Written by Alayna Okerlund | Last Updated February 24th, 2020Alayna Okerlund is a finance-focused Senior Content Strategist at BestCompany.com. Over the past three years, Alayna's finance-related research has helped readers feel more financially confident. She has worked with several reputable experts and has provided content for a variety of well-known publications like Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Lifehacker, and more.
The sport of hunting is actually more complex than you may think. At first glance, hunting may seem like a simple hobby that you can pick up right after taking a trip to your local outdoorsman store. Only once you actually go hunting will you realize that there’s much more than what meets the eye.
It can be hard to get into hunting, especially if you don’t have anyone who can explain the steps. If you are having trouble knowing how to begin your hunting journey, here are a few steps and tips to help you get started.
The first and most important thing a beginner hunter needs to learn is proper hunter safety.
Owner of The Big Game Hunting Blog and experienced hunter, John McAdams recommends that beginners take a hunter safety course and find a hunting mentor:
“First, prospective hunters should take a hunter safety course. Most states require that hunters pass hunter education before purchasing a hunting license. Even when not required, this is useful training that I highly recommend all prospective hunters complete. In addition to detailing a number of important safety practices all hunters should abide by, hunter education also provides useful information on relevant hunting laws and regulations, hunting etiquette, (and) a general overview of important hunting tips. Consult your state fish and game department for details on how to take hunter education training.”
He adds “After passing hunter education, I recommend finding a mentor to help out with a lot of the finer points of hunting. If you don’t have any family members or close friends that hunt, consider checking out Powder Hook, which is an online resource where you discover a place to hunt and find a mentor in your area that can help get you pointed in the right direction as you begin your hunting career.”
Eric Andrews, owner of Hunting Buff, echoed McAdams’ remarks about the benefits of taking a hunter safety course. He also stressed the importance of hands-on learning:
“Before going on your first hunting trip, make sure to take a hunter safety course in the state where you'll hunt. This course will help you understand the safety rules and hunting regulations in your area. Also, before you go gun or bowhunting, make sure you visit a range and get some experience firing your weapon."
Paul Ronto, seasoned hunter/outdoorsman and CMO and Director of Digital Content for RunRepeat also firmly believes that taking time to learn hunter safety is crucial:
“First and foremost new hunters need to understand firearm safety before they ever step foot in the field. Whether it's a rifle, shotgun, or even a bow, hunters need to know how to handle a weapon, how to carry one safely, and how to accurately and safely fire their weapon. Practice time at the range is crucial; firing a gun or releasing on a bow is like any other skill, and practice makes perfect. You wouldn't step onto the pitcher's mound expecting to throw a perfect game without years of practice, and shooting is very similar, especially with larger or more dangerous animals or at longer distances. Nothing worse can come out of a hunt than either injuring yourself, a fellow hunter, or your prey because of ignorance about your weapon."
Although safety might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you are planning a hunting trip, you should definitely make it a priority.
Game and area planning
Once you learn the right hunter safety basics, then you can focus on what you want to hunt and what area you want to hunt in. If you are interested in hunting in a different state, follow the proper state hunting laws and protocols.
Determining what you want to hunt can be difficult, especially if you have no hunting experience.
McAdams said that “going after small or upland game (rabbit, grouse, squirrel, pheasant, etc.) is a great way for beginners to get started hunting. Those sort of hunts usually don’t require very specialized equipment, are often more action-packed, and are usually less physically demanding than hunting big game like deer or elk. However, they still offer beginners a great opportunity to hone their skills and take home some healthy and delicious meat before attempting a more difficult hunt.”
Once you know what kind of game you want to go after, start conducting personal research to see which areas in your state would be the best place to find that game.
“Knowing the area you are going to hunt and/or knowing how to read a map is a crucial skill before you step into the field. Getting lost in the woods is a serious issue and hundreds if not thousands of people a year get lost while hunting or hiking. So know where you are at all times, have a plan for where and when to meet up with your group, and know how to get back to the tent or truck even if it gets dark. GPS can help, but relying on it can get you into trouble too. Nothing beats paying attention to your geographic surroundings and knowing how to read a proper map,” Ronto explained.
Your planning isn’t finished once you decide where you want to hunt and what game you are going to go after. The next step is to understand the local hunting laws and regulations for the particular area you are planning on hunting in.
Hunting laws and regulations often vary by state, area, and hunting season, and are also subject to change. For instance, you might find new or different restrictions regarding deer hunting in place this year than what was in place the previous year. It’s crucial to keep up on what rules, regulations, and laws are currently in place for the area you want to hunt in before you start hunting.
Ronto explains, “Being aware of local hunting laws and hunting ethics is key. You need to have a wealth of knowledge about where you can hunt, when you can hunt, how to get permits, where public/private land starts and ends, and how to ethically hunt before you head out into the woods. Go talk to the local DOW or DNR, stop in at forest service stations and ask rangers; it's better to ask for help so you are sure you are hunting legally than doing something that can get you into trouble.”
Sam Maizlech, firearms and survival expert for Gunivore.com, also stressed the importance of knowing hunting laws.
He advises “As a hunter, it's your responsibility to know all the laws, rules, and regulations to ensure you have a safe and lawful experience. While some regulations are pretty standard, there are countless laws which are downright hard to believe. For example, it's illegal to shoot wild game birds on the ground in Kansas. Another great example is Montana's ban on electronic hunting aids, such as trail cameras. At the end of the day, every state has all of the relevant laws and general information on their gaming commission or division of wildlife websites. The important this is to stay up-to-date and follow all the necessary precautions so that you can hunt in peace without worrying about any legal consequences.”
