R3, Mentoring & Me
By Scott Travers, Hunter Education Coordinator, RI DFW
Participation in hunting has declined over the last 10 years. Most of us have noticed this in the field and I am sure those of us reading this article know someone who used to hunt but no longer does. In addressing the reasons behind why we are experiencing a decrease in hunting participation most, if not all states, have adopted the “R3 model” looking at the causes for this and what we might be able to do to change the trend.
R3 stands for Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation. This model takes the position that people fall into one of three different groups, those who have never hunted before, those who currently hunt, and those who have hunted in the past but currently do not.
Prior to the decrease in participation state governments and other organizations weren’t concerned with these concepts. Hunting was a popular activity, either for sustenance or as a way of life, and the focus was more towards regulating the activity and ensuring the safety of those in the field.
The history of “hunter education”, which started in New York State in the 1920’s, was to provide basic information, primarily about firearm safety and safety in the field, left most of the real world “how to” to the new hunter’s father, uncle, older brother, etc. However, in today’s world people are getting further and further away from nature. We are increasingly drawn to technology and connectivity. If you can’t post, click, share, link to, or view it on-line then it just isn’t relative to a large portion of society today. As we get older it seems the level of technology available and the integration of it in our day to day lives is accelerating at such a pace that it is hard to keep up. Examples of this are endless. Technology and specifically the cell phone have created the virtual world where people are spending their time, not in the field.
Those who are interested in learning how to hunt no longer have a father, uncle, older brother, or other person to mentor them. Those who still hunt face increasing challenges to hunting including any number of activities and obligations that compete for time. Those who used to hunt simply no longer have the time, are older and have less mobility, or have succumbed to the challenges that those of us who still hunt face today.
States are now designing programs tailored to reach people in each of these groups. In Rhode Island we are increasing the number of our “secondary education” programs. These programs are non-certification based. They are designed to provide information to participants to help expand their knowledge base, be safer, and be more successful in the field.
For example, the field training program takes both new and experienced hunters and well as those who are considering taking a hunter education certification course on a guided stalk through a wooded area where various hunting scenarios are presented. This gives participants the opportunity to gain insight from hunter education instructors and program volunteers in various aspects of hunting including firearms safety, range estimation, land navigation, shoot / don’t shoot scenarios, etc. Other programs include the turkey hunting workshop, deer hunting workshop, small game mentored hunt, etc.
While these programs help hunters from all the R3 groups, they cannot address all the issues that face those who want to hunt, those who still hunt, and those who no longer hunt. One way to address the issues facing all three groups is through mentoring. Those of us who still hunt have the knowledge and skills to be successful in the field. Why not consider sharing all that experience with someone who wants to learn?
Mentoring someone might be as simple as reaching out to a friend who used to hunt. That person may have all the experience they need to be successful but simply need a hand getting out into the field, carrying gear, or just another person to go with to motivate them to get back into it again. That other hunter may even be able to help you be more successful by sharing their experiences with you.
New hunters are easy to find. If you belong to a rod and gun club you can find them almost everywhere. Think about your family and friends. Have any of them asked you about hunting? It’s always great to mentor someone you are close to because you both already have a personal relationship. In hunter education we would say that is the Sportsman Stage in hunter development, when a hunter is focused more on sharing his/her personal knowledge and focused on the success of other hunters. It is a wonderful thing being there to help another hunter take his/her first animal. It’s like being successful the first time yourself all over again. I consider it an honor to have helped people take their first animals. It’s something that people will remember for the rest of their lives and I was able to be part of that. I find great satisfaction in helping others grow and to accomplish their goals, especially in the outdoors. Very often I am heading out not for myself, but for someone else that I am mentoring. That keeps me going into the field.
Every year many new hunters reach out to the Hunter Education Office looking for mentors to help them get started. Maybe you might consider being part of that. The commitment level is up to you. You don’t have to become a full-fledged hunter education instructor to help new hunters out. Perhaps you have a story or two that you want to share about something you learned or something that you figured out on your own that helped you be successful. You should share them. You could be a guest speaker during the next hunter ed class at your rod and gun club. It would only take a few minutes of your day to inspire a whole room of new hunters.
Remember, if we don’t pass on the experience and knowledge we have acquired then all those hard learned lessons need to be relearned by other people the same way we did. Why not help the next generation of hunters and make it a little easier for them?
While the staff at the Hunter Education Office and the many volunteer instructors and assistant instructors who bring the program to life do an amazing job there simply aren’t enough of us to mentor everyone who reaches out to us. Non-governmental organizations like the Rhode Island Federated Sportsmen’s Club, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, as well as many others, help to unify, teach, and mentor new hunters as well. This season please consider reaching out to a former hunter, someone you know who may be interested in hunting, or even to an organization that promotes safe, ethical, and responsible hunting to see how you might be able to get involved, and help keep our sport relevant in today’s world.