How To Hunt
Tips for How to Get Started Hunting Local, Wild Food
Sean McCosh (DuckBuckGoose) - PHJ ProStaff - Cincinnati, OH
Want to learn how to hunt but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. There are thousands of people who have recently become interested in hunting, many of which have never even shot a gun.
For many, that's because we've been experiencing a food renaissance in America. People are becoming aware of the downsides and potential health risks associated with commercially raised meat and highly processed foods. As result, there is a renewed interest in getting back to basics and consuming locally harvested “real food” that you hunt, grow or gather yourself. As a lifelong hunter, I welcome this resurgence and the new hunters that come with it - because the more people who hunt, the more interested voters we have to fight for our right to hunt and help us protect important wildlife habitat for the future generations. Plus, as hunters, we love to share our passion for hunting and the outdoors with others...it’s in our nature. My bet is, once you discover the excitement, satisfaction, connectedness to nature and sustenance that hunting offers, you’ll want to share your passion for it too.
Hunter Safety Course
I was lucky. My Dad, my grandfather and my uncles were all hunters. They taught me from an early age the principles of gun safety, how to shoot a gun and to be an ethical hunter. I was blessed to have that opportunity, but if you didn’t, not to worry. Chances are your state offers (and probably even requires) a hunter safety course for new hunters. I took the Ohio hunters safety course when I was a kid and, although it was a long time ago, I can still remember being enthralled by the class and excited to take the test at the end, so I could finally get my hunting license and hunt alongside my Dad. If you are not sure what the laws are in your state, here is listing of the hunter education requirements for various states. In my opinion, the classes are interesting and fun and can teach the basics of everything from firearm safety to outdoor skills, to animal anatomy and public vs. private property rights laws.
Upon taking a hunting course, you’ll soon discover that there’s much more to hunting than simply walking in the woods and shooting an animal. You may be surprised that a very a diverse cross-section of the population is take hunting courses - ranging from young kids who come from a family of hunters, to recent immigrants, to “seasoned” foodies who are finally ready to see exactly where their food comes from. If you want to get a head start and take an online hunter education course before you take your state’s official course (if offered and required) you can do so online at this site from the International Hunter Education Association. In addition to what you learn in these courses, you can also learn a lot by signing up for ProHuntersJournal.com and picking the brains of hunters in our community. It is 100% free, so if you're not a member, click here to join now.
Choosing a Gun and Shooting Practice
Again, I was lucky. My Dad was a knowledgeable hunter who knew exactly what I needed to get started hunting and when I was ready to progress to “the next level” by moving up to a bigger gun or a more challenging hunt. But if you are an adult just getting into hunting, the first thing you have to do is decide what animal or animals you want to hunt, because that will determine what sort of gun (or possibly bow) you’ll be using. Once you determine this, I suggest reaching out to an experienced hunter of your chosen game, to get their advice. If you know someone who hunts, there’s a good chance they will be willing to take you under their wing and maybe even let you borrow a gun after a little training. If you don’t know anyone who hunts these animals, not to worry. As I mentioned, hunters love to bring new people into the sport and share advice, so try reaching out to hunters in online message board areas of sites like this one, or by talking to a trustworthy sales person at a reputable sporting goods store or outfitter. If you go into a store to look at guns, you may want to approach it simply as a fact-finding mission at first, and make that clear to the sales person. Since guns and hunting gear can be expensive, a good first step could be to call up a shooting or hunting club near you and ask if they have the type of hunting gun you’re interested in available to rent, and if they offer shooting lessons. That way you can learn more about the gun and see if you like shooting before you jump in with both feet and spend hundreds of dollars.
Whichever gun you choose, you will need to practice gun safety always and practice your marksmanship often, to become an ethical hunter. These points cannot be stressed enough. I’d rather not shoot an animal at all than to shoot it poorly and run the risk of badly injuring but not killing it. The ethical hunter strives to be a great marksman and practices accordingly.
When I was first learning how to hunt, my Grandpa would often say... “Don’t point your gun at anything you don’t plan on shooting and don’t shoot anything you don’t plan on eating”. Of course the “eating” part didn’t apply to target practice, but there’s a whole lot of wisdom packed into that simple lesson of his.
Learning How to Hunt
There is no substitute for experience when it comes to hunting. So, if you don’t have experience yourself, try to borrow it. Approach the sport with a hunger for knowledge, a childlike curiosity and an open mind. If you do, and you are not afraid to ask questions, my bet is you can quickly find a mentor that will help you learn the basics, answer the many questions you might have and maybe even take you hunting.
