March 2018
From Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

The Alabama Adult Mentored Hunt Program

Becoming a new hunter isn’t just for kids anymore!


Wildlife Biologist Justin Gilchrest teaches the mentored hunters how to age a deer by looking at tooth wear.

Millions of dollars are being spent nationwide in an attempt to slow the decline in hunting license sales. R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation) programs are one of the main focal points of all state agencies. Like most agencies, we have been conducting various programs designed to either recruit new hunters or engage lapsed hunters for decades. Unfortunately, most of these programs have met with limited success. Therefore, we are taking a close look at all our R3 programs to see which ones are giving the best return on our investment.

Money, free time and accessibility to property seem to be the three most limiting factors to someone starting or continuing to hunt. We are constantly working on the accessibility issue by purchasing quality hunting land around the state and providing ample opportunity for people to enjoy those lands. The money and time issue, we can’t really do anything about. Frankly, I wish I had more money and time to enjoy hunting!

Don Prater harvested his first deer during the first mentored hunt. He was mentored by Justin Gilchrest.


In the December issue, I wrote about the inspiration to create a fledgling R3 program, the Alabama Adult Mentored Hunt Program. This program was designed to offer an opportunity to anyone over the age of 18 who has the desire to learn how to hunt.

As I said earlier, we need to get a return on our investment in these R3 programs, not just feel good about ourselves because we carried someone hunting. We need people to become hunters, not simply go hunting one time. Everyone has heard the old Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." That’s what we intend to do with this program.

With this being a new program, we started small and offered three deer hunts on the Cedar Creek Special Opportunity Area for a total of 15 participants. We received over 100 applications from individuals who ranged in age from 19 to 75. Approximately 40 percent of the applicants were female.

AAMHP is not the typical mentored-hunting program. It is a three-day crash course in Hunting 101 taught by our staff on public land. I’ll use the itinerary from the first hunt as an example of how the weekends unfold.

  • Friday, 2 p.m.: The five participants arrived at the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge for room assignments and a briefing on the events for the weekend.

  • 3:30: The participants were taken to the shooting range and given firearms safety, familiarization and live-fire training by two of our Conservation Enforcement Officers.

  • 5:30: Dinner and discussion of various meals that were prepared using venison. Five different venison dishes were served, and a cookbook was presented to each participant with the recipes and cooking instructions.

  • 7:30: Three PowerPoint presentations were delivered covering topics such as the mission of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, funding for the Division, basic wildlife management principles and techniques, and aging bucks on the hoof. Hands-on demonstrations of proper safety harness usage and proper shot placement also took place. Finally, mentors were paired with their mentee and given detailed instructions about the next morning’s hunt.

  • Saturday, 4:30 a.m.: It was time to rise and shine, and grab a light breakfast before heading to Cedar Creek SOA for the morning hunt.

  • 10:30: All participants and their mentors met at the pavilion for a review of the morning hunt, including how to locate downed deer, field dressing, tree stand safety and an extensive Q&A session.

  • Noon: Lunch, venison burgers, was cooked onsite and the Q&A session continued.

  • 12:30: Hands-on demonstration of how to read the woods for deer signs, how to use aerial imagery in your hunt, stand placement, compass reading, habitat analysis and what essential items are needed in every hunter’s backpack.

  • 2: Participants and mentors headed to their hunting stands.

  • 6: Hands-on demonstration of proper field dressing. Then everyone returned to the lodge to learn how to skin and butcher a deer.

  • 7: Dinner and cooking demonstration by one of the winning cook teams of the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Wild Game Cookoff.

  • 8: Campfire talk of the day’s activities and discussion of Sunday’s events.

  • Sunday, 4:30 a.m.: Light breakfast then the hunters headed to the woods.

  • 11: Hunt concluded and participants were given a debriefing on the weekend’s events followed by a Q&A session and everyone completed an exit survey.

The AAMHP is a labor-intensive and expensive program to implement. However, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt it is well worth it. Despite the fact we are only impacting a few participants, we are creating hunters. And in turn, these new hunters are having positive conversations with their peers about the benefits and enjoyment of hunting and how our department is providing this service.


Todd Pater and his father Don both harvested their first deer during the first mentored hunt. Todd’s mentor was Conservation Enforcement Officer Grady Meyers. Don’s was Wildlife Biologist Justin Gilchrest (not pictured). Syd showcased his blood trailing skills to the mentored hunters while finding Todd’s deer.

For example, one of the hunters I helped mentor, a special education teacher, bought her first hunting license to participate in this program. After spending an afternoon in a hunting blind with her, where she harvested her first deer, I have no doubt she will be an ambassador for hunting to her friends, family and hundreds of kids.

But state agencies and NGOs can’t do this alone. As hunters, we need to take it upon ourselves to mentor new hunters if we want to see the sport we love continue. An example of this is another hunter I helped mentor. He has many friends who hunt, but he didn’t feel comfortable asking them to teach him. That should be a wake-up call to all hunters. Look around you at work, church, the ballfield or any place you have repeated contact with the same group of people. Don’t forget, someone who wants to learn to hunt isn’t always a child. Thousands of adults would jump at the opportunity to go hunting and learn from a seasoned hunter.

Einstein’s definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. With hunting licenses being purchased by less than 5 percent of the residents of Alabama, we have a huge untapped market out there. We must all change our tactics and look to these nontraditional avenues to recruit new hunters.


I think this program is going to yield impressive results in the years to come. For more information on the AAMHP, visit and search for mentored hunts.


Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.