Becoming a hunter isn’t cheap. You need to buy the right shoes, weapons, clothes, accessories, etc. Although there are a few ways you can save money on hunting gear, you’ll find that investing in good gear overtime will prove to be worthwhile.
Ronto strongly recommends getting appropriate hunting footwear.
He explains that “out of all the gear you need to go hunting, nothing is really more important than your hiking footwear. You can deal with cold, wet, or even hot weather without the right gear, but expecting to take down an animal without having to walk, especially in the vast expanses of the West, is not realistic. Not only are you on your feet all day chasing prey, once you take one down, you have to hike it out. So be sure to have solid boots that you've broken in well before your big hunt.”
Footwear and clothing can make or break your hunting experience. Ronto adds that having gear that can withstand bad weather can definitely make a difference:
“There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. After you get your footwear situated, having the right gear makes hunting much more enjoyable. Sure, you can hunt in jeans and a hoodie, but when bad weather hits, it's nice to have proper insulating layers, waterproof outerwear, and a pack that can handle over 100lbs should you need to pack out your kill on foot. I don't think new hunters need to go out and buy the most expensive gear they can find. You don't need to invest all your money in year one, but slowly start to build up your hunting equipment."
He added that it’s good to “start with a solid waterproof jacket. Next look for a good pack that can carry weight well. From there you can find pants and insulating layers that fit the climate of where you hunt. Also, you don't need camo if you don't have it. Any drab color like brown or green will work; plus in most places, you have to wear blaze orange anyway which defeats the purpose of expensive camo patterns. So don't feel the need to invest in high tech hunting-specific clothing on day one.”
Knowing how to butcher in the field can be helpful if you are going after bigger game. After all, most people don’t want to spend extreme amounts of energy and time awkwardly hiking back with a large animal on their shoulders.
Ronto says that “it's really important to know how to butcher an animal in the field. Watch youtube videos for this, learn how to either field dress an animal, or even better, how to quarter an animal. Quartering an animal is a quick and easy way to break your kill down into manageable pieces that you can hike out. It's crucial to get your meat onto ice or into a cool setting quickly so your kill doesn't go bad. Late season hunts don't have to worry about this as much, but early season hunters need to start the cooling process as quickly as possible which many times means butchering to some extent in the field. Have a sharp knife with you at all times and a way to sharpen that knife through the butchering process. I personally like the knives with changeable blades so I don't have to mess with a sharpening stone or kit.”
Additional expert tips
The steps mentioned above can help you get started on your hunting journey. However, you will likely need additional guidance before you go hunting. You can seek the help of an experienced hunter, conduct your own hunting research, and consider following the additional expert tips listed below.
“As a new hunter the biggest bit of advice I can give you is to just get out there and start looking for animals. Go hike, get used to being in the field, find animals, follow them, stalk them, and learn their habits. You can do this year round, no need to wait for hunting season. Hunting is a great excuse to get outside, and the more you do it the more you'll fall in love with the outdoors, which is what hunting is really trying to save. Hunters are the biggest contributors to conservation of public lands and rangeland management of any of the user group that recreates outdoors, get out there and learn why it's so crucial to preserving our right to our lands.”
Focus on accuracy
“While getting the best shot may seem like a nice bonus, the truth is that you want to get the best shot to prevent as much suffering to the animal as possible. Hunting demands a certain degree of responsibility and that extends to the game as well. In practice, this means you may have to wait until you can guarantee a kill shot. Likewise, hunters should always check their target after it goes down and carry a backup gun and tactical blade to end its suffering if need be.”
Think about your prey
“Seeing your prey is step one in killing your prey. Learn to walk off trail without having to look down. You need to be able to walk through the woods while paying attention to your surroundings. A lot of new hunters bump off prey long before they ever see it because they are focused on the ground.
Think like your prey. Finding animals is hard, especially so during hunting season, so change your mindset and remember simple things about your prey, like they need water multiple times a day, they need food, and they need rest. Find their patterns and you'll find them.”
Invest in binoculars
“Good binos are something you'll want to save for and invest in as soon as you can...binos are a key tool needed to locate your prey. My advice is to save for a season or two and invest into a good pair rather than buying a cheap pair your first season. You'll quickly grow out of the cheap pair and have wasted your money, so wait until you know you want to continue to hunt, then buy something decent in the $400-$1,000 range.”
Use the right weapon
“If you're going to be turkey hunting, many states have laws against the use of rifles. You'll need to use a shotgun in many areas.”
Eat your meat
“I know this sounds like common sense, but a lot of new hunters are unsure of how to prepare their kill when it comes time to eat it. Hunting should not be about horns or trophies, those are icing on top of the cake if you get them, but the real point is to put food in your freezer and on your table. Share your meat with people around you and show them how good it can be. There are tons of recipes and shows dedicated to cooking wild game. Try a few and find your favorites. Ethically speaking too, take as much meat off your kill as you can, leaving anything is a waste of a precious life you took to sustain your own life, use everything to its fullest.”
The bottom line
Hunting requires a significant amount of time, energy, patience, and money in the beginning. Once you get started, however, things get easier. Getting the right gear, weapons, and ammunition can help make your first hunting trip one to remember. If you are looking for the best places to purchase hunting firearms, gear, and ammunition online, click here to check out our top-rated online gun and ammo stores.