I'm fortunate to live in a part of the country where hunting is a widely accepted and popular pastime. It's not uncommon to see hunters decked out in camo from head-to-toe in the local diner.
Vehicles with gun racks and dead deer don't turn heads (unless, of course, it's a big deer) and blood on the tailgate of your pickup usually won't lead to a visit from local homicide investigators. Virtually everyone I know hunts — or at least tried to — at some point in their lives.
First impressions can have a lasting impact. I started my hunting career chasing squirrels, which was a high-success, low-output activity, and I quickly wanted to move on to larger game.
Unfortunately, not everyone I grew up with enjoyed the same success early on in their hunting career. I have one buddy who started out duck hunting at the age of eight and after two hours in a frigid blind seeing nothing but red-winged blackbirds and hearing nothing but the same three-note call his dad issued every fifteen seconds he had had enough.
His hunting career was over. I know another young lady who, at the request of her boyfriend, accompanied him on the quest for a big buck at the beginning of deer season that resulted in nothing more than several long, mosquito-riddled hours in a cramped blind. As you might imagine that was her last attempt at deer hunting.
I'm not advocating avoiding challenging hunts, but when it comes to hunting you're far better off to ease new hunters into the sport.
Sure, I don't mind sitting in a cold stand for hours on end knowing that it may be days or weeks before I see the deer I'm after, but at eight years old I'd have been ready to pack it in and head for home.
If you're bringing someone new to the sport there are some great hunting trips that they could really enjoy — and some that stand to turn them against the sport forever.
We all need future generations of hunters to take up the mantle of conservation, and that means they'll need to be passionate about our sport. Here are six hunts for rookies that will offer them a good chance at success — and will kindle that fire for the future.
Black Bear Over Bait
Black bear over bait is a great hunt for those who are new to the sport because there's a good chance of tagging out (provided you've set and routinely tended baits).
In addition, having the opportunity to observe bears feeding and interacting up-close is a thrill for new and seasoned hunters alike. At first many new hunters are scared of being so close to a bear, but if they can remain calm long enough to realize that the risk is very minimal and the rewards are great this is an exciting and economical adventure.
Pigs are huge problems throughout the country and that means lots of opportunities and low cost hunts. In many states there are no tags required to take pigs and no bag limits, and in areas where hogs are plentiful there's usually a chance for plenty of shooting.
Wild hog meat, if prepared properly, can be delicious, and new hunters experience a great deal of satisfaction eating something that they helped harvest. In addition, it's a great way to start the discussion of how hunting helps control populations and protect native wildlife.
Cottontails and Bushytails
This is where many hunters start, and both squirrels and rabbits offer lots of excitement and the odds of going home with something is high.
There are no tags or permits to draw, hunting opportunities abound, and a light-recoiling .22 or .410 shotgun is sufficient for either species. Plus, both rabbit and squirrel are excellent table fare and they are ideal species to teach new hunters to care for meat in the field.
Having a dog along for the hunt makes the experience even better, and that's why my favorite way to introduce new hunters is chasing cottontails behind beagles. The jovial dogs lighten the mood, there's no need to sit still or remain absolutely silent and it's a great opportunity to further discuss topics like gun handling, learning to spot game, and so forth. Most importantly, it's great fun for everyone involved.
Preserve Quail and Pheasant
Hunting wild birds in big country can be a real challenge, but preserve hunting offers that same experience with higher odds of success and less walking.
Just as with rabbit and squirrel hunting, this is a great time to reemphasize the safety procedures discussed prior to the hunt.
Most preserves allow for hunting along mowed rows on fairly level ground and when hunting behind pointing dogs you can, to some degree, set up the shot. I enjoy hunting wild birds almost as much as anything, chasing chukars through desert hills and walking through pines in search of grouse. And, like so many other bird hunters, all that started by shooting on preserves as a rookie. In addition, quail and pheasant taste excellent.
Prairie Dogs and Woodchucks
In the east woodchucks are a common pest for farmers and most landowners are more than happy to have you rid their fields of these rodents.
In the west, ground squirrels and prairie dogs are a nuisance and there is an equally good chance that you will find landowner permission. If I were taking a new hunter on a guided trip this would be one that I would recommend, too; being setup on a prairie dog town can mean hundreds of rounds and a .17 or .22 rimfire or centerfire is plenty of gun depending upon the circumstances.
This is also a great way to introduce new shooters to shot placement, trigger control, and other principles of good field shooting.
Doves By The Bucket
Dove hunting is a tradition in many parts of the country, and since most seasons start in September this is a shirt-sleeves hunt. You'll need a shotgun — a 28 gauge is my favorite for newbies — and some shells.
You'll also want to take along a seat, hearing and eye protection and maybe a few cool drinks, but that's about the extent of the equipment required for dove hunting.
Try to choose a setup that works to the new shooter's favor, minimizing hard crossers and instead providing a lot of slow, low, incoming shots. Bring plenty of extra shells and have a laid-back attitude; there's going to be a lot of missing, but there are usually a lot of doves on a well-maintained field. Also, be sure to pack the bacon, jalapeno and cream cheese for grilled dove breast — a meal that would make anyone want to hunt.