Mentoring the Outdoor Lifestyle
I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and we got on the topic of mentorship and how it impacts an individual’s life. We began talking about what mentorship means and agreed that it’s a period of time during which a person receives guidance from experience in an area of interest, and that time is typically undefined. It could be years, or hours, and can depend on how a person’s life is impacted during that time together. Often an individual can be a mentor without even realizing that they are impacting someone’s life.
As mentioned in my previous blog post, I was fortunate enough to have a grandfather that introduced me to the world of fishing and a father that had a love of hunting. My grandfather was a very good saltwater angler and was known at the San Francisco Marina for his knowledge and success with striped bass and halibut in the San Francisco Bay. Once I caught the love of black bass fishing his focus changed, and together, we learned to chase this popular fish. I always appreciated that he gave me access to fishing, and without him, I would have never come to love the sport like I do.
Our days on the water chasing largemouth bass were spent trying things that we read about in articles or watched on TV. It was a time-consuming process and often it took weeks, months or even years to develop any kind of confidence in what we were doing and be successful with it. There were so many things to figure out: techniques, seasonality, weather conditions, equipment, etc. I loved doing all of this with my grandfather and would not have given up that time for anything, as we made lasting memories.
I was so tied up in fishing that it took me a little longer to get fully hooked on hunting, but it still happened at a fairly young age.Once that interest took hold, I approached it with the same intensity and desire to learn as I did with fishing.Again, the time with my father in the outdoors hiking the mountains of California, Montana and Colorado are memories that will live in my mind forever. However, I often wondered what it would be like if we knew someone that was willing to teach us these lessons.Someone that already had a good understanding of these things.Could we have shortened the learning curve?Could I have been more successful on the water and in the mountains early on?
At some point I realized I could help others learn more quickly by sharing my experiences. I thoroughly enjoy sharing my knowledge with others, watching them take it and be successful. Let’s face it, information is more readily available today through articles, forums, social media, platforms like YouTube, or personal interaction. My preference to this day is still personal interaction because that passion or excitement is more easily felt and transferred to another. That being said, I share however I can, and I believe that this is more important than ever for our hunting and fishing community. It’s the only way we will continue to grow the sports we love, and keep our activities alive and well.
I have been fortunate enough to receive messages from people over the years thanking me for advice that helped them in some way. That feedback is very rewarding for me to receive. I am still hesitant to call myself a mentor, but I cherish the fact that I have helped in some way. Many of these are with limited interaction but we can all impact people with very little time given. What seems like a common act can impact someone in a way you would not have imagined.
Here are a couple of examples:
In July of 1999 the first Pro-Teen Classic was held out of Big Break Marina on the California Delta. For those not familiar with it, this was an event where boaters were recruited to take out teenagers to compete in a tournament format. I donated my time for that event, and I was paired with a young man by the name of Chris Brizendine. We had a lot of fun that day and caught quite a few fish. At the conclusion of the event Chris won the inaugural Pro-Teen Classic!
The following year the event coordinator paired us up again to defend the title. I think Chris ended up in the top 5 that year but where he placed was not as important the fact that we enjoyed the day on the water.
Fast forward to earlier this year and I was going through some old boxes and found a t-shirt from the 2000 event that Chris had signed for me. It was a nice memory, so I took a picture and sent it to Chris for a good laugh. This was the response that I received 20 years later:
Chris has a beautiful family of his own now and he is quite the angler, having won tournaments on his home water of Folsom Lake. It was so rewarding to hear that I helped create his love for the sport and we have another great angler that may otherwise not have been involved in the sport.
Now I am not so naïve as to think that it was all because of me. There were many others that helped create his passion. His parents and his grandfather brought him to this event in 1999 and I remember meeting them. Another gentleman by the name of Andy Cuccia, had a vision and he organized the event. To me they all deserve the title of “mentor” and I was just glad to be a part of it. I am glad that I was able to help Chris realize a passion.
On another occasion...
About 6 years ago I met a gentleman by the name of Baxter at a friend’s ranch in Northern California. Baxter had an outgoing personality and was involved in both hunting and fishing, so we had a lot to talk about. Sometime during the course of one of the evenings our conversation turned to bowhunting and elk, two of my passions when I am not on the water chasing bass.
It was a conversation that wasn’t any different than many I have had with others in the past, but Baxter seemed interested and I told him if he had any questions, he could give me a call. That turned into a couple of phone calls and more conversations about equipment, tactics, etc.
Baxter ended up purchasing a bow and the next thing I knew he was at my house and we were tuning his equipment to make sure it was performing optimally for him. We even went to the archery range together a couple of times.
Today Baxter is a successful backcountry bowhunter who also happens to have a website and a podcast dedicated to teaching and informing others about bowhunting elk. I had sent him an email complimenting him on his website and he sent me an email back that I was honored to receive.
Baxter went on to say, in a later email, "What seemed like small things to you (talking about archery/fall elk, a few phone calls, helping me tune my bow at your place, shooting with me in Oakland) were sparks that led to a pretty big fire... but if you weren't there it probably wouldn't have happened."
This, once again, reinforces that mentorship doesn't have to take elaborate planning or even a large amount of dedicated time.
If you are a hunter, I would highly recommend checking out Baxter’s website at BaxterBowman.com as well as on Instagram at #BaxterBowman. He has now taken on a mentor role for one of his passions and he shares a lot of really great information!
There are also my daughters, both of whom are showing interest in hunting and fishing. For them, I do take full responsibility of being a mentor and showing them the right and ethical ways to enjoy the outdoors. They have fished with me, been on hunts with me, go to the archery range with me, and they even help me develop new colors when I am tying my jigs. I love being in the field or on the lake with them because I get to see everything through their young eyes. Seeing the curiosity and joy on their faces when they participate in an outdoor activity is the best thing I could ever experience. Whether it be putting an arrow in the bullseye or catching their new personal best bass, their enthusiasm is my success.
Just being open to help educate or inform is the best thing you can do to help grow the outdoor sports that we all love, and growth is what we need to keep our activities safe. The latest statistics show that in the United States 29.2 million people purchased a fishing license this last year. That is just 11.4% of the total US population. Statistics also show that 15.1 million people purchased a hunting license this last year which equates to roughly 5.9% of the population. This takes into account that 22.6% of the population are children and, in many cases, not needing to or not being able to buy a license.
This suggests the vast majority of the population isn’t actively involved in our outdoor passions. This alone should encourage you to be a mentor to someone, young or old. You can be a mentor to someone of any age.
These are just some examples of how mentorship can work. People are always looking to learn and gather information that helps them better themselves or enhance their experience, and the outdoor lifestyle is no different. Some people don’t know where to begin so if you have the experience, lend a hand. Like I said earlier, many times you will be mentoring without even realizing it.
I have been fortunate that I have been in a position to introduce quite a few individuals to different aspects of the outdoors. Some already enjoyed the outdoors and I was just able to introduce them to a different experience, and some I had the pleasure of actually introducing them to hunting or fishing for the first time. Whatever the situation, I can tell you, there is no better feeling than knowing you helped someone to develop a passion that will last a lifetime.