Posted: October 30, 2020

Whether you are someone new to the sport or are a lifelong hunter, you are probably familiar with the term “mentor.” This is because, here in Pennsylvania, before becoming a licensed junior or adult hunter, you have the opportunity to participate in the Mentored Hunting program.

November is almost upon us. As summer has faded away and the grandeur of October is passing, many of us lament the speed at which the warmth and sun has come and gone again. It is time once again for the air to chill, for the days to grow shorter, and the forest to grow quiet and dark in the absence of its new, green life. Yet, for many people across Pennsylvania, watching summer dip into fall is anything but sorrowful. Because the cool breeze and the fallen leaves are thrilling reminders that hunting season has indeed returned.

If you are an outdoorsperson, you know this feeling well. Are your thoughts now consumed by that specific white-tailed deer you have had your eyes on all summer, planning and preparing for a successful season? Or does your joy come from simply heading out into the woods for a quiet walk in search of small game or the camaraderie of relaxing at camp? Perhaps your passion is for birds and it is time once again to take your best friend – your pup – into the field to watch it do its thing. Regardless of your chosen game, hunting is a sport you truly love. And, likely, the value and passion you have for it is something that has been instilled within you.

Whether you are someone new to the sport or are a lifelong hunter, you are probably familiar with the term “mentor.” This is because, here in Pennsylvania, before becoming a licensed junior or adult hunter, you have the opportunity to participate in the Mentored Hunting program. This program allows people of all ages, youth and adults, to have an opportunity to experience hunting alongside a licensed, experienced outdoorsperson (who is over the age of 21). This formalized program, borne out of the value in traditional hunting mentorship within families and friends, has created a structure that allows for people to hunt and tag game before choosing to take a Hunter-Trapper Education course and obtaining a junior or adult license. The goal of this program is that hunting with a mentor may spark excitement for the sport, but moreover, that a period of mentorship will allow for the demonstration of safe and responsible practices. And yet, if you have participated in the program, you know that it serves so much more than this.

The time that we spend with our mentors in the forest shapes the way that we enjoy, view, understand, and value the natural world around us. Often, our mentors are people we know, appreciate, and even admire. They are parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, cousins, siblings, or friends. They are people whom we trust, believe, and truly love spending long, and sometimes tough, days with in the woods. In our eyes, especially as children, they are the keepers of the wisdom that we need in order to be successful in our sport and to have a track record like theirs. And so we listen, we ask questions, and we learn. And the wisdom they share with us – the knowledge we gain through hunting with our mentor – is not inconsequential for the care and stewardship of our forests. In fact, it is an integral part of it. Recall all that you understand about the woods and wildlife that you have gained from years of hunting with your mentor. You can likely identify signs of or anticipate animal behavior, such as movement, bedding, feeding, calling, and mating rituals like scraping and scratching. You know the habitat and cover preferences of a variety of species. You understand food preferences. You understand the vital role that different species of trees and shrubs play in creating the optimal conditions for wildlife. You even have a deep understanding of how changes in the weather and wind can impact all of these things. And beyond your knowledge of just the hunt, you deeply understand the beauty and life that resides within our forests. You have sat still, on dark, cold mornings, and listened as the world awoke around you, chirping and calling and beginning to move on the dawn horizon. You have heard the deep silence on a still, wet day and have watched the grace of fresh snow as it floated down and settled atop the leaves. And, with your mentors, when the tone shifts from serious pursuit to lighthearted fellowship, you have heard stories of a bygone era, of hunting in the old days – funny stories, success stories, sad stories, stories you have heard a hundred times, stories you never knew, stories of people who are gone now, stories of friends who are missed, stories of your mentor’s own mentors…stories that, whether you knew it in the moment, were helping to mold you into who you are today. In those moments spent nestled deep in the forest, teaching you about hunting and teaching you about life, your mentor was cultivating within you a passion for the sport and a passion for the land upon which some your fondest memories were made. We know that hunters are indeed conservationists, as they serve a role in the management of wildlife species through the direct action of the sport, but consider that the role of conservation in hunting goes beyond this – as a hunter, you intimately know and love the forest as the setting and the scribe of your passions and your memories with the people you hold close.

And so today, we challenge you to contemplate the role that you play in the continued health and tenure of our forests for generations to come. Because in the act of hunting, we are learning deeply about the life within our forests, about the complex ecological relationships between wildlife and their habitat, and about the value of our own human connections that we cultivate with them and with others, within them. We challenge you to be an advocate for the woods – a steward of the forest – by passing on that same knowledge, passion, and value that was instilled in you.

If you are above the age of 21, a licensed adult hunter in Pennsylvania, and feel as though you practice a strong stewardship ethic through your sport, consider becoming a mentor to someone in your life. If your hope is to inspire the next generation, youth hunting season is an excellent time to patiently attend to a child or teenager in the woods, when human pressure on the animals and land is low. If you have a friend, co-worker, or neighbor who is interested in hunting, consider mentoring them through the adult program and perhaps helping them to rediscover or discover for the first time the beauty and importance of our forests. If you are an adult and are interested in learning to hunt, reach out to those near you – contact a friend you know, ask your colleagues about their experiences, or perhaps reach out to a sportsmen club near you and ask about joining or visiting with a club member to learn more.

After all, that thrill that you feel at the end of each October – that familiar feeling of excitement, the joy, belonging, and understanding that you find when you return to one another and to the forest each fall – is about so much more than the hunt.

Note: Remember, there are rules and regulations regarding practice and liability involved in the Mentored Hunter program, so be sure that you become familiar with the process and the roles of both the mentor and the mentored hunter. It is also important to note that mentored hunters do receive a mentored license and, as with the others distributed for hunting and fishing, there is a fee. And if you are spending anytime in the forest this fall, hunting or enjoying an autumn hike, it is important to take safety precautions by being aware of active seasons in your area and wearing fluorescent orange on your head, chest, and back.
Learn more about the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Mentored Hunting Program, Wearing Fluorescent Orange, license fees, and more about hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania at the Game Commission's website.

Written by: Abigail Jamison, Graduate Assistant

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802