Mentoring is woven in the fabric of hunting. For millennia the tradition has been passed down through generations and shared with friends. For the tradition to continue, the each generation of hunters are tasked with passing the torch to the next.
Fish and Game's Maiden Hunt Series explores how rewarding it can be for hunters to pass on their passion for the outdoors, and shares the stories of new hunters, from completing their hunter education and seeking out a mentor to experiencing their first hunt.
Each hunter comes to hunting with a different perspective, background, concerns, and interests. From balancing a love of nature with the emotional experience of harvesting an animal, to following in family footsteps, these short films explore the realities of becoming a hunter and illustrate how hunting is so much more than the harvest.
The final video of this three-part series follows the journey of Clara as she and her father, Kurtis, pursue turkeys, and read below about why Kurtis feels it's important for mentors to share their knowledge with others. See links below for parts 1-2.
What was the most rewarding part of your first hunting season with your daughter?
Kurtis: Maybe the most rewarding part was having the chance to experience what hunting is like for a new hunter, specifically my daughter, because it brought me back to my first hunting season. I was just flooded with these memories when looking at hunting through a new lens. By taking things back down to the level of a new hunter, it’s a reminder of some of the things that you just do, after 30 years of being hunter, without thinking about it, and you kind of take for granted.
As you’ve passed the torch to Clara, what are your hopes for her as a hunter as she progresses through her life?
Kurtis: My hopes are that — selfishly — she will continue to hunt so she and I can continue to have these experiences. If she does not want to continue to hunt, that’s fine, but my biggest hope is that she remembers what these experiences were like and continues to reflect on them fondly. If she decides hunting maybe isn’t for her, maybe this is still something she will be willing to pass down to her kids – my grandkids – hopefully down the road. You know, hunting isn’t for everybody, and I think the only way to know that for sure is to try it. The ultimate goal is to continue having outdoor experiences, and passing down what you know to future generations. When you’re hunting, you really are connecting with nature on a different level. You’re learning about the animals you’re pursuing, and I think that is a special experience to have.
Speaking from your experience as father and mentor, what advice do you have for other parents who are hoping to pass the tradition along to their kids?
Kurtis: I would tell folks who are hoping to do this to make it fun. Don’t make it so much about the end goal, or hopeful outcome. You’re out there to have fun with the new hunter. If that means waking up a little later than you normally would, or doing some things you wouldn’t normally do like grabbing snacks from a convenience store before heading out into the field, do it. The focus shouldn’t be on filling that tag. It should be on who you’re with, and what you’re doing together in the outdoors. For new hunters, that’s what they’re going to remember, more so than harvesting an animal.
In the video, your father-in-law mentioned that the “tradition won’t be lost but… it’s wavering right now.” What do you believe is at the root of this, and how can a mentor — whether it’s a parent, friend, or someone else — help build it back up?
Kurtis: Hunter participation numbers have been on the decline recently. People are forgetting where we came from. For a long time, we had to hunt things to survive, and now we have the option to go to the store to pick up meat and eat it. I don’t think the hunting tradition will ever totally be lost, but we need to remember this was a way of life, and it still is for some folks. When you have people engaged in things like hunting, they also think about the places they like to hunt.
Whether it’s habitat improvements or land access issues, these people tend to become involved in the processes to help preserve these things. Hunting is a great way to get people involved in habitat and wildlife conservation. We’re the ones who are the most outspoken about those things. If someone can appreciate what hunting is, we will have those voices to carry future generations through. I don’t think mentoring is a one-and-done thing. A mentor is someone who is educating new hunters about these issues, because it all falls in that hunting world. A mentor can educate new hunters about land issues and conservation issues. It’s an important aspect of being a mentor.
There is a particular shot of Clara where you see her reaction to the turkeys calling back, and you can just feel the joy and excitement emanating from the screen. How did mentoring your daughter and sharing in the excitement of her first turkey hunt change or refresh your perspective as a hunter?
Kurtis: I don’t know how much it changed my perspective, but it definitely did refresh it. Those expressions are largely why I want to have my kids hunt and experience the outdoors. It’s pure. The expression you see on that video is what I still feel on the inside when I make a turkey call. Whether it’s ducks responding to a call, or having a conversation with a bull elk during the rut, you might not physically jump for joy when you get older, but I still get excited, no matter how many years I’ve been hunting.
I remember duck hunting with my dad as a kid, and the first time he gave me the green light to use my duck call in the field with him, and the feeling I had when I got a response from the animals. I don’t know what the expression on my face looked like then, but I have to think it was pretty similar. Ever since that experience, all she wants to do is call in a turkey. The excitement you see on the video, that’s really what my goal was for every part of her hunt. I wanted her to feel some reward through it. Part of me hopes that once she can get that, she’ll keep going back, because that’s really what keeps me going back.
Is Clara planning on hunting again this year? What are her plans?
Kurtis: Clara is planning on going hunting again this year. She wants to do it all. If she could’ve gotten a mountain goat tag, she would’ve gone for it! She really wants to big game hunt. She and I have talked a lot about hunting and what our plans are. In the short term, our plans are to try to find some grouse, walk a couple of ridges and see what turns up. That’s going to be her next hunt. We’re doing that because we want it to be comfortable for her. She’s a little small to be swinging a gun to shoot birds on the wing still, but she’s pretty good at holding her shotgun up and shooting at still targets, so grouse hunting gives us a good opportunity.