Our sport will die out if we’re not bringing in new hunters. In the sales world, we say if you’re not growing you’re dying. In the hunting world, the same may be true.
I was about 8 years old when I rounded the corner of a bean field in Hyde County, North Carolina, and it was there I saw what would guide me through the rest of my life. That was 40 years ago, and I can still see the combination of five English setters and pointers locked up on the edge of that field. Walking in on that first point was a blur of wings, sights, sounds and pure exhilaration. I am sure I shot in self-defense, and I don’t remember the first quail I bagged, nor the first woodcock or grouse. But I have points and birds from 40 years of upland hunting scattered throughout my memory. I cannot remember what I went to the grocery store for on a normal day, but I can see a woodcock I bagged over an old setter when I was about 12, just like it was yesterday. From the UP of Michigan to Louisiana, the “Little Russet Feller” has haunted me ever since. When my son bagged his first using the same gun on which I learned, he jumped up and down with excitement. He was hooked, and I was delighted.
I would not hunt without a dog because seeing a dog point still makes my heart race with excitement, but why I hunt has changed over the years. The desire to bag a bird at first was replaced with the joy of seeing a young pup point its first bird. Then it was watching the young dog learn the games and become a master. Painfully witnessing the old dog become frail, and then watching his last point. Knowing his lifetime has run full circle, even as mine has not changed much in the dozen or so years. Lastly, as my son grew and started shooting, watching him learn to handle the dogs has been the gravy on top. I hunt to pass along our tradition. As a guide, I have taken many folks out to bag their first grouse or woodcock. Seeing the smile on their faces is heart-warming. Not everyone had the chance to have a dog-man as a dad, but I did. Dad taught me well, just the way he learned, the way I brought up my son, and now my new step-children. But also, the way I take new comers on hunts and point out the little things, all which keep them coming back for more.
As a Centurion Member of both RGS and AWS, my aim is to bring as many new people into our sport as possible – not to crowd out my favorite spot, nor your hidden alder run, but to make sure there is a big enough presence in grouse and woodcock hunting so that my children can all take their kids and show them how to cast a young dog into a likely looking spot – then be happy when they see that dog hunt the right spots all on his own. Mentoring is near and dear to me, as it should be to all of us. Our sport will die out if we are not bringing in new hunters. In the sales world, we say if you’re not growing you’re dying. In the hunting world, the same may be true.
To join RGS and AWS or for more information, go to www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.