2019 Georgia Mentors Of The Year
Two mentors who took new hunters to the woods rewarded with guns.
I came through a very traditional path of progression when it comes to hunting, looking back on it I almost didn’t have a choice. My dad hunted, and therefore I hunted (and loved every minute of it). Sharing the woods with my family are some of my fondest memories from childhood, but being indoctrinated at such a young age did come with some drawbacks. There is one in particular that I want to focus on today, and that is the importance of mentorship.
According to Merriam-Webster, a mentor is a “trusted counselor or guide.” My father certainly served in this role for me with hunting and many other things, but I guess I never quite realized the importance of that until later in life when I had some friends who wanted to get into hunting but had never been exposed to that culture. Hunting requires an incredible amount of skills development and can be an extremely intimidating activity to get in to. Mentors can play a significant part in softening the learning curve.
With the shift away from rural values in the United States and less people being raised in a hunting family, mentorship is more important than ever. We created the Georgia Mentor Competition (a partnership between GON, Georgia Wildlife Federation, Quality Deer Management Association, Georgia Chapter of National Wild Turkey Federation and Cabela’s/Bass Pro) to highlight the importance of mentorship and reward those individuals who are going out of their way to introduce new people to the outdoors.
Below we announce the 2019 Deer and Turkey Mentors of the Year.
Deer Mentor of the Year
Mentor: Cortney Bunch
Mentee: Michael Baker
Cortney is a master’s student at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. She grew up in Idaho, went to Western Washington University for her undergraduate degree and moved to Georgia to pursue a Fisheries master’s degree in 2017. She has taken it upon herself to get involved at Warnell, even taking the time to serve as a hunting mentor to fellow students.
Michael Baker is a graduate student who moved to Georgia to obtain his master’s degree at Warnell in 2018. He is originally from Louisiana and is pursuing degrees in both Fisheries and Mathematics. When Cortney found out he was interested in hunting, but didn’t know where to start, she offered to show him the ropes.
They met up early one morning to try a public-land area Cortney identified earlier in the season. Not long after light, a buck with one spike crossed a clearing in front of them and stopped to browse. Michael slowly exhaled and squeezed the trigger. The buck instantly dropped! Cortney showed him how to gut and clean the buck, and they packed the meat out in backpacks.
When we asked Cortney why mentoring is important to her, she said: “Mentoring a friend in hunting is important to me because hunting and harvesting game is a unique skill to have, and it becomes even more meaningful as a shared experience.
“Growing up, it was normal for me to miss a couple days of school to go on a hunting and camping trip with my family during deer season. I took hunter’s education and got my hunting license as early as I could (age 12 in Idaho then), and my parents would always let me try and shoot a deer, even if they had a better shot or they had better aim. I was fortunate enough to get a lot of experience hunting big game growing up, and it made me appreciate how much my parents invested in my education and learning experience. We gutted, cleaned and packaged our own big game and ate from our freezer year-round.
“Moving to Georgia two years ago, I didn’t know anyone well and decided to learn how to hunt in the South on my own. I successfully harvested a couple of deer in the fall of 2018 but didn’t have anyone to go hunting with as of yet. That’s why I asked my friend and fellow student Michael if he wanted to go try deer hunting. I wanted to share what I had learned growing up and share the experience of being outdoors and living off the land.
“The mentoring experience for me was not just about harvesting deer but also about getting out of the city and enjoying the peace in the woods and the creatures that live there. I enjoy helping others and sharing empowering experiences such as hunting that help foster independence. I had such great time in the mentoring process last fall that I would gladly do it again.”
Cortney’s commitment to taking other natural resources students hunting is vital to the future of conservation. We are excited to present her with a Bergara B-14 Hunter in 6.5 Creedmoor sponsored by the Quality Deer Management Association. Michael will receive a $200 gift card for Cabela’s/Bass Pro.
Turkey Mentor of the Year
Mentor: Tony Rittenhouse
Mentee: LaGary Jackson
Tony grew up with hunting as a family tradition. He started as a 3-year-old tagging along with his father and has now been fortunate enough to hunt several states for various game animals. Tony is committed to passing along the tradition and making sure anyone who has an interest in hunting has an opportunity to do so.
LaGary has been on a few wheelchair hunts for deer but had never gotten the opportunity to turkey hunt until pairing up with Tony on the Dalton Utilities Wheelchair Hunt this past March. They got skunked at daylight not hearing any birds, so they decided to switch tactics. Shortly after starting to run-and-gun, Tony struck a bird and got LaGray positioned with camo netting over his wheelchair. Ten minutes of calling and 15 gobbles later, LaGary pulled the trigger on his first longbeard.
When we asked Tony about why mentoring is important to him, he said: “Hunting has always been a tradition in my family. I remember going on deer hunts with my entire family when I was growing up. My grandfather, grandmother, uncles, mom and dad. I can still remember the smell of bacon being fried by my grandmother. My dad mentored me. I know he could have killed more deer if he had not taken me with him, but from the age of 3, he would take me to the woods. We would sit all day from dark to dark. It would get so cold that my bottom jaw would shake uncontrollably. He taught me everything about hunting.
“When I had kids, I really messed up. I thought they would have the same passion I would about hunting, and I pushed them too hard, which made them not want to go as much. Of course, I was at the stage in my hunting life that I thought I needed to kill something every time. It was more about the kill and not the hunt. I think as we mature, not only as people but as hunters, our perspective changes.
“First my grandparents passed away, and then my uncle got health issues. Then in September 2017, my dad passed away. I never thought this day would come. I am the last person left in my family hunting. I think about all the time and knowledge they tried to instill in me and all the lost knowledge they took with them. As I have matured as a hunter, it is more about the hunt than the kill for me now. When I go to the woods, I think about all the great memories I had with my dad, and how I would like to share those type memories with other people.
“If I can pass along some of the knowledge that was given to me and make a memory that will last a lifetime with someone else, then I have done my part. I’m looking forward to passing the hunting tradition on to as many people as I can no matter their age.”
We loved reading Tony’s story and are excited to present him with a Mossberg 500 Turkey in 12 gauge sponsored by the Georgia Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. LaGary will receive a $200 gift card for Cabela’s/Bass Pro.
Pay It Forward This Season
With the staggering declines in hunting participation across the country, conserving hunters may be our most important duty as sportsmen and women. As hunters, we understand hunting’s many values. Everyday we cross paths with people interested in hunting who don’t know where to get started. The rewards of mentorship are obvious in each of these mentor and mentee stories, and we hope these stories inspire you to take some time to mentor a new hunter this coming season.
About The Author: Charles S. Evans earned his bachelor’s and master’s in wildlife biology from the University of Georgia and now works for the Georgia Wildlife Federation as the Georgia R3 Coordinator. His position, which is also supported by Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Quality Deer Management Association, National Wild Turkey Federation and Safari Club International, was created to increase hunting participation and societal acceptance of hunting in Georgia.
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