By Terry T. Clapp

See the wonderful smile on that kid’s face.  That is an immediate product of mentoring.  Is there any outdoors’ person who would not support that kind of happiness?  A smile like that one holds the future of our wildlife and our conservation efforts.  Simply put we need to get more people especially children involved with wildlife and outdoor activities.  The fun and value of fishing and hunting traditions and heritage need to be taught to our youth and other interested people by mentors like you and me. 

Concerned wildlife authorities are telling us that although the general population is growing in America, hunter and angler numbers are on the decline in many areas.  When one hunter or angler hangs it up there is only part of a hunter or angler to replace him or her.  Enter various state wildlife agencies that support mentoring/education programs along with concerned non-profit conservation and wildlife support organizations that use mentoring programs to get people interested and involved in the great outdoors.  These programs take on many forms but the idea is to get children, youth and interested adults into nature and outdoors.  These outdoor organizations support activities in nature that are not only good for the health and well being of our population but wildlife and habitat conservation are a primary focus.  It’s basic economics, fewer people in the field translates into less revenue for conservation and wildlife efforts.  Therefore, the American Sportsperson is called upon to save the day and mentoring is one great way to do just that.

P1050458webMany wildlife education and habitat support groups along with wildlife agencies sponsor mentoring programs designed to teach people hunting, fishing and camping skills.  These camps and seminars can be one day to several days in length, or just a few hours of activities like fishing time or bird watching.  The camps can be overnight in the forest, or time on the shooting range, at the pond, river, lake, on a nature trail, or in a wildlife area.  Hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, archery, shooting, and numerous outdoor skills to name a few are taught.  The target audiences are usually children, youth, and women and of course many mentors are needed.

Many organizations are asking for volunteers to help with mentoring programs.  Each of us may have the special expertise that one or more of the organizations are looking for.  Some organizations that come to mind are: your state wildlife department, the zoo, groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, Archery and Shooting Clubs, the Boy and Girl Scouts.  Almost all states have groups of concerned citizens dedicated to one or more species of wildlife that are of great value to that state.  For example, in Arizona there is the Arizona Elk Society, the Arizona Antelope Foundation, and in addition there are various Audubon Society groups, and groups that support deer and other wildlife species.  So there are lots of places that can use the outdoor skills that you or I possess.  These organizations represent the formal way to mentor.

The informal way to mentor is within the family, the extended family and with friends.  Given the current economic conditions with parents working all the time to make ends meet and the number of families that have a single person as the head of the family mentoring youth in the out of doors is more important than ever.  So as a Grandfather I have the opportunity to take family member children, their friends and even parents fishing, hunting or camping with me.  Here are some of the things I do to make mentoring a fun experience for all.

When I mentor children or interested adults I always stack the deck in the favor of the person(s) I’m mentoring.  As you can see in the picture this young boy is fishing in a private farm pond.  This is not a random chance meeting of a boy, a farm pond and a fishing rod.  This place was chosen because the mentor knew that catching fish here was not something to worry about.  I knew the first time fisherman would catch some fish.  I think that nothing succeeds like success.  I like to plan for as many variables as possible.  For example, if the wind is blowing 30mph then fishing will be put on hold and we will go on a nature walk looking for special rocks, animals, and insects that live around a pond.  A camera is used on the mentoring trips to produce bragging right pictures.  While fishing and mentoring we practice catch and release.  Thus photos are important reinforcement products that the new angler can show to friends and relatives.   The photos hopefully will cause additional interest in the mentoring process.

P1060208webIf you live in an urban area then a farm pond becomes an urban lake in a park.  There are set times when the wildlife department will stock urban lakes.  Also many urban parks and wildlife departments will have special days for teaching fishing skills when they stock fish in the lake in a set aside area where youth will have a great opportunity to catch a fish.  Contact your state wildlife agency or local parks and recreation department to see if such events are scheduled if not then see what can be done to schedule one.

When you mentor remember it’s all about the person you are mentoring.  To teach a child or adult to fish or shoot a bow or rifle is a full-time one on one job.  The mentor is concerned with all the safety, health and welfare issues that come with the territory.

If you are a schoolteacher or know one there are usually grants and activities money available in many cases to help support getting our children involved with wildlife.  Teachers can check on these grants through their individual state conservation or wildlife department.  Also schools and parks may have access to portable fish tanks provided by state game and fish departments.  These tanks are stocked with fish and can be scheduled to come out to the school or park to teach fishing skills.  Schools may also qualify for in School Archery programs as a part of the physical education program.  The various state wildlife agencies usually run an annual Outdoor Expo and have websites where individuals can learn about many mentoring programs.

P1060203webIf you decide to mentor a child in hunting then I recommend you do such through a formal mentoring program offered through a state agency or authorized organization.  This way you will know that the proper hunter education standards have been met.  Of course there are usually opportunities to mentor within your family group.  I have one grandson from a single parent family that has been Turkey, Deer and Javelina hunting with his Dad and me for the last few years.  We started taking him on the hunts when he was four.   During those six years of big game hunting he has been exposed to the harvesting of three nice Buck White Tail Deer, two Bull Elk, one Jake Wild Turkey and two Javelina.  Since he is only ten he is not hunting big game with a gun at this point (this was a family decision).  However, he knows he is a vital part of our hunts and a big part of our hunting team.  I’m amazed at the wildlife he can spot while standing a little over four feet tall.

Is it a hassle taking a child hunting or fishing?  Yes, it is a hassle but most things worthwhile are a hassle.  It’s a fun hassle and it can be managed.  Pre-season scouting and zeroing in of the rifles offers great teaching moments.  We all get involved in some extra curricular rim fire shooting that would never happen without someone to mentor along.  I had forgotten how much fun a person could have with a single shot .22.

We do a whole lot of still-hunting either from a blind or the forest floor when we are mentoring during a hunting season.  I’m sharing a shot of the ultimate still hunter.  He’s dressed for the part but often times a guy just gets hunted out.  Everything is better when people take time to mentor.  Mentoring allows many people a chance to get involved with wildlife and nature in ways that would not otherwise be available to them.  The mentor gets the reward of giving service and knowing the gift of mentoring will last for future generations of conservation.  For an older mentor like me I get to experience once again the thrill of hunting and fishing as a first time experience.  Although I enjoy all those wonderful smiles I know there is more to mentoring than meets the eye.