A couple of weeks ago I was applying last minute for my Hunting tags. Applying sprung an idea in my mind, how far I have come as a hunter and that I should write an article about where to start. I wish I had something like this to refer to when I first started hunting. I did not grow up hunting and was in my twenties by the time I set out on my first hunt. Searching high and low for information as to where to start proved to be difficult so that is the purpose of the article. I want to provide the basics for a beginner hunter. I’m no expert, and this is not the holy grail but it will provide you with needed information in regard to where to start as a hunter.
First and foremost I want to express the importance of hunting ethically. I enjoy working on the craft of hunting so I can provide my family with the most natural meat available today. I personally do not agree with factory farming and have chosen hunting as a way to remove myself from that cycle entirely. Is factory farming a necessary evil currently? I believe that it is, unfortunately. However, just about anyone can learn to become a hunter and remove themselves from this practice also if they choose to do so. You can learn to supply your family with hundreds of pounds of hormone and antibiotic-free meat. Not to mention a successful hunt can save your family hundreds of dollars considering a tag is much less expensive than paying for meat by the pound at a store.
Hunting ethically means taking the correct measures to become proficient enough with a rifle or bow that you can place a shot with minimal struggle and a quick death for the Animal. This does not happen every single time for a number of reasons, but this is a major goal for ethical hunters. Respect for the game animals and the landscape is also a pillar for hunting ethically. Shot selection is another extremely important part of hunting ethically. You have to know your own abilities with your firearm or bow. Essentially all the information I have consumed in regard to bow hunting references forty yards as the longest shot you should take. Many of the greatest archers also share this opinion, and you should never take a shot outside of your ability, to begin with. If you do, you will risk injuring the game animal and lose the opportunity to harvest the animal quickly and humanely.
The last part of hunting ethically that I would like to touch on prior to getting to the basics for the beginner hunter is road hunting. Unfortunately, when I was first introduced to hunting this was very common. Someone riding around in their vehicle looking for game animals hopping out at first site of the animals, jumping the fence, getting the minimum required distance from the road and taking a shot. Was it legal? In the instances which I witnessed it, yes it was. Did I agree with it? Honestly, no not at all. To me, hunting should be a journey, you park your vehicle and you hike into wherever it is that you choose to hunt. At this point, it is you and your gear against the instincts of a wild animal. That is a much more level playing field for the animal and much more ethical overall in my opinion.
Following along and learn the basics of hunting for beginners.
Hunter Safety – This is an online course that will take you approximately four hours to complete. Depending on your state, you may have to complete an online field day or an actual day out in the field along with this online course prior to receiving your hunter’s safety card. I had to complete the online course, an internet field day, and go to the game and fish office to complete a written test there as well, prior to receiving my card. If you are not familiar with hunting and firearms safety this should establish a decent knowledge base for you. Check the regulations of your state in regard to hunters safety because they vary from state to state. Firearm safety is something that should be coupled in with hunter safety. You need to learn how to safely handle your weapon of choice as well as your sidearm before you ever consider going on a hunt. Follow this link for an online hunters safety course that is available in 49 of the 50 US states.
Picking Your Weapon of Choice – Once you have received your hunter’s safety card you will need to establish which type of hunting you would like to pursue rifle, bow or both. I prefer to hunt with a bow and in the event, I’m unsuccessful during bow season I move on to rifle hunting. I have found in my experience that the most common hunting rifles are 25.06, 30.06, and 300 win mag. 25.06 and 30.06 are commonly used for deer, antelope, elk among other game animals. 300 win mags are typically used for larger game animals, elk, moose, bear, etc. Compound bows are the most common bow today, recurve bows and crossbows also fall into this category. The easiest of the three to use in this category, in my opinion, is the crossbow, followed by the compound and lastly the recurve bow. This is a good beginning point for a first-time hunter in regard to what method you choose to go with.
