June 30, 2021
- This article was published in the 2020 issue of Public Land Hunter magazine. The 2021 edition of Public Land Hunter goes on sale July 20 on a newsstand near the you.
I was 12 and didn't know any better. I had a Honda 125 and cans of gas stashed in farmers' culverts. I'd rigged my handlebars to accept my Remington 870. Nothing was safe.
I jumped ducks off creeks, slithered down ditches after honkers and walked weed patches for pheasants. I had zero idea what I was doing. What I did know was hunting was fun and I was all about it.
Snow was blowing sideways, and the temp was plummeting. I didn't care. Thousands of migrating Canadas were piling into a cut cornfield. The plan was in place. I would use the large ditch on the field's south end to make my approach. I'd just stashed the bike when a green diesel sputtered up behind me. I knew the truck. I knew the man in the truck. He looked pissed.
"No, you don't," the man said, pointing a finger at me. The man's name was Bill Seamans. I went to school with his son B.J. I didn't know much about Bill other than he hunted, a lot. Geese were his favorite, and from what I'd been told, he was a master at killing them. "You've ruined more good goose fields than I can count," he continued. "This is not how you do it! This is not how you hunt geese!"
I was scared. His voice was loud, and his face was red. He jumped out of the truck and started marching toward me. As he walked, his scowl softened ever so slightly.
"I love the enthusiasm," he said. "I get it. You want to hunt but you don't know how. Meet me at my house tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. I'm going to show you how to kill geese the right way."
That next morning, I found myself in a field of well-placed decoys. Flakes of snow were still falling, and flocks of geese were approaching. A symphony of calls erupted out of the ditch. It sounded amazing. The first group swung low over the field, turned and dropped their feet. It was the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. The entire morning was like that.
My life changed that day. Bill took me under his wing. He could have chewed my butt—scolded me and drove off. He did the opposite. He stepped up.
In the coming months and years, Bill and I went on countless adventures. We went to the Rockies after elk and nearby canyon lands for turkeys and deer. Years later, he was the best man in my wedding. To this day, we still hunt and fish together. Without Bill—without his mentorship—I don't know what my life as an outdoorsman would look like today.
Stop the Excuses
Few things in life are more rewarding than introducing a child to the great outdoors. Don't have kids? No problem. There are zero rules saying the kid or kids you expose to the outdoors have to be your own. You have the opportunity to change a life—pass on your knowledge and passion—spark a fire that will keep the flame of our cherished tradition burning bright.
"But … but ...," you say …
'It takes too much time.'
Yeah, I’ve heard these words a lot when it comes to creating a new hunter. Truth be told, these words are a lie. Humans are good about looking out for No. 1. Helping others takes time, and time helping someone else takes away from our own selfish pursuits. I've been there. In fact, I inked an article about how I almost lost my oldest son to video games because I was pushing my own outdoor agenda.
Take a second and be honest with yourself. What are you doing to ensure the future of our sport? How do you want to be remembered: for your Instagram following or for mentoring youth in the outdoors and giving those youth something that will change them for the better?
It doesn't take much. Truth be told, that first adventure doesn't even have to be a hunt. Take a youngster plinking with a .22 or go bust some clays with a 20-gauge. Teach her to shoot a bow and let her fling some carbon at foam. Take him shed hunting. Creating a spark can quickly turn into a flame, and you’ll soon discover there are few feelings that trump the smile on a youngster’s face when experiencing something cool in the outdoors.
'There’s just nowhere to go.'
Another lie. Another excuse. This great country is filled with public lands. Where exactly are these lands? Finding out doesn't require a Harvard degree. Visit the state game and fish website in your state. Most have detailed public-land access maps or programs dedicated to public-land hunting. Then, of course, there are digital mapping systems like HuntStand, onX and the like. These mapping systems show public/private boundaries and make solving the where-to-go puzzle a breeze.
As far as what game to chase—how to introduce your youngster to the sport of hunting—it's up to you. Personally, I recommend a maiden sojourn that creates some action. A dove or waterfowl hunt is always a good choice. If you’re in a pheasant-rich state, a flushing rooster will get the heart rate up.
