Because your participants will likely have limited experience with firearms (and may bring some negative feeling about firearms with them), it is very important to provide them with ample opportunities to become familiar with safe firearm handling practices, as well opportunities to use a firearm. Their initial shooting experience will likely be somewhat stressful for them. We recommend that this experience be carefully managed to reduce any anxiety by fully explaining what to expect, as well as carefully walking them through the shooting process.
One consistent response on evaluations from participants who have participated in learn-to-hunt classes is that they would have liked to have had more range practice. Accommodating this desire may require adjustments in the course schedule and arranging for instructors, guides and mentors to be available for additional time.
Providing for ample range time will also require access to a shooting range. Many existing programs have developed strong partnerships with shooting ranges. The ranges have benefited from the exposure, and often recruit new members as a result of partnering with the learn-to-hunt program. However, you should not expect to use a range for free. Inform your participants as early as possible if fees are required.
If possible, schedule your range visit during a low-use time. This will allow a more relaxed schedule for your participants, and will allow the range to serve their regular customers/members with minimum disruption. Having a “private” shooting session likely will reduce some of the anxiety that participants may feel as well.
Ranges may have other facilities, such as classrooms or picnic areas that may also be available for program use. If you elect to use these facilities, make sure you are aware of the shooting range hours so the sound from shooting does not interfere with the instruction. In addition, we recommend that other range users or club members be briefed on the program goals and objectives and are aware that “true novices” from non-hunting cultures are going to be using the range.
Regular range users or club members may be a potential source of mentors or guides for your participants.
Meeting/pairing with mentors/guides
Range day (or earlier) is an ideal time to introduce and pair mentors/guides with their participants. Mentors and guides often excel at teaching shooting skills and this activity provides an excellent opportunity for the pairs to get to know each other in a semi-structured environment.
Some thought should be given to which participant is paired with which mentor/guide. While not an exact science, we recommend that participant personalities, skill levels, confidence levels, and willingness to move outside of their comfort level be considered when pairing participants with mentors/guides. Likewise, the mentor’s/ guide’s personality, teaching skills and openness should also be considered.
In addition, age, gender and cultural background should also be considered.
If possible, brief bios of each participant and mentor/guide should be developed and shared prior with their actual meeting. We recommend that the pairs include contact information on their bios, and each mentor/guide should be encouraged to contact his/her participant for a brief phone/email introduction before they meet in person.
Ideally, a long-term mentoring relationship will develop between the pair, and the mentor/guide will become an advisor and possibly a hunting companion after the course is over. Facilitating this type of relationship is important for creating a long-term deer hunter out of a novice.