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Wildlife Watch: Mentor program pairs experienced hunters with beginners

Published: Nov. 24, 2020 at 2:41 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - While there has been an uptick in the number of people hunting during the pandemic, Vermont wildlife officials say the overall trend of people hunting in Vermont has been in decline. A new mentoring program aims to attract new recruits to a time-honored Vermont tradition.

“I didn’t grow up hunting and I moved to Vermont 30 years ago and I kind of developed an interest in it,” said Jean Locicero. She said she had to teach herself some of the basics. “I definitely asked people questions if I found out about anybody that knew anything about it, but I kind of had to do it on my own.”

The 58-year-old did have some luck on her own deer hunting, but she wanted to learn more. Locicero decided to join the state’s Learn to Hunt: Mentor Meet-Ups program, and was paired with a mentor.

“We got the stuff that is lacking. If you are trying to learn something all alone. Like the camaraderie -- just hearing their stories and learning by watching people,” Locicero said.

Her mentor is Brett Ladeau. “I’m a lifelong hunter and I love to share my passion for the outdoors with anyone that’s willing to have me come along,” Ladeau said. He says he’s mentored multiple people so far this year with different levels of experience. It had some challenges at first. “There are things that are second nature to me as far as hunting-related stuff goes and trying to break that down to someone who is new into the hunting world.”

But he says it’s rewarding to pass on the tradition to those who are interested. “It’s showing them how an experienced hunter might go about hunting and getting prepared for the season

“Mentorship is a key component in getting folks involved in the idea of hunting,” said Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s Adam Miller, who also serves as a mentor. He says the state had versions of the mentoring program last year but rolled out a more focused program this year to help get more people involved. and give them a chance to learn. “A lot of studies have shown that people can go out, they can get their hunter education, hunter safety certificate. A lot of time they will go through that, they feel good they went through it, and they think once they get through their hunter safety certificate -- what’s next, what do I do?”

Miller says that there were several socially distanced meetups along with a quick questionnaire about interests. The state then connected the volunteer mentors with their mentees. “I would say the common theme is a lot of the hunters are what we would call adult-onset hunters -- hunters that didn’t grow up in that traditional family or didn’t grow up with that background out there,” Miller said.

Miller says that you don’t have to be in the program to mentor, but he adds that the program helps connect those who are interested and helps them learn more about getting some organic meat that is plentiful. “I would say there’s a lot of people who are interested in this, and with more people getting involved, more time outdoors, we think this is going to be a continuing trend for folks that are interested in learning about hunting,” Miller said.

Something that mentees like Locicero say they are happy to be learning. “It really makes a huge difference -- how much I learned in one day. We went out two days, but I could have saved myself a lot of time,” she said.

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