November day some magic must be afoot. While I was focused on a group of three green-winged teal bouncing in and out of the fog, two more appeared from the east flying just too far from shooting distance. The two flyers drew Hannah’s attention, and I turned back to the faintest tiny silhouette veering off to the side.
Give Them the Shot Worth Remembering
Trying not to scare the bird, I gently tried to get Hannah’s attention away from the flyers. In desperation, I ended up turning her entire torso by the shoulders to look at the green-winged teal drake that just popped out of the fog. Like a seasoned pro, Hannah lined up the shot and took the bird straight out of the air.
The involuntary shriek of joy that came out of her mouth, as she smiled ear to ear in near disbelief, would stick with both of us for a very long time.
Moments like these reaffirm that the joys of hunting really do not come from the act of harvesting. If taking a life was the whole point, I would have never taken Evan and Hannah out in the first place—I do more of that kind of thing on solo hunts.
Hunting is so much more than that, and it takes the actual experience of being in the field to fully understand the connection. The point is to be out there, making memories, and overcoming struggles together. Seeing these two develop over the course of the season was an incredible and humbling experience. And I hope that everyone finds someone to share those same feelings within the blind.
Photo and article courtesy of Sebastian Garcia.