So often I’m asked this question by both men and women intrigued with hunting and eager to learn how to begin. It’s a simple question, but not so simple to answer; there’s so much to learn it can be overwhelming and intimidating for a beginner if not handled correctly. While I feel taking it a little at a time and enjoying the overall experience is key, I’ve got a few tips to share on how to get started.
Step 1 – Get Schooled
My first question to anyone interested in hunting is "Have you taken a Hunter’s Safety course?" First and foremost, anyone interested in hunting (at any age) should enroll in a Hunter’s Safety class. This class will teach basics in hunter safety, hunting laws, wildlife and conservation, first aid and equipment. Upon completion of the class, a written test and field test will be administered and upon passing, you will be granted a Hunter’s Safety certificate verifying that you’ve completed the course successfully. This certificate will allow you to hunt in states and countries which require this certification. Keep in mind that even if your home state doesn’t require this certificate, it should remain Step#1 on your to-do list. Why? It will simply give you an excellent starting point to build upon and is key in helping you become a knowledgeable, ethical and safe hunter.
Step 2 – Get Info
You’ve got the basics down and you’ve passed your Hunter’s Safety test. Now it’s time to acquire more knowledge that will help you prepare for a hunt. First ask yourself what gear you most want to hunt with – is it with a recurve or compound bow? A shotgun or rifle? Decide what most intrigues you. Secondly, decide which animal you’re most interested in hunting – is it a whitetail deer, a turkey or even a bear? Perhaps you’re drawn to ducks and geese or pheasants and grouse – decide what excites you and begin there. Once you’ve decided on your hunting weapon and animal, you can focus on gathering information about both. You’ll find plenty of information in magazines, books, TV and on the internet. Read articles, go online and and join the hunting forums where questions are always welcome and advice is plentiful, watch hunts on TV or DVD, and talk to hunters. Don’t know many hunters? Join hunting organizations or attend workshops or conventions, you’ll easily meet other hunters enthused to share their experiences and knowledge with you. Read, watch, talk and listen – then repeat.
Step 3 – Get a Mentor
Nothing will be more helpful to you as a beginner than to find a mentor who can offer tips and encouragement as you learn. They’ll give you invaluable insight, essential companionship in the field and crucial advice on everything encountered during a day spent hunting. Check out your local hunting organizations, shooting range, archery range, pro shop or sporting goods store. Great contacts can be made through state and local hunting clubs and local chapters of nationwide hunting organizations; organizations like the NWTF (National Wild Turkey Federation), DU (Ducks Unlimited), Whitetails Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, RMEF (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation) to name a few. You’ll find information about these organizations in the Sports & Outdoors section of your state and local newspapers and magazines or search online.
If you need to purchase equipment for hunting, ask your mentor to help shop with you making sure you get the correct gear.
Step 4 – Get Practicing!
Assuming you already own your hunting weapon or have recently purchased one, now’s the time to ask your mentor to help you learn how to use it….safely and effectively! Spend time learning the technical aspects about your equipment and be sure to know how to maintain, fix, tune, clean and shoot. Make it routine to practice regularly so you become proficient and relaxed using your equipment. Mastering the use of your equipment is essential to becoming successful in the field; be prepared to set aside time several times a week or more to perfect your skills.
Step 5 – Get Out There!
It’s time to head to the woods, marshes or fields and begin to use the knowledge you’ve gained. If you and your mentor feel you’re ready to hunt, great! But you might also wish to spend a few days simply accompanying your mentor on his or her hunts as an observer, or spend time together scouting out prospective hunting locations. Go a field with the objective to learn more about wildlife habitat, tracks and sign, wind, weather and wildlife identification. This is your time to spend as much time as possible in the field observing, learning, and hunting. Go hunting alone once you’re comfortable doing so – this will be up to you and you alone to determine when the time is right.
Step 6 – Get Good…keep learning!
Your learning hasn’t ended now that you’re hunting. You’re just beginning and you’ll realize how much you have yet to discover as you continue hunting. There are always new secrets of the woods and wildlife to discover, new techniques to try and new gear to test. From deeply technical data to learning patience and enjoyment of the natural world, you’re learning will never be completed. It’s up to you to keep your "game" in top-notch shape by acquiring all the knowledge you can.
Now…get going, get out there, and GOOD LUCK!