Any time we sportsmen introduce someone new to hunting marks an important investment in the future of our treasured pastime. While we regularly focus on mentoring youngsters, who often experience their first hunts in pursuit of America’s most popular big-game animal—the whitetail deer—we also should make a conscious effort to encourage adults to join us and take up hunting—specifically in pursuit of squirrels.
Virginian Al Milton, chairman of the Roanoke Valley Friends of NRA Committee and an NRA recruiter, explains why. “A lot of adults never had an opportunity as a youth or young adult to go hunting with family members,” said Milton. “I was fortunate to have had a father, grandfather and uncle mentor me. But today, adults that grew up in urban or suburban areas or came from a single parent home don’t understand what it’s like to go hunting and some don’t even know what it’s like to be outdoors.”
Mentoring adults and introducing them to the joy of hunting and the great outdoors ultimately encourages these men and women to become mentors themselves to their own children. “And ideally,” explains Milton, “family members are the best mentors due to their natural bonds with their children or grandchildren. I know going outside to hunt or shoot certainly helped me to bond with my father, grandfather and uncle.”
The Case for Squirrels Due to America’s increasingly urban and suburban population, we sportsmen must increase our efforts to reach out to adults who lack familiarity with hunting and the outdoors so they, in turn, can begin the process of teaching their own kids. Milton believes that squirrels are the ideal game animal for novice adult hunters. “My grandfather used to emphasize that if I could learn how to be a good squirrel hunter, I was well on my way to becoming a good woodsman.”
The reason this is true, continues the Virginian, is that the basics of squirrel hunting—such as stand, still and stalk hunting and the foods that “bushytails” largely consume—are much the same for all game animals. A major advantage of veteran sportsmen taking novice adults hunting for squirrels rather than big game, such as deer or turkeys, is that pursuing the former leads to instruction, interaction and discussion. Essentially, we can call “time out” to discuss tactics, for example, while waiting for a squirrel to emerge from its den, but such down time is not likely to occur when a long-bearded gobbler is sounding off and headed your way.
At the high school where I teach in Botetourt County, Va., one of the many fellow teachers I have mentored, Mike Moser, was in his mid-30s and had never hunted until I took him. The first time we went afield for gray squirrels, I was amazed—and thrilled—to witness his excitement.
When he arrived at my wife’s and my house to go hunting in our woodlot, Mike was decked out in the camouflage and blaze orange cap I had given him. He had completed his hunter safety course, read many of the outdoor magazines I had given him and had done further research online about squirrels.
On our first outing, which was on a blustery winter day, we only encountered a few gray squirrels but none came close enough for a shot. Nevertheless, the following events were some of the more teachable moments that Mike experienced, and the same will likely hold true for the adults you might mentor. That day, Mike was able to:
Practice with a shotgun.
Learn to recognize scat and tracks in the snow on the ground.
Learn to identify hard- and soft-mast providers.
Learn how wildlife uses thermal cover.
Learn how to dress appropriately for hunting in various weather conditions.
Learn basic hunting methods such as still, stand and stalk hunting.
On our second trip, he learned the following:
How endangered bats are using shagbark hickory trees.
How edge habitat influences wildlife movement.
What den trees are and the importance of dead standing trees for wildlife. (In fact, Mike killed his first squirrel as it left a den tree.)
How to clean and cook a squirrel.
Mike was overjoyed when he killed his first gray squirrel, and the successful outing was certainly a highlight of my entire hunting season. Mike has two young children at home and a third one on the way so in the years to come, I hope that he and I can mentor his kids—with Mike, of course, ultimately taking the lead role.
For all the reasons I mentioned above, consider taking an adult hunting this year. After all, squirrels just may the ideal game animal to get your new adult hunting buddy off to the right start.