I took my now 14-year-old son Hunter to an open-to-anyone reservoir when he was 10. He'd just finished his hunter safety course, and we had a date with some early season teal. The action was incredible. I didn't shoot a bird. I just sat and helped him. He shot 32 steel No. 6 shotshells at fast-flying teal before he filled his four-bird limit. It was awesome, and he was hooked. Since that hunt, we've chased geese, doves, ducks, turkeys and pronghorns on public land. Our success has been incredible, and Hunter has learned so much.
Hunter, as his love of hunting has grown, has become a mentor. This past summer, he attended another hunter safety course. Why? He promised two of his buddies that he would do it with them. After the brothers passed, we took them goose hunting.
I got a call from their mother the next week. She informed me that their Christmas wish list was entirely composed of goose-hunting gear. Two more lifelong hunters in the books. The hunt, by the way, was in a public-land cornfield.
'There is no good hunting on public land.'
Heard that one, too. False. Public-land hunting can be incredible, and it teaches youth to work for something. Hunting public dirt allows them to learn the process of becoming a good hunter and solid woodsman. Nothing is being given to them other than a place to go. They have to earn every inch. They realize they must get involved in the scouting process—both hands-on and digital.
Hunter studies onX more than he does his school work and has developed a knack for finding off-the-beaten-path haunts. He’s also learned to love the process that comes with creating a good hunt on public land. He goes scouting with me and spends lots of time behind the spotting scope.
A Good Teacher
Besides learning to have to work for success, public-land hunting teaches youth good hunting etiquette. Hunter learned this quickly.
On one occasion, we had a tom fired up. He was far off, but he was gobbling hard. A move was in order, and when we crested the next hill and glassed down the canyon, I spied a hunter moving in on the bird from another direction. He was ahead of us and had been working the same bird. The hunter had better position, and rather than barging in and blowing the whole deal, we sat back and observed.
Through his bino, Hunter watched a load of lead drop the bird. He was bummed for sure, but after meeting the hunter and seeing his excitement, Hunter's attitude quickly changed. We took pictures of the hunter and his bird, and spent time visiting with him. Two hours later, Hunter killed a beautiful jake another mile down the canyon.
Other times, we’ve showed up to waterfowl spots to find other hunters setting decoys. These guys and gals got up earlier and beat us to a spot. Rather than setting up close to them and spoiling their chances, we simply move. Twice, as we’ve been walking out, one of the hunters that beat us to a spot has run up and invited us to join them. Why? Because that’s what hunting is. It’s helping others.
Hunter and I have helped guys pack pronghorns off the plains and even shared spots with non-resident hunters. In return, we’ve been invited on hunts in their home states and have made lifelong friends.
Hunting public land teaches stewardship and always leaving the land better than you found it. My family spends days during the offseason picking up trash and volunteering with our wildlife division to enhance public hunting areas. Get out there and get involved. The opportunities are limitless. Enjoy the process. There’s nothing like mentorship!
Get Some Help
Programs offer mentoring tips and advice.
You’re ready to be a mentor but aren’t sure who to mentor or where to go. No worries. Visit the Sportsmen’s Alliance (sportsmensalliance.org) and click on the "Youth Programs" tab. The Trailblazer Adventure Program, during its 19-year tenure, has introduced more than 1.9 million kids to the outdoors. It’s not hard to volunteer at a nearby Trailblazer event.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s +ONE Movement is quickly gaining traction. The NSSF (nssf.org) recognizes that getting involved in the outdoors is much easier if you have a mentor by your side. This incredible platform challenges outdoorsmen and -women to introduce at least one new person to the outdoors in their lifetime. Recently, +ONE launched LetsGoShooting.org and LetsGoHunting.org in an effort to provide how-to articles and videos to mentors and participants.
Make It Fun
Being a positive role model means staying positive.
I realize patience is a virtue. I taught fifth grade for nine years and coach multiple youth sports. Your focus should be to make each outdoor experience with youth positive, fun and educational. You can't lose your temper or get frustrated.
Twice, my son Hunter has "clicked" on public-land gobblers because he forgot to put a shell in. The first time he did it, I was furious. I had told him moments before to chamber a round. He didn't. Why? Because he was 12. That's it and that’s all. I didn't yell at him directly, but made multiple comments about how we just blew a perfect opportunity and how hard it would be to get another tom within range. Not good. Hunter already felt bad enough, and I was just pouring salt on an open wound.
You have to be prepared to nurture your youth hunter, to be there for that youngster during the good and the bad. Think before you speak, and remember, bad body language is easy to pick up on. Keep it positive!