At MeatEater, we get a lot of questions from adults about how to begin the process of becoming a hunter. Unlike youth hunters, who often have family members to show them the ropes, rookie adult hunters are often starting from square one without any mentors. And without the guidance of experienced family members or even close friends, getting started in hunting can be a very intimidating undertaking.
Here’s some advice on how to get started:
- Hunter Education- The first thing any prospective hunter needs to do is get their hunter’s education certification. Hunter’s education is required in order to buy a hunting license. These classes cover basic safety protocols, game animal identification, hunting regulations, and firearms and archery skills and they are run by every state fish and game agency on a fairly regular basis. Students can often take a portion of the certification online but some classroom attendance is usually mandatory. Once you are certified in one state, you can hunt anywhere in the country.
- Practice Makes Perfect- You owe it to yourself and the animals you are hunting to become proficient with your gun or bow. Clean, fast kills are the result of accurate shooting. This means you should spend plenty of time before hunting season shooting at the rifle range, your backyard archery target, or behind a clay pigeon thrower.
- State Fish and Game Agency Programs- Just about every state fish and game agency runs a variety of ongoing educational seminars and mentoring programs for novice hunters. For example, new hunters can enroll (usually for free) in target shooting instruction, turkey calling seminars, and even mentored big game hunts. It’s amazing how few people take advantage of these programs. Fish and game agency websites are also a wealth of information. Here, you’ll find everything from regulations and season dates to hunting tutorials for various game animals.
- Local Hunting and Conservation Groups- Nothing beats local information. But it can be hard to find people willing to share years of hard-won hunting knowledge. One of the best resources for a new hunter looking for information or hunting partners is hunting clubs and hunter-based conservation groups. New hunters should consider joining a local chapter of national groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Many places often have other local sportsmen’s groups where new hunters can find experienced hunters willing to teach newbies and share information.
- Read Up- Books are an important tool for new hunters. When I first started hunting Colorado for elk, I didn’t know how to find them consistently. But I read as much as I could get my hands on about elk hunting and eventually the knowledge I built up began to pay off. Two of the most comprehensive hunting how-to books are Steve’s Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1 Big Game and Volume 2: Small Game. You’ll find detailed information on game animals, tips on where and how to hunt, and what gear to use. Every new hunter should own these books.
- Manage Your Expectations- Not everything about hunting can be learned in books. Nor is hunting easy. You’ll need to become comfortable with the fact that on some hunts you’ll be cold and wet and you might not see the game you’re looking for. Becoming a proficient hunter takes time. You might strike out a few times before you’re successful. The more time you spend in the woods and the more you learn to enjoy the process, the more you’ll learn and the better you’ll get.
- Start Small- The easiest entry point for new hunters is small game. For the most part, small game animals like squirrels and rabbits are an underutilized resource that offer plenty of opportunities for new hunters. These animals are generally abundant and easier to find and hunt than big game animals. Throughout the country, good small game hunting is usually available close to home. On small game hunts, new hunters can learn a lot about the importance of basic woodsmanship and shooting skills and take home some tasty wild protein-all while building up the confidence to go after big game.
- Hidden Hunting Spots- One of the biggest impediments for new hunters is finding a place to hunt. If you don’t have access to a family farm or live in an area with abundant public lands, figuring out where to go can be challenging. Knocking on doors and politely asking for permission can get you some private land access and it’s pretty easy to use a state Atlas and Gazetteer book that shows where federal and state public lands are. But there are some hidden public access hunting spots that won’t show up on a map as public lands. Many states run some form of collaborative access program with private landowners such as Montana’s Block Management Areas, Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters, and Pennsylvania’s Hunter Access Program. I’ve had successful antelope hunts in areas of Wyoming with very little public land by finding private ranches enrolled in the state’s Walk-In-Access program. These overlooked areas can be found by searching state fish and game agency websites for public access programs.
Brody Henderson is a writer, hunter, fly fishing guide and MeatEater’s Community Manager