Want to Learn to Hunt? Seek Out DNR’s Top-Tier First Shot Mentored Hunt Program

by Jon D. B.
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NWTF 2022 proved another exceptional occasion for adults of all kinds to learn where and how to hunt, with the First Shot Mentored Hunt Program standing out.

If you haven’t made the trot to a National Wild Turkey Federation convention yet, NWTF’s 2022 return proved how invaluable a resource it is for outdoors folk and hunters alike. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or looking to learn to hunt, this year’s schedule was chock-full of seminars with the sole aim of improving the lives of conservationists of all kinds.

Of the many attended, however, it was the Blackwater, MD chapter of the DNR’s First Shot Mentored Hunt Program that offered the most concrete information for those looking to learn how to hunt. By their creed, the program “aims to teach first-time hunters and lapsed hunters a new set of skills, whether it be hunting techniques or how to hunt specific species.”

For their seminar, program leaders Marcia Pradines Long and Russ Leith did a stellar job of illustrating their institution’s value and impact.

How the First Shot Mentored Hunt Program Works

“Since April 2018, we’ve had over 148 mentored hunts for deer and turkey, and over 119 mentees and over 50 volunteer mentors, including ourselves,” Marcia begins of her Maryland chapter. Through trial, error, and feedback, she and Russ have found an excellent yearly format that has led to strong hunter education, retention, and enjoyment:

  • Twice a Year Hunting: Turkey in the Spring and Deer in the Fall
  • Mentees/Mentors are paired a month before their hunt
  • Workshops follow
  • Dedicated dates for hunt units/days for First Shot
  • Creating opportunities for hunters to share success (field dressings, on-hand experiences, etc)
  • Evaluations

“We don’t want this just to be a guided hunt,” Marcia continues. “We want this to be an experience where new hunters actually learn how to hunt for themselves. Going out there and feeling confident is the goal. This requires a really special sort of mentor who’s going to go out there and really listen to them an show them how to all of this themselves, not just show off and do it all for them.”

From scouting to setting up stands, putting up cameras, taking that first shot, the mentored hunting program covers it all.

Learn to Hunt with a Mentor in Your Area

Pairing a mentee and a mentor isn’t random, either. “Instead, what we do is ask key questions about why you want to hunt, what your experience is, and we look at the entire picture,” Marcia continues. “We put a lot of thought into pairing the mentees and mentors based on some sort of shared experience, if we can. Whether they be women who’d prefer to hunt with another woman, or it’s a father who wants to learn how to pass along the sport to his sons from another father. It takes a lot of time and effort to pair these people, but it makes a much better program.”

Applicants can go in together, too. Husbands and wives, fathers and adult sons, you name it. And once you’re paired with an experienced, open mentor, new hunters will learn firearm safety, hunting tips, and hunting techniques and strategies. In addition, “providing range time to help the mentee begin their journey into hunting” is equally important, Russ adds.

In the end, the goal of the DNR’s First Shot Mentored Hunting Program is to guide the mentee on their journey, then make sure they feel as prepared as possible as an individual hunter when leaving the program. Simple as that!

Where Are the Programs Available?

Sound like a program you’d be interested in? Many states across the country are now offering the mentored hunt program via the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). A few to begin with are:

Even if a program isn’t available in your state, traveling to another state is absolutely an option, Marcia emphasizes. Many of their most successful learning experiences have come from out of state participants.

And if you don’t see your state listed above, be sure to check your state’s DNR website. Now get out there and tackle those hunting dreams, Outsiders!

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