Hunters traditionally learn as children or teenagers from their parents or older family members.
If you’re an adult and you’ve never hunted, it’s never too late to start. It may seem daunting at first, and you may have a learning curve, but with these tips, you’ll soon be enjoying a new thrilling and rewarding outdoor hobby.
Pass a Hunter Education Course
Hunting is a regulated activity governed mainly by local and state laws, supplemented by a few federal laws. In most states, passing a hunter’s ed exam and earning a hunting license is legally required to hunt. The cost of a course ranges from free to approximately $35. However, even if you live in a state that does not require a license to hunt, the education you’ll receive is essential and taking a class is strongly recommended. Often, the first part of your hunter’s ed class teaches you about local laws and regulations, which all hunters must be aware of at all times.
A hunter’s ed class also teaches you all the practical basics, including hunting seasons, tags and bag limits, gun safety, basic gun handling, the concept of humane and ethical shots and more. Going to a class is also an excellent opportunity to meet fellow aspiring hunters and more-experienced outdoor enthusiasts who may one day become hunting partners. Although there are plenty of solo hunters, hunting with buddies is safer and more enjoyable.
Learn the Unwritten Hunter’s Code
It’s crucial to understand that you are often not the only hunter in a particular location and that your presence impacts the environment and wildlife. Hunters use a simple mnemonic to ensure that everyone adheres to the code and displays correct hunting etiquette. These are the 4 Cs of hunting: be careful, considerate, capable and courteous. Being careful means a hunter must abide by basic safety rules for handling firearms, navigating outdoor spaces and interacting with wildlife. Being considerate means respecting the rights of other hunters, property owners and the public. Being capable refers to maintaining a basic level of marksmanship, survival skills and wilderness knowledge. Finally, courteous simply encourages hunters to be polite and helpful to other hunters.
Find What and How You Want to Hunt
There is more than just one species you can hunt and more than one way to hunt. Hunting the white-tailed deer with a rifle is the traditional choice and perhaps one of the quintessential American activities, but there is more to hunting than just this combination.
The most common hunting weapon types are the rifle and the shotgun, but you can also hunt with handguns and even bows and crossbows. However, if you’re a complete novice to both hunting and firearms, the rifle is the most beginner-friendly hunting weapon. There are plenty of other game animal species such as pronghorn; hog; a wide variety of game birds, including turkey, quail, pheasant and duck; several species categorized as varmints like squirrels and many more.
Familiarize Yourself with Your Weapon
If you’re planning to hunt with a firearm, make sure you know how to use it properly. Practice shooting with it; learn all the controls and basic manipulations, such as using the safety, loading, unloading and sight alignment; and get used to the way it feels and recoils. If your hunting firearm has a scope, learn how to use it; correctly sighting in your scope is almost as important as learning to shoot accurately. Without a properly sighted-in scope, you cannot make accurate shots, causing a potentially easy shot to turn into a miss.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a more experienced shooter or hunter; most enthusiasts are happy to help you set up and practice. If you’re learning to bow hunt, the first thing you need to be aware of is that your engagement distance — the range at which you can take a shot — is much shorter than with a rifle. Most bowhunters take their shots between 10 and 20 yards, with the maximum range being 30-40, depending on the conditions.
If you live near an archery shop or a professional retailer with archery experience, your best option is to visit them and ask them for guidance on the right bow for you. Choosing the right bow depends on three factors: your height, your draw length — how far apart your hands are when fully pulling on the arrow and your draw weight — how much force you exert. After finding the right bow, you should practice with it as much as possible, just as you would with a firearm. Archery practice offers several advantages. You don’t necessarily need to have access to a dedicated gun range to train — all you need is a backyard, a backstop and a target — and you can reuse your practice arrows as long as you can retrieve them.
Purchase Appropriate Clothing
If you’re going to be out in the field, give some consideration to the clothing you’ll wear. You do not necessarily need to have the latest and greatest in realistic camouflage-patterned jackets and other accessories, but knowing what to bring and which items to avoid is essential for your mobility, comfort and safety. If you have some prior experience with hiking or camping, you’ll find that the appropriate clothes for hunting are very similar. Your clothes should keep you warm and dry to keep hypothermia at bay.
The only difference between hiking clothes and hunting clothes is that most states regulate which colors you’re allowed to wear, often dictating a minimum area of your body that must be covered in either blaze orange, safety orange or fluorescent orange. For example, in North Dakota, hunters should wear at least 400 square inches of blaze orange, including a hat and upper body garments.
It may feel counterintuitive to wear bright orange while hunting; however, deer have limited color vision and perceive orange as brown, meaning that your blaze orange vest won’t impede your camouflage efforts. Unfortunately, deers’ eyes perceive greens and blues more clearly than humans, so the worst thing you can wear on a hunt is a pair of blue jeans or pants with a navy camouflage pattern.
Learn About Concealment
Concealment is crucial for a hunter, regardless of whether you use stalking or ambush tactics. There are several methods hunters use to disguise their appearance and scent, including camouflage clothing and odor eliminators.
One of the best concealment techniques is hiding in a deer blind. Deer blinds are small structures, located close to bedding and feeding areas, that provide shelter allowing animals to approach closer than they would if you were out in the open. They come in elevated and ground models and feature narrow windows or apertures so you can line up your shot, giving you a greater chance of taking the animal down.
Remember that if you need help or advice at any point during your journey as a beginner hunter, don’t hesitate to ask someone with more experience. The hunting community is full of skilled people who always welcome beginners and who love nothing more than to help you enjoy their hobby.