When you see articles and advice for new shooters you might notice that nearly every article and advice is geared towards fathers getting their sons and daughters into hunting. Hunting is a sport for young and old but there has traditionally been a problem bringing adults with no family ties to hunting into the culture.
Don’t fret if you want to begin hunting when you’re older. Yes, the clear majority of hunters start out when they’re young and learn from their father’s or grandfathers but that doesn’t mean getting into the woods is impossible if you’re an adult or come from a family who doesn’t hunt. The learning curve in the beginning is steep but there are some steps you can take to get ready for the journey and make sure you have a successful time in the woods, year after year.
Steps You Should Take To Get Started as a New Hunter
Figure out What you’d like to do
When you say, you’d like to hunt, that’s much like saying you’d like to play sports. The types of hunting you can enjoy in the United States is unlike anywhere else in the world. You can quietly slip down a creek listening for spring turkeys, take a stand along ridge tops for a wily buck or roam the high country at the height of the elk rut. Take some time to decide on what kind of hunting you’d like to enjoy and then set a course to do it!
Get your Hunter’s Safety Card and Make Some Friends
No matter what kind of hunting you plan on doing, you’ll need a hunter’s safety certification. This is an important part of your hunting education because it’ll teach you how to conduct a legal and ethical hunt. Many people who have never thought about it don’t realize that there are seasons and restrictions on when and where you can hunt and what is allowed when. The game laws can get confusing so study and take notes at your course.
The hunter’s safety course is also an excellent time for you to make friends with people that are either already in the hunting culture or will be soon. Nearly every game warden, or Fish and Game employee of your state loves to hunt and these people know where the local game is in the area, and know the land and club owner to boot!
Get into the field!
This may seem like a given, but too many people overlook this simple fact, you can’t kill ‘em from the couch, and when you’re a beginner you can’t learn from the kitchen. Books, pictures and YouTube videos can only get you so far.
A great place to go to learn are places where hunting is prohibited but camping and hiking is. State parks, wildlife refuges, and mountain biking clubs are all fantastic ways to see evidence of deer behavior. Reading deer signs and picking stand sites is a perishable skill. Same with calling, rattling or stalking. Go out and practice year-round and you’ll get better much faster than if you confine yourself to just hunting season.
Wonder, Read, Ask Questions and Learn about your New Hobby
There’s no substitute for education. No, you don’t need to be able to write a doctoral thesis on deer behavior, but knowing deer biology, like deer signs and deer hunting tactics, is a fantastic resource for learning to hunt. Looking for deer sign is easier when you’ve seen it before in a book or heard the turkey call you’re trying to imitate. Learn about local game patterns such as migration, preferred food sources and every kind of tree in your region.
Even the military has classroom time and there are plenty of magazines, books, and online websites you can visit for information on anything you’re liable to be killing on your adventures. Don’t overlook local game biologists and wardens employed by the state or county, they are awesome people to turn to for help.
Buy the Hunting Gear you need and Practice
It’s best to wait and buy your gear after you know what you’re doing. What you think may be a good idea in the showroom will look different after you’ve toted it hill and dale and the answer to this is to get on the field and test.
Typically, the better and more competent you are in the field, the less gear you’ll need. Extra, this or extra that is what inflates your budget and puts a strain on your pack. When you buy your first set of hunting gear make sure you buy quality items you can use, the idea of “starter gear” will make your time in the woods awful and makes you less effective. Just make sure to do your homework and research the correct gear. You don't want to do something silly like pick up a .45 ACP handgun for duck hunting.
Take Time to Slow Down
For a while, hunting is extremely fun but after a few seasons once you have established and settled into a routine of when you’ll have your stands, scouting and when to wrap up your seasons. This routine can kill your adventure and enthusiasm.
This is a shame, make sure every time you go into the woods you enjoy it and love the environment you’re in. If you fancy new experiences, take the time to go on new hunts for new species or make the jaunt over to Africa or North to Alaska and don’t ever stop learning and enjoying the outdoors.
Ways to Learn To Hunt Successfully
When you begin your hunting, your experiences will be rough at first because you’ll have little idea of what you’re doing. There are a few ways for you to speed up your learning curve:
Getting in the Field
There’s no substitute for experience and getting into the woods looking for the game you’re hunting. Be it bear, raccoon or deer everything leaves a sign in the woods and all you have to do is learn to read it. Getting out with a camera can help you take pictures to identify later what you’ve found and a GPS will help you not to get lost, just remember that often you won’t have cell coverage in big woods and rural areas. Places to look for a game is, of course, the area you’ll be hunting in, but don’t overlook public wooded parks, state parks and places where hunting is closed. Just because you won’t be hunting on that piece of ground doesn’t mean there isn’t something that can be learned by poking around there.