Practice – Once you choose a bow or rifle practice needs to become a consistent routine moving forward. Rifle hunters regularly shoot 300+yards. I would recommend staying around 200 yards until you have sent many rounds down range and become comfortable shooting at a greater distance. Bow you typically want to shoot within 40 yards, this is not just my opinion but the opinion of many great archers as well. Rifle hunting will undoubtedly increase your odds of harvesting an animal. Archery is much more of an art and relies heavily on your true ability as a hunter in my opinion. I would recommend shooting at least three times a week. If you choose to go the archery route, I recommend shooting your bow daily.
Get Your Ass in Shape – If you are packing into an area it will be a physically demanding experience. You must be in good physical condition if you plan on hiking miles in search of game animals. This is especially true in mountainous terrain. This will be a key as to whether or not you are successful in your hunt.
Get Quality Gear – You will need good quality gear that will not break down on you in the field if you are planning on having a successful hunt. Can you skate by with cheap gear initially? Probably, but depending on the circumstances of your hunt this could literally be the difference between you living or dying in the backcountry. For a good basic gear list follow this link.
Your Vehicle – You’ll need a suitable vehicle for whatever landscape you’re planning to hunt. A Prius isn’t ideal for packing out the carcass of an Elk.
Become Comfortable With Regulations – Dive in deep on your state’s regulations and know them well so you do not put yourself in a bad spot. I would recommend printing off the regulations and carrying a hard copy with you in your pack.
Applying vs General Tags – Determine whether or not you are going to apply or buy a general tag. Some states offer better general tag opportunities than others. If you choose to apply for a tag, you will need to find out the application deadlines and get your application in prior to the deadline. Hunting on a general license will mean that you will not have access to large portions of the draw areas and will have a shorter window to hunt in those that you do have access to. General licenses are offered over the counter in many states however you will need to check your state’s regulations to be certain that is the case in your state.
Picking a Hunting Unit – In most states, you should be able to access a harvest rate vs tags distributed, determine which unit you are going to apply for and be aware of what the success rate for drawing a tag in that unit is.
Your New Home – Camp in the unit you will hunt all summer, scout, practice stalking animals, determine where the animals are, learn the lay of the land. This is absolutely crucial to the growth of any hunter. Knowing the lay of the land and the animal’s behavior in that landscape is an absolute must.
Hunting Season Opens – In order to be successful in most cases, you will have to put in the time. How can you harvest an animal if you are not putting in the time in your unit? You will want to set aside some vacation time from work preferably a week or more in order to assure that you are putting in the necessary time to have a successful hunt. You will want to pack your gear days prior to opening day, you should also check and recheck your gear before opening day. It’s not fun to be out in the field and realize you left something crucial at home. Hunting is about the journey, the amazing things you will see, the untouched landscape that you will encounter, and hunting will offer the opportunity to tap into a primal instinct that you likely have. Being outdoors hunting is unlike anything that you will ever encounter in the safety of a city.
Know Your Units Predators – When you are hunting you need to realize that you likely are not the apex predator in the area. Keep bears, mountain lions, wolves, and whatever else your unit may throw at you in the front of your mind at all times. You’re not in the city, given the right opportunity a predator will fucking eat you.
Carry a Sidearm – You will want to carry a suitable sidearm especially if you are bow hunting. This will be your parachute in case of an absolute emergency. The same rules apply to your sidearm as the weapon of choice for your hunt. Establish which caliber is necessary for the largest predator you may encounter, know the ins and outs of your sidearm, practice with it regularly, and always assume it is loaded when handling it. If you have your bow on you and encounter a predator you will have a much higher probability of protecting yourself with your sidearm, especially as a beginner hunter.
I wanted to wrap this article up by explaining that this is not everything you need to know, I’m still learning every day. Becoming a good to great hunter is a journey that will require you seeking knowledge from everywhere. Hunting message boards exist, look them up, join one and ask as many questions as you can think of. If you know any experienced hunters ask them as many questions as you can think of. Maybe they will let you go on a hunt with them or assist in getting you on your feet as an outdoorsman.
The feeling of being in the middle of nowhere trying to bring your family home some of the best meat you could ever taste is quite a powerful experience. I will never forget hearing an Elk bugling for the first time in the wild. It is almost like it turns on a switch in your brain that was put there many generations ago. I like to think of it as tapping into your primal side. Be very careful when hunting and enjoy yourself out there!