If you're a hunter, it's likely your first hunting partner was your father, big brother or an uncle. Learning from an older, more experienced mentor is a tradition that goes back thousands of years, and is still effective today.
Eventually, of course, you move away from home, find different hunting grounds and have to think about looking for a new hunting partner. Sure, there are those who prefer to hunt alone, but for safety reasons it's best to have at least one companion along. You may split up during the actual hunt, but it's great to be able to swap feedback and share stories back at camp.
A good hunting buddy is someone with a level head, a reasonable level of experience, a dedication to safety and an easygoing personality. They should be willing to teach, willing to learn and willing to help out when needed. Above all, they should share your basic philosophy of hunting and enjoy it for much the same reasons you do.
Unfortunately, not all hunting companions are ideal. There are certain personal characteristics you definitely don't want in a hunting partner. If you've ever had the experience of venturing out with 'the hunting partner from hell', there's a good chance he (or she) fell into one of the following categories:
1. The unprepared -
This hunter forgets his licence, his tag, his ammo, his water canteen, his jacket or his sunglasses, and doesn't realise until you've driven halfway to your destination. He may have neglected to have breakfast before you picked him up, and expects you to stop at a diner on the way, thereby cutting into your early morning hunting time. Pick a buddy who uses a proper gear checklist and ticks off each item before he leaves the house.
2. The alcohol enthusiast -
Having a beer or two after a long, hot day in the great outdoors isn't a problem. When your companion is having a lot more than that, he becomes a danger to himself and others - and not just when he has a rifle in his hands. Incidents of people falling into campfires are often alcohol-related, and it's not fun spending your hard-earned vacation time driving some injured drunk to the hospital, instead of bagging that buck you've been after for years. If your new hunting buddy can't head to the woods without four cases of beer stashed in his truck, you know you're in for some problems. You want a companion you can rely on, not one you have to babysit.
3. The king of bloodlust -
This guy just loves killing things. Principles of conservation or ethics mean nothing to him. His motto is 'if it moves, blast it'. He'll shoot bald eagles out of the air from a moving truck, blow squirrels apart for the 'fun of it', and even use a pistol to 'fish' for spawning salmon. If people have this little respect for the natural environment, leave them at home. They probably have plenty of 'violent assassin' video games they can play there.
4. The competitive egomaniac -
A good hunting companion will be happy for you if you bag the first deer. He'll get all the juicy details so he can learn from your experience. A bad hunting buddy will sulk, make excuses for his own failure, tell you 'you were just lucky' and rush off half-cocked to try and do better. Some people view every group activity as a competition, and their self-worth is measured by how many others they can 'beat'. Selfishness, braggadocio and a constant need to 'win' are not good traits in a hunting companion.
5. The lazy -
While you're collecting firewood, setting up your tent, grabbing buckets of water from the river and doing some prep for dinner, your companion decides to take a late afternoon nap. Later, he miraculously manages to wake up just as dinner is ready, and expects you to feed him, make him coffee, help him set up his tent and do most of the washing up. If you find a companion who won't pitch in, pitch him out.
6. The safety numbskull -
He'll leave a loaded gun leaning against a tree where it can fall down, go off and shoot someone standing nearby. He'll have his safety off while he scrambles through thick woods. He'll drag wet rocks from the creek and line the campfire with them, showing amazement when the water inside them heats up and makes the rocks explode. He'll shoot at something he thinks 'might have been a deer'. These are the sort of people who are hunting accidents just waiting to happen. A good hunting buddy will treat safety as the first priority.
Having a great hunting companion can make a trip better. Having a horrible one can be worse than hunting alone. Pick your hunting partners carefully - you can usually learn a lot by asking the right questions beforehand. Ask them about their previous experience, firearms preferences, why they enjoy hunting, their safety philosophy, tracking ability, cooking skills, fitness level and anything else that might help you gain some insight into what sort of companion they'll turn out to be.