Department photo by Tristanna Bickford.


Merriam-Webster’s defines mentorship as the influence, guidance or direction given by a mentor. To me, mentorship means so much more.

Earlier this year I was driving through Western New Mexico. It was pitch black, the complete cloud cover blacking out any hint of light from the moon and stars. The rural area means that there is no light from surrounding towns. There was no traffic, no cell reception, just me and my co-pilots, two toy Australian shepherds curled up in the passenger seat.

I do my best thinking in these times.

That night I was thinking about mentorship; the people who have mentored me and that I have had the chance to mentor. Several outings popped into my mind: growing up hunting with my dad and evolving to hunting antelope with a former Chief Justice, pheasant hunting with conservation industry professionals, dove hunting with families. One particular outing seemed to consume my thoughts.

My junior year in high school, I drew a deer hunt and a good family friend, Tom, drew a late season bull elk hunt near the town where I grew up. My dad had agreed to show our friend around the unit and point out a few spots for him to try out. The timing was off, dad had to leave and set up camp for my hunt, so I volunteered to show Tom around.

After school, we left town, headed for the mountains. I spent the afternoon showing him the unit boundaries, areas where we had seen elk over the summer and spots where we had hunted in the past. As darkness approached we decided to take a walk and see what we could find. Armed with only our jackets and a small pack, we set off for a quick mile or two.

Not far from the truck, we started seeing fresh elk sign…really, really fresh, steaming even. Tom and I continued onto a meadow. We approached the meadow, and I explained to Tom my theory, based on the sign, wind direction and overall knowledge of the area. I developed a scenario: the elk would enter the field from that group of trees and feed down the meadow until they were just in front of the fallen trees we chose to sit behind, waiting to see some elk.

We watched as the elk emerged from a group of trees a few hundred yards away and fed up the meadow bottom. The lead cow drifted our way. As I watched her approach, I realized that she was coming very close to our family friend. She fed to within 10 feet of Tom, when he started shaking…REALLY SHAKING…finally he jumped up unable to hold the excitement any longer. I started laughing as we watched the herd, startled by Tom’s excitement, run across the meadow and disappear back into the trees.

But mentorship is so much more than you might realize — it’s what I get in return. Through these experiences I grow in knowledge and skill. Through their eyes and experiences and learning from a new set of eyes, I change. My skills are evolving from their influence, my memories are greater based on their guidance, I am a better person due to the experiences we have shared.

My memories are crystal clear, based on the mentorship that others have provided to me.

Here are a few tips to introduce someone new to hunting, shooting sports or fishing:

  • Define ‘quality’– Many people have different ideas of what they want from the hunt. Do they want to see a lot of animals, hike a lot of miles, or stay in a comfy lodge and do some short hikes? All of these are great answers and can help identify what the outing looks like.
  • Take breaks – It is okay to stop and use binoculars to glass a far off ridge…or one of my personal favorite hunting traditions – take a nice nap under a shade tree on a hill side. I sleep like a baby, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
  • Look for people who just moved to New Mexico. Often it can take years for someone to learn new regulations, hunting boundaries and good spots. Help them get a head start.
  • Communication is the key. Above all, make sure they are comfortable.
  • And most importantly HAVE FUN. It is exciting to help someone experience wildlife and wild places for the first time.

About Tristanna Bickford

Tristanna Bickford is the Assistant Chief of Education for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.