OUTDOORS COLUMN: Mentoring young sportsmen vital for hunting's future

Wildlife biologist Charles Sharp not long ago shared some intriguing thoughts to which all hunters should pay attention as they prepare for the upcoming seasons. He brought to mind the many changes that have occurred since the days when our fathers and grandfathers were first learning to hunt. The hunting tradition has been altered drastically.

We have gone from being allowed to hunt on almost any piece of property just by asking permission to paying exorbitant per-acre prices to purchase a seasonal hunting lease on the same tract of land. We once stepped out the back door to hunt and now that has evolved into driving many miles and hours just to get to a hunting lease or hunting preserve. We have gone from almost everyone we know being a hunter to being one of the few people in our neighborhoods who claim hunting as an important recreational activity. These changes have had a major impact on the sport of hunting and on those who participate as well.

According to Sharp, the greatest threat to hunting today is not the price of hunting leases, nor is it the cost of hunting licenses, guns, or ammunition. The main reason we have we have seen a dramatic decline in the number of those who call themselves hunters is not due to any outside influences. As was the decline and fall of the Roman Empire largely caused by inside circumstances, so is the decline of hunting.

Most veteran Georgia hunters can usually identify one or two individuals that were responsible for instilling in them a love for the outdoors, the wonders that abound there, and the privilege of fair-chase harvest of the land’s game species. It might have been a father, grandfather, uncle, or maybe a close friend of the family. Whoever that person was matters a great deal to the individual. To that ever-shrinking fraternity of hunters, however, it is much more important that someone took the time and selflessly made the effort to take a young person with little or no understanding of wildlife, sportsmanship, marksmanship, or outdoor stewardship and invested that time and effort in mentoring a young neophyte.

“Our world has changed greatly over the past couple of decades,” Sharp said. “Gasoline prices have skyrocketed, housing costs have risen, and the cost of feeding a family has also increased. Yet, most of us are better off financially than were our parents. The one thing that has remained constant is time, something each generation has only a finite bit of. Our mentors invested some of their precious time instilling in us the love of the outdoors and, in return for their investment; we owe it to the next generation to pass that heritage on to them.”

Hunting is more than an on-the-surface rewarding pastime. It is a legacy.

“It might be true that some people will become outdoor enthusiasts without the benefit of a mentor,” said Sharp, “but this method deprives both the teacher and the student of a great relationship as well as wonderful memories. The willingness of each generation to invest some of their time imparting the love and knowledge of their hunting activities ensures that the sport will be carried on by future generations. Today’s adult hunters now enjoy the pleasures of hunting and with that are obligated to pass their own passion for the outdoors along to their young charges. If only one generation of hunters were to fail to pass its love of hunting along, the sport of hunting as we know it would be lost. It is up to each of us to do our part.”

Need anymore be said? Can any hunter out there disagree? I recall years ago a certain manufacturer of firearms and ammunition printing a particular motto on every box of shotgun shells and rifle cartridges: “Take your boy hunting and you won’t be hunting your boy.” Cliché? Yes. Sappy? Perhaps. Chauvinistic? Indeed. True? Absolutely!

Think on it, if you will, as fall rapidly approaches.