Introduce A New Person To The Outdoors

Each day sportsmen meet folks that don’t enjoy the outdoors like we do or have never had the opportunity to. How we handle those situations is often a spur-of-the-moment choice; some go well and others can be uncomfortable. For those of us who have had experience with non-sportsmen, the situations can become second nature.

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a group of outdoor communicators from across the country covering the Bassmaster Classic at Table Rock Lake, which borders Arkansas and southwest Missouri. I had attended two classics at that point in my life and was excited to take part in this event on the bass-rich Table Rock Lake.

The folks at Bassmasters had taken the classic from just a world championship fishing tournament to a weeklong event.

During the days preceding the actual fishing part of classic week, events where held each day. We traveled to local tourist spots and restaurants, and during this event had the opportunity to check out some of what makes the Ozarks awe inspiring. One of the many events I was asked to attend was a youth fishing event for local school-aged children. If memory serves me there were dozens of school buses in the parking lot and one could only guess at number youth at the event, my estimate was in the hundreds.

As with most of these events, several local and national sponsors had a wide variety of tables and/or booths set up throughout the park that surrounded a 15-acre pond. The day was hot, even by Table Rock Lake standards. As we kicked in and helped the touring bass pros with children fishing, I noticed a large fish walking around the park. To me it looked like it was a mascot, like one you would see at a minor league baseball game. The costume looked to be heavy — my only thought was whoever was inside this suit was going to have an interesting time staying cool.

It wasn’t until after the fish had strolled by that I noticed there was another person walking behind the fish carrying a sign saying something like “don’t let children kill fish.” It was obvious at that point — I am a little slow — that it was an anti-fishing protest.

Now myself and others had a major problem with this entire protest. Why the heck would somebody or some group take this time and this place, in front of hundreds of local children to bring attention to their message? Now remember, this was many years ago, I’ll let you all in on a little secret, back in the day I was told I had a short fuse. My first instinct was go over and put this fish in a live well or something of that sorts but I didn’t.

As the morning continued we saw the fish several times, but it was the last time that will forever stick in my mind. I was in the middle of baiting hooks when I noticed said fish was not walking around but laying flat on its back. Surprise, surprise the person inside the suit was having heat stroke and her cohort that was holding the sign was calling out for help. Myself and several others ran over to help out until emergency personnel were able to arrive.

As I look back on that entire situation I realized the fraternity that we as sportsmen are members of is first class. On that day we literally helped save a person’s life that making was a public statement against everything we believe in. I am not sure what happened to the protestors, but one thing I am sure of is they never spent much time outside because had they, they would have known that heat plus a heavy costume equals unhealthy. Maybe if they had spent more time in the outdoors getting to know it, then they would not have put themselves in that position.

So, this begs one to ask the question: How do we introduce the non-hunting public to the outdoors?

Here a few suggestions that have worked for myself and others over the years.

First of all, this one is real simple: go for a walk outside. Whether it’s a child or adult, getting off the couch and going outside is the first step. During these strolls point out little things like the different types of trees, plants, birds and other wildlife. Listen to your new friend’s voice and answer their questions if you are able to. If not, figure the answer out together.

These walks can be pretty much anywhere; a sidewalk, one of the many parks that our city offers, state parks like Long Point are great safe places, and when the time is right, head to the woods. Point out things like a deer track, turkey feather, crops in nearby fields, bedding areas — many of the things that one will come across. Explain why game do certain things. The outdoor world is a lifelong pursuit and there is no better time to start than today. Again, listen more than you talk, answer questions and listen to their response.

Actually, getting a person in the woods to hunt is the next step. But there are several things that need to be done before we take that step. If the interest is there, a firearms safety course is most important. Most local rod and gun clubs offer them. If you don’t feel qualified to discuss firearms safety to new folks, then search out somebody who is. Again local rod and gun clubs are a great resource of not only knowledge but NRA-trained sportsmen and women.

Range time is important for all of us. Getting comfortable with a firearm is a new concept for some folks. The first couple times at the range I have found small calibers and close targets do much to boast the confidence of folks. Folks unfamiliar with firearms often stress about it, but remind them that while the firearms are a part of the experience of hunting, it shouldn’t be the only part — although firearms need to treated with respect.

The first few times actually hunting are the most stressful for me with non-hunters or new hunters. That is why I prefer to stack the odds in my favor of seeing game. Safety is always the most thing to remember, this is why I never carry a gun when I am hunting with a new hunter or client. I want to be concerned with the muzzle of said firearm at all times. From the time that firearm comes out of the case, I want to know where the muzzle is at all times. Many times with new hunters, we will not load the gun until we get to our set-up. This takes the pressure off slips and falls, and it also gives the new hunter an opportunity to carry a firearm.

It may sound silly to some but often folks who are new to our sport are more concerned about carrying a firearm than anything else. It’s our job to make sure they get comfortable with firearms and understand that they respect that firearms and know what they are capable of.

Now everybody wants to go deer hunting but as we all know, generally deer hunting is done alone and in the case of new hunter, it’s best they have somebody right next to them while in the woods. I prefer to make first hunts fun while making sure they see game. Whether it’s squirrel hunting, goose or duck hunting, or spring turkey, any are great times to get folks into the woods.

The process of taking a non-hunter and introducing them to hunting will be one of the most gratifying experiences one can enjoy. There are many steps in this process. The ones we discussed are just a few and can be altered to individuals and situations.

Everybody has their style of hunting but remember when taking to somebody about our sport, it is something new to them and it is expected that it can be little uncomfortable. Please keep this in mind. Enjoy your new adventure and gift that has been offered to you — to share your passion with others. It’s a big responsibility but is very much worth every step of the journey.