There’s quite a bit of information about fathers taking their sons and daughters out for a first hunt, passing down tradition from prior generations, as well as about experienced hunters getting back into the field after a 30 year or so hiatus. But there’s not a lot of information for the young adult who never learned to hunt as a kid or enjoyed a family tradition. This is for the first-timer, man or woman who would like to experience hunting, but isn’t sure where to begin….
Let’s get started……
Determine what you want to hunt.
There are many types of hunting in the USA and around the world. Small Game, Big Game, Dangerous Game, Upland Game Birds, Migratory Game Birds, Waterfowl, etc. Each has its own specific habitat, behavior, mannerism, tendencies, preferred food sources, game law restrictions, and hunting seasons. Spend some time to decide what kind of hunting you want to do, then start to learn about it. There are many organizations and groups dedicated to preserving habitat, providing details and offering hunting information on the game of your interest for the first time or experienced hunters. Examples are Whitetails Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Foundation. Over the years I’ve seen more women enjoying hunting and fishing. Check online for Outdoor Women or similar websites and your state’s Department of Fish and Game or Office of Wildlife Conservation/Resources.
Take a hunter’s safety course.
Before any money is spent on gear and equipment, take a Hunters Safety Course. In most states, before you can buy a hunting license you must complete a safety course. Each state may offer a course through a different agency, but most through the Department of Fish and Game. Find your state’s wildlife agency and review your state’s requirements. The courses vary by jurisdiction but provide a lead into handling guns, basic woodsmanship, and fundamental hunting practices. Online there is a course sponsored by IHEA (International Hunter Education Association), “Introduction to Hunter Education” that provides fundamentals.
An important part of your preparation is to take a Firearms Safety Course. The course is not normally required to buy a license, but I believe is essential to learning gun parts and operation and gun safety habits. Firearms safety courses are often offered through shooting ranges, hunt clubs, and the NRA. At this stage of your hunting inquiry, I would not recommend buying a rifle or shotgun because of the expense and not having determined your hunting needs. Most organizations offer rentals to be used at their location.
Find a mentor.
Going hunting with someone who knows what they are doing is the fastest way to learn. Being with a seasoned hunter will teach you what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. Experienced hunters can give practical suggestions and details on all facets of hunting from gear and ammo to how to hunt your selected game. I have found that fellow hunters are normally happy to share their knowledge. You can find and meet other hunters through wildlife advocacy groups, shooting ranges, NRA, wildlife foundations, online social media, and forums.
Go out into the field and explore.
You cannot learn it all from the couch, watching a video, reading about it or seeing it on TV. You must get out in the field, on the ground and explore the area you want to hunt. Walking the area, not on an ATV, is the best way to understand the terrain, finding watering holes or running water for the game, valleys that create up and downdrafts, high points to be used for scoping, underbrush and thicket that game uses for bedding down, rubs, droppings and so on. These all create a pattern for the type of game that you will be hunting. You will be able to select a location for a tree stand or blind, making sure that no roads, housing or development will be in range, and of course, no other hunters’ locations. To improve your hunting skills, find a state park or a wildlife refuge that does not allow hunting, only hiking and camping, and take your time to walk it in order to learn signs of the local game. Get out there year ‘round so you can develop and hone your hunting skills.
Practice is an ongoing requirement.
Your marksmanship, regardless of what you will be using for your hunt, is critical. Practice is an on-going requirement. This bit of information will be short and to the point. Shot placement is the most important aspect of hunting if you intend to ethically and humanely harvest your game. Practice taking your shot from the more likely positions found in the field. Standing, kneeling or sitting while resting your back on a tree will be the more likely shooting positions. A 3-inch shot grouping at 100 yards from a sitting bench is considered a norm for sighting in your rifle. It will become a 6-inch shot group at 200 yards and a 12-inch shot group at 400 yards. Real conditions do not get any better when you take in consideration elevation, wind direction and your ability to control/steady your gun movement.