With age we realize that memories are the real “bag limit” of hunting and fishing. Each day afield can and should be a memorable experience. How fascinating it is that those experiences change dramatically in a wonderful way as we mature from our early days of being mentored by a special person in our lives to becoming a mentor ourselves.
Mentoring is rightfully focused upon introducing new hunters to the enjoyment of our cherished sport, but how many of us thanked the mentors who taught us the ways of the hunter and wildlife?
While attending an outdoor writers’ convention some time ago, a magazine editor challenged the attendees to write the story of their most memorable fishing trip. Mine immediately sprang to mind. As a single-parent child, my maternal grandfather was my stand-in father and outdoor mentor. He taught me to tie a hook to a leader, cast a fly line, shoot a shotgun, skin squirrels, rabbits and grouse, and most importantly, how to be an honest sportsman.
While my most memorable fishing trip was his last, what a sincere honor it was to take my life’s mentor on his final fishing excursion and assist him in the many ways he assisted me in my boyhood days. His sincere “Thank you” at the end of that wonderful day is indelibly etched into my memory, and his legacy is invaluable.
This was the man who showed a little boy how to tell what type of squirrel had left the acorn or hickory nut remains on a log, how to read the cover and predict the most productive areas for rabbits or grouse. This was the man who purchased a single-shot .410 shotgun for the little boy and taught him how to bring home rabbits and squirrels for dinner.
As I grew and matured, Granddad purchased a 16-gauge, Winchester Model 12 pump-action shotgun and spent many Sunday afternoons teaching me the art of shooting using a hand trap to launch flying targets consisting of many cases of clay birds. He was a superb wingshot—and how I hoped to emulate his skill. His eyes would twinkle with delight when I’d successfully break a clay that he’d tossed in an especially challenging direction. I can still hear him exclaim, “Man, what a shot,” upon witnessing the taking of my first ruffed grouse on the wing.
His example of sportsmanship ethics was a superb character-building standard for an impressionable kid. Once, while fishing for panfish, he landed a truly massive largemouth bass. While releasing it, he responded to my eagerness to show it off at home with, “No son, bass season isn’t open now. We’ll have to let her go.” When I caught an amazingly large bluegill on a bass plug, we were astounded at its size and I commented that it would surely win the Big Bluegill pool at his local sportsman’s club. He responded, “No son, I didn’t catch this fish.”
From lessons in dog handling to effective hunting techniques and skillful shooting, his mentoring of a future sportsman was a priceless endowment to my personal benefit. Through the myriad of memories that we shared, he lives on in every day of my life and especially so when afield.
Is there life after death? This age-old question can be answered emphatically and affirmatively: Yes indeed—for a mentor. Through cherished memories, Grandad’s many skills and stellar ethics live on in my life and guide me in every adventure from hunting and fishing to photography. His knowledge of wildlife habits and preferred habitats is a heritage that I practice daily whether hunting with gun or camera.
The Rewards of Mentoring If you want to be remembered for another lifetime—perhaps several lifetimes—be a mentor. As such, you will live on in the lives of the youth you guide, encourage and teach. Numerous positive character traits are created through teaching a kid to hunt and shoot safely along with the importance of playing by the rules. A hunting mentor is never forgotten.
With that said, mentoring a young sportsman or woman is a serious commitment. While it can be challenging, the rewards are great. Mentors delight in watching a youth mature into a conscientious citizen of trustworthy character and become a significant part of the new sportsman’s life.
Invest some time and effort into mentoring a youth in the ways of the hunter or the highly responsible standards of the shooting sports. Perhaps the greatest reward in a mentor’s life is to have one of his or her apprentices say, “Thank you,” later in life. Mentors become personal heroes.
We owe an unfathomable debt to our mentors but it can be paid in full with a sincere thank you. If your mentor is still living, that bill of appreciation is past due and oh so easily payable. Don’t wait another day. If you want to make one of the best memories of a lifetime, take your childhood mentor hunting, shooting or fishing.
At the end of Granddad’s last fishing trip, I told him that it had been the very best fishing trip of my life. He responded, “Mine too, son, mine too.”