At the beginning of the year, I had the worst hiking partner I’ve ever had. We only went on three hikes together and he ended up disliking me as much as I disliked him. We had a ton of things in common such as our faith, marriage, we were both recent transplants to Colorado, roots in the South (albeit different parts, but he lived in the area my family is from which is how I knew him) and our love for hiking. However, his topics of conversation focused strictly on our differences and he brought a lot of negativity, anger and hatred to the trail. He also sought out different things from our experiences.
Different strokes for different folks are fine, but I’m not the kind of guy who wants to hike up a mountain just to get a good look at the city. I also like to use the wilderness as a way to heal my heart from the frustrations and conflict of daily life. I think wilderness has the power to bring us together, but this dude just wanted to fight all the time. Like a lot of people today, he didn’t want to hear an alternative opinion, he wanted to hear his opinion communicated back to him.
If you ask hunters, most will tell you that spending time with family or friends is one of the best things about hunting. I imagine hikers, climbers and others would say the same thing. Taking on an adventure with someone is a wonderful experience, not just in the time together, but also in needing to work as a team to accomplish your goals. It could be as simple as one person carrying the tent and the other person carrying the food on a backpacking trip, or it could be roping up and helping each other cross a river or fast-moving creek. No matter how easy or difficult the task, working together for a common cause creates a solid bond between people.
It’s a fine line to walk between inviting new people into the woods with you and also hedging your bets so that you get the experience you want to have. A lot of folks will not take a new person hunting for risk of having a bad experience. One person can ruin an entire trip through any number of different methods. I definitely understand why someone would not take a stranger on a long hunt, but you can always try people out on small game hunts or bird hunts. I invite pretty much everyone I know to hunt small game with me. The more the merrier I say, but I admit, when it comes to a long, big game hunt, I only want to be around people I already have a relationship with, who I believe I can get along with for an extended period of time and know that I can trust them with my life.
The R3 community is focused on growing hunting and two of the three R’s involve inviting new people outdoors (Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation) so it’s of utmost importance we invite new people to go hunting or fishing with us. I feel the same way about doing this as I do launching any other collective project – it’s important to set expectations and prepare the people ahead of time. An easy way to do this is simply to let people tag along the first time. On a small game or bird hunt it’s simple because you’re most likely going home every night. They’re simply walking through the woods with you or hanging out in a blind. Also, many states have programs where you can go hunting one time before you have to take Hunters Education. It’s a way to “try before you buy”. If you live out east, you can also take someone out for the day deer hunting as many folks go home every night there too.
After a day or two in the woods together, both you and the new person will have an idea of whether or not this is going to work for the two of you. If you have a great time, try something bigger, but if you don’t? It’s okay. You tried. Maybe that person just doesn’t want to hunt or maybe the chemistry just isn’t there for the two of you, but hopefully they’ll have a better understanding of hunting and will be pro-hunting in the future.
Keep your traditions and continue to hunt and fish with your loved ones, but don’t be afraid to add some fresh blood. Just make sure you set expectations before you do and everyone should have a good time. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be responsible for someone new starting their own traditions with their friends and family.