Aubrey Pawlikowski is the social media manager for Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division

I was raised in a non-hunting family on the outskirts of a mid-Atlantic major metropolitan area. Several of my friends hunted ducks and deer but to be honest, I didn’t understand it. Food came from a grocery store, not the woods. Deer and ducks were things I liked to look at in my backyard but not on my table.P1010451_editIt wasn’t until taking wildlife management classes while earning my Bachelor’s degree that I was really exposed to hunting. My professors taught me that hunter’s played a role in conservation and how hunting was an important wildlife management tool. I started my career as a wildlife technician working for universities and wildlife agencies and interacted with hunters on a daily basis. I could always advocate the science behind hunting but struggled to advocate for the motivations of why a person would choose to do it. Over time I gained a better understanding of the “why,” but realized I couldn’t relate. I didn’t have the experience to back up the knowledge. I felt that the educational platform I received in a classroom could not truly be understood until I experienced it for myself.

I told myself if I was given the opportunity, I would try it once. I needed to experience hunting to relate to hunters. It wasn’t until I joined the Georgia Department of Natural Resources that the opportunity presented itself. Working in the natural resources, it’s important to be able to relate to all of the customers the agency serves. While I expected to gain the obvious information, I didn’t intend for the unexpected observations and experiences.

  1. I felt connected with the land.

It was a perfectly clear December morning. A bit chilly but comfortable. I could hear and feel the woods come alive. Watching the bird dogs work was magical. The first bobwhite quail flushed and I was too enamored by the experience to even raise my firearm. I watched the bird soar away and shared a laugh with my mentor over my lack of reaction.BuckeyesPlantation

2. The Emotions.

I certainly didn’t expect the range of emotions I felt after harvesting my first bird. I was proud that I was successful but sensitive to the fact that I had taken an animal. I immediately remarked how beautiful the bird was and thanked the English Setter for bringing the bird back to me. I was excited to take my harvest home and feed my family. Food not from the grocery store but rather food that I had worked hard for.

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  1. Camaraderie. 

We took another first timer along with us. We discussed on the ride to our hunting area our concerns, apprehensions, nervousness, and excitement for the experience. We knew we wanted to try to harvest a bird but weren’t sure what our reactions would be. After heading back to the camp, we suddenly had our own stories. The pheasant that flushed over our heads. The quail that wouldn’t take flight. The off the hip shot that was successful. We felt connected to the land and to each other for sharing the experience.

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  1. A sense of heritage and tradition.

My mentor had hunted most of his life. It was an honor that he shared this experience with me. His passion resonated through the stories he told and the advice he gave. He was supportive and reassuring when I missed a shot or simply didn’t take one. I was concerned it wouldn’t be a thrilling hunt for him as an experienced hunter. He reassured me that the thrill was watching my enthusiasm and reliving his first hunt all over again through me.

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Immediately after I took my first bobwhite quail. Note the smile on my mentor’s face!
  1. It’s not about bringing home an animal as a trophy.

My mentor became emotional when talking about some of his hunts. Hunting became more than just harvesting an animal to me. The mounts hunters show in photos aren’t trophies, they are memories. Hunting can be about a person’s last hunt with their dad before they passed away or their first hunt with their child. Hunting is getting up before sunrise to get in the field and hear the world wake up. Hunting is coming home with an experience and hopefully a harvest, but mostly the experience. The quail feather I have sitting on my desk takes me straight back to my first hunt just by looking at it. I can feel the breeze on my face, I can see the dogs, I can hear my mentor whispering, “Get ahead of it!”

  1. You don’t have to grow up a hunter to become a hunter.

Many people are exposed to hunting as a child, but you’re never too old to get started. If it’s something you’re interested in doing find a mentor that’s willing to take you! A lot of hunters would be thrilled to share their passion with someone who’s never done it before.

My first hunt left me with a better appreciation of hunters and the new found ability to relate to my customers. I also learned a lot about myself. Being in the woods has also been a time for me to reflect on things and “check out”, but this added a whole other element to it. The experience was life changing. It was also a solid reminder that it’s never too late to do something for the first time.

If you’re interested in hunting for the first time, the Georgia Mentor Competition is a great reason to get started now. For participating in the competition, the mentor has an opportunity to win a free firearm and the mentee can win a free lifetime license. More information about sign-up can be found here: https://georgiawildlife.wordpress.com/2017/11/21/take-someone-hunting-and-win-big/GAMentorCompetition_Graphic