A life in the great outdoors is more than just fulfilling. It shapes your perspective of the world around you and redefines the person you are. But, for today’s generation of emergent hunters, learning this way of life in a world dominated by digital technology can be a constant uphill battle. But instead of villainizing this inevitable factor in our lives, there are ways we can use technology to our advantage—and this article explores just how beginner hunters can do just that.
Like many new hunters, I wasn’t born into a household of outdoorsmen. My dad hunted as a kid, but it’d been over two decades since he’d last picked up a deer rifle, and my mother’s side was completely foreign to the concept. Most of my family was squeamish about touching raw meat, let alone hunting and eating wild animals. I was fortunate they were extremely supportive of my interests, but as a 17-year-old kid infatuated with hunting, my journey was at a standstill with a lack of experienced mentors and limited opportunity to hunt.
However, I had the Internet at my disposal, with thousands of videos, posts, blogs, podcasts, and websites dedicated to bringing the outdoors inside. That year, I tasked myself with absorbing copious amounts of information, so that by the time my dad got back into hunting and I finally got out in the field, I wasn’t a complete novice. It gave me the chance to start the journey on my terms. I still had a lot to learn, but at least I was on my way.
That year of research taught me a lot about what the Internet has to offer and, to this day, it’s paid me dividends. Here are four basic lessons I garnered from the experience:
In the absence of an experienced mentor, explore social media. In-person interaction is undoubtedly the best way to learn any skill, and hunting is no different. But virtual interaction can help to partially fill that hole. As controversial as the rise of social media is to many hunters, the photos and videos we share provide new hunters with a readily accessible insight into what it’s like to be out in the field, doing what we love. And, while there are always a few bad eggs, most accounts represent people like you and me, sharing their interests for the world to see.
Build a collection of accounts that convey the greatest passion for the outdoors—owned by everyday people, not necessarily the biggest or most famous. They might live in the same region as you, chase the same species as you, or just know a hell of a lot more than you. Reach out to them and get to know them directly, pick their brains for information, and try to make the relationship reciprocal.
Most hunters love to use their accounts to protest against some issue or advocate for a conservation cause, and you can help them share that message and get the word out. Then, when you finally get out into the field, you can invite them out with you or share your final quarry with them if you’re successful. This online relationship can be treated exactly like the traditional in-person mentor relationship, just through a different field of communication.
Find people who are just as lost as you. Humans are naturally social creatures, learning not only from more experienced mentors but also from other beginners, just like in a classroom. So, on the other end of the spectrum, find people who are just as clueless as you. A great way to do this is through Facebook hunting groups. There are hundreds representing every niche of hunting culture, specialized for each specific region of the US, Canada, and abroad, as well as just about any age group.
From there, use each other's experiences to better yourself. It could be as simple as sharing an informative video or double-checking the regulations for the upcoming deer season. You’re probably not going to be successful on the first, second, or maybe even the third trip out, but usually, that shared failure is in of itself an opportunity to learn for the both of you.
Study hunting like a textbook. New hunters should study their craft like a school subject, with the Internet as their textbook. The sheer volume of information available to new hunters is astounding, from the basics of whole animal butchery to the intricacies of killing big bucks during the rut. If anything, this instantaneous access to reliable information represents the greatest advantage our predecessors never had and allows us to be better-informed hunters.
This approach to learning becomes incredibly handy when you start getting out in the field. As a new hunter, I saved dozens of posts and videos of various wild-game recipes or butchering techniques. By the time I had my first deer on the ground, I had my “textbook” of notes to refer to, which was incredibly helpful in the absence of a mentor.
Don’t hesitate to get out in the field. As helpful as the internet can be, it will never replace field experience. At a certain point, you have to get out there and put yourself through the hard work and failure that comes with learning the ropes. When you’ve spent so much time learning in theory, applying it to real life can be a daunting task.
As with any new skill, start small. Small game like squirrels, rabbits, or jackrabbits are great to begin with, not only because they often have long, extended seasons with liberal bag limits, but also because they’re generally easier to hunt and process. Yet, they still test the application of those same skills needed for bigger game. Refer back to your internet resources if you're feeling lost.
The next step would probably be something like wild hogs or whitetail does, which are abundant big game animals that often are in need of population reduction. Especially on private land, these are the animals most landowners feel more willing to share with the public, rather than prized bucks or toms. Taking these small steps makes the process much less daunting and gets you on track to becoming a fully-fledged hunter.
There are some extracurricular options as well. While none of these additional tools are necessary, they can help speed up the process. Currently, there are a few different platforms tailored to the needs of emergent hunters, but the two that I recommend the most are Hunt In Common and Outdoor Class. Both are curated by experienced hunters from across the US and beyond, and both help secure that chain of knowledge transfer without requiring family or friends as mentors.
Hunt in Common is a free service, connecting inexperienced hunters with experienced mentors around the country. Outdoor Class requires a subscription and gives users access to a whole range of exclusive hunter resources.
Getting started in the world of hunting is always going to be somewhat of a challenge, no matter the environment you grow up in. It’s necessary and, in a way, we’re all better off for it. But learning to use digital resources in smart ways can speed up the learning curve and make emergent hunters less dependent on traditional mentorship. Encouraging these alternative learning pathways helps to secure the next generation's place in the outdoors for years to come.