The fastest way to learn to hunt is to go with someone who knows what they’re doing. This teaches you little tips and tricks and most importantly teaches you what not to do. Many people will forget what worked for them way before they forget what didn’t work when they’re solving a problem and they’re more likely to pass on what they found to be ineffective.
Find people who enjoy the same types of hunting you’re interested in and ask if you can go with them sometime. Many hunters will be happy to oblige and you’ll have lessons essentially. Make sure you understand where you’re going and what you’ll be doing so that you can plan and prepare and not spoil their hunt.
Too many hunters overlook this aspect of learning to hunt. Learning about your quarry be it deer, hogs or turkey or predators is a good thing. With the internet, there’s no excuse for not being able to judge the age of an animal on the hoof or being able to estimate the range of an animal because of the huge amounts of resources available to everyone for free.
Learning about what kinds of habitat, what happens during the mating season for your game and what kind of foods and terrain they prefer. The answer to becoming a more effective hunter is to pair knowledge with experience to become a true woodsman capable of taking game anywhere.
One of the best ways to meet other hunters and get out into the field and learn is to volunteer. Nearly every fish and game agency, wildlife advocacy group and even some rural humane shelters have initiatives where you can volunteer. Clean up projects, controlled burns, and habitat management projects provide you with experiences in helping wildlife and learning about game behavior.
Be wary of projects made to damn hunters, many “wildlife groups” run smear campaigns on groups such as NSSF and the NRA that stand up for hunters’ rights and you might find yourself in a precarious situation.
A few tips and tricks for beginner hunters:
Hunt Where the Deer are
This is deceptively simple but trips up a lot of newer hunters who aren’t used to getting out there. If you have access to two farms, one has a 75-acre wood lot loaded with sign and all the neighbors are inundated with deer or a 15,000-public tract that receives little pressure, but also little sign, pick the 75-acre farm! Go to where the deer are dense when you’re starting out and you’ll have an easier time.
Go Slow, and Safe
Safety is the most important thing in the woods. While there aren’t a ton of mistakes to be made, there are lots of opportunities that can have a lethal result if you make the wrong move. Leave early in the morning, make sure you have a plan and be safe when you’re hunting.
Learn to Use What You’ve got
Outdoor gear is fun, but it’s more fun to be in the outdoors. Don’t get wrapped around the axle if you don’t have the nicest bow, the best treestand or you need a lighter pair of waiters. Learn to use what you have and work around the challenges to be successful.
Have an Exit Strategy
What are you going to do if the snow starts to fall before you leave your stand? What happens if you bag a deer or hog? What now when your truck doesn’t start when you’re in the back 40? Having a contingency plan and a few phone numbers on hand can save the day, you don’t need to have every emergency planned out but a little thought can go a long way beforehand.
Know your Resources
In every small town, there’s a wild game butcher, a houndsman, a taxidermist and a game warden. You should have the number of all four. The butcher and taxidermist are a given but many people don’t understand what they need the game warden and a houndsman. One day, you’ll witness a game violation and it’ll make you mad, and one day you’ll wound a deer and need help finding it, these two numbers can save the day.
A few quick words from the wise:
Hunt for Trophies
When you start, look for mature deer and concentrate on having a good time in the woods, antlers always shrink once you get on the ground.
Hang Around Un-Ethical Hunters
These guys are bad news and you won’t change their mind. You can still hang out with them, just don’t go hunting with them. They WILL get caught sooner or later and slapped with a violation.
Take Un-Safe Shortcuts
Leave the bad ideas for people who don’t go hunting. Your family deserves you back home safe when the hunt is over. Don’t become lax and start to let safety violations go. Go slow and be safe.
Rely on Outfitters or Guides
Going for a fully guided hunt is an awesome experience, especially for a premiere species like moose, elk or sheep. The truth is, few hunters can afford to do this every year and you’ll be happier and be more competent in the woods on your own if you truly learn to hunt.
If you didn’t learn hunting as a kid while tagging along with grandpa or your dad, don’t despair. All you need is a love for the outdoors a little bit of grit to overcome the learning curve to be a successful hunter.
Before you head out on your first hunt make sure you define what success is, find a few allies that you can lean on in the early days and buy the right equipment for your hunt. In the beginning weapons, stands and transportation will eat up a lot of your budget so remember that the some of the greatest hunters in the world used simple sticks and moccasins to kill game.
Most hunters are more than willing to help out a newbie and you can rest assured you’ll be accepted, whether you start at 6 or 60.