I’ve accumulated a great deal of equipment over the course of my hunting career. There’s enough gear tucked in various corners of my garage and office to effectively hunt just about any game under any conditions. But new hunters don’t have the luxury. In fact, most are starting from scratch. When you consider the financial burden of buying a bow or rifle, ammunition, hunting clothes, calls, lights, knives, treestands and all the other assorted equipment required to spend a day afield you can understand why would-be hunters sometimes take up golf instead.
If you’re going to play the role of mentor one of your most important tasks will be equipping your fledgling hunter will all the gear he or she needs to succeed. But before we begin looking at specific items, let’s consider our audience. Remember when you’re speaking to new hunters not to use a bunch of technical jargon, phrases like “scent cone” and “staging area.” Explain everything simply and plainly, and focus on the items a new hunter really needs.
First, obey the law, and emphasize to new hunters that they must do the same. Don’t assume a new hunter has read the hunting regs cover-to-cover. Help him complete required hunter education (the NRA offers a free online hunter ed course that is accepted by eight states). Following that, he’ll need a hunting license—and be certain new hunters know how to access state game laws. Since states now post game laws online it’s simpler than ever, so help a new hunter locate the regulations and bookmark the page on a smart phone for future refence. True novice hunters won’t understand game management units, tag drawings, point systems, migratory bird regulations and so forth. Provide them with specific checklists of what they’ll need to hunt each species. Be as detailed as possible, and add prices and hunting season dates to the list.
The first gear item I locate for new hunters is appropriate clothing. Why? Because the most miserable, unpleasant hunts I’ve been on were all because I was wearing the wrong clothes.
Start by determining whether he or she has the right wardrobe. That doesn’t have to be moisture-wicking, scent-controlling camo clothing, either. Most non-hunters I know own a pair of Carhartt coveralls, and those work fine in most conditions. If you have clothing that will fit a new hunter, consider loaning him some of your gear. It’s also important to explain the concept of layering to new hunters since they may not understand that a pre-dawn hike to the stand can turn into a frigid all-day sit.
Don’t overlook the importance of warm, dry, properly sized footwear that provides support and traction. Cold, wet feet will sour even the most enthusiastic new hunter. A pair of inexpensive insulated rubber boots will do the trick until he decides to upgrade. Also, encourage him to buy (or loan him) some raingear.
Help a new hunter assemble his own hunting pack. He generally won’t need a lot of space (he probably isn’t hunting wilderness elk, after all), so an inexpensive 1,500- to 2,000-cubic-inch model will be fine. Provide him with a list of gear items he’ll need to stay comfortable: bug spray, flashlight, a knife, extra gloves and a hat, a rain coat, snacks, extra ammunition and so forth. Many of these items won’t require purchase since most people have them in their home already. Items like rangefinders, binos and calls can be lent to a new hunter until he decides to buy his own.
On a side note, I prefer to place new hunters in a ground blind for deer, turkey and varmint hunting. Pop-up blinds conceal a new hunter’s fidgets and it makes most hunters feel more comfortable to be on the ground than in a tree. Blinds also offer a level of protection from the weather, and they’re easily portable. If you don’t have an extra ground blind help a new hunter find and purchase his own.
Don’t wait until you’re in the field to teach a novice shooter how to shoot. Schedule some time to take him to the range to allow him to become familiar with the firearm he’ll be using. There are a number of affordable pump and semi-auto shotguns and package rifles available for as little as $400, and some of them come with bore-sighted scopes in place. Also, help new hunters select firearms that don’t generate a lot of recoil and muzzle blast. Milder cartridges like the .243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor and the new .350 Legend are all perfect for most applications, and ammo for these cartridges is cheap.
If you’ve decided to take on the role of mentor hunter you’re doing our sport a favor. Odds are if you’ve been hunting a while you already have enough equipment to completely outfit another hunter. So if you have an extra set of gloves or boots, set them aside for a rookie hunter. If you happen to see hunting items on sale at a local store, you might even buy a few extras and keep them in reserve. But, most importantly, seek out those new hunters. Offer to take them to the field, and always keep those first hunting trips low-key and casual. The more fun a new hunter has the more likely he will be to return.