My friend Jason is a phenomenal duck and goose caller. One morning this past season he was hunting our duck blind with another friend who is literally a world-class caller and has won several goose calling competitions and titles. As Jason was backing his duck boat into the water that pre-dawn morning, they saw a couple of new hunters clumsily attempting to put their tiny skiff in the water also, on what to them was an unfamiliar lake. It didn’t take long for Jason to realize that these guys didn’t know what they were doing, and that they were literally risking their lives by attempting to cross the icy waters of the lake in that tiny, overloaded boat. So, instead of lecturing them about what they were doing wrong, he simply walked up and invited these guys to join him in his blind. After all, they had plenty of extra room (and he didn't feel like rescuing them from the icy waters when there were ducks to be hunted). Quickly realizing Jason was an experienced hunter, these two guys gladly joined. Their willingness to learn would be richly rewarded.
I was on the phone with Jason throughout that day to give and get field reports. Their hunt started out slow with very few ducks in the area. But, it ended up being a massive migration day for Canada geese. Realizing that, Jason ended up pulling most of his duck decoys and changing his decoy spread to set up primarily for geese. As huge flocks of geese started to come onto the lake, he and his championship goose caller friend put on a real calling clinic for these new hunters, which resulted in a 4 man limit of geese on their first “real” waterfowl hunt. Jason said the look on their faces was priceless when they realized the situation they had fallen into by being open to learning from more experienced hunters.
If you can’t find experienced hunters in your own social circles, reach out to your local division of wildlife office and ask them if they can point you to any local resources. Many Division of Wildlife or Natural Resources officers are hunters themselves and are very willing to share information to help you be successful. Another strategy is to contact the local chapter of wildlife conservation organizations like: The National Wild Turkey Federation, The Quality Deer Management Association, Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or Pheasants Forever. The type of organization you choose to call will obviously depend on the game animal you want to pursue and where you live, but you’ll find that local volunteers for these organizations are passionate about hunting, and about bringing new hunters into their organizations. They can be a tremendous resource.
There’s one last point I need to make about learning from experience. Once you learn the basics by leveraging the experiencing of others, you’ll quickly start to realize that you’ll be learning something new on every single hunt, based on your own experience. This is one of the most rewarding aspects to hunting, because no matter how long you’ve been hunting, with every trip to the woods, every day on the water and with every animal encounter, you’ll start to pick up insights that will help you make better future decisions and make you a smarter hunter.
After the Shot
For many new hunters, the question of “what do I do with an animal once I shoot it?” is their biggest source of trepidation about getting into hunting. Well, it is a great question and there’s more to it than meets the eye. Your first challenge is to successfully recover the downed game. Once you shoot an animal, recovering it needs to become your first priority (after safety, of course). I’ve seen hunters get hopped up on adrenaline and side tracked by seeing more ducks in the air, or other deer approaching - causing them to take their focus off of animals they had already shot. This can lead to lost game, which is never a good thing and one of the most unfortunate situations in hunting.
How you recover an animal depends on the species. For big game like deer, elk or bear, it is best to give the animal time to expire before you pursue it. If you make a great shot, sometimes you’ll see the animal go down and expire within your view, but it doesn’t always happen that way. There may be tracking involved, which is just another fun and challenging part of the hunting experience. If you’re hunting small game or fowl, you can and usually should go after them right away, to recover them wherever they dropped. Sometimes a quick follow up shot is needed to quickly and ethically kill the animal.
Once you recover a big game animal like a deer, you’ll need to tag it - which basically just means you put a tag with your name and some basic information about the harvest of the animal onto the animal itself. This is a legal requirement in most, if not all states in the U.S.
Then, whether it is big game or small, you’ll eventually need to clean and process the animal. For big game, like a deer, you will likely need to field dress or “gut” the deer out in the field. This serves two purposes. First, it helps cool down the body cavity more quickly, which helps preserve the quality of the meat. Secondly, it removes a lot of weight from the animal, which will help you drag it out of the woods to your vehicle more easily.
As for the question of how-to field dress a deer, how to clean a duck or any other animal, thankfully we live in an information age where practically everything you need to know can be found on the internet. That is, if you don’t have a friend or family member to show you first-hand. From field dressing to plucking to processing, a simple search on Google or YouTube will deliver links to dozens of videos that can help walk you through the process.
When I shot my first deer with a shotgun as a teenager, I was fortunate to have a family friend help me field dress it. Then I took it to a meat processor to butcher it. But when I finally took up (and fell in love with) bow hunting years later, I had no one around to show me what to do when I killed my first doe. Fortunately, I was prepared and had a step-by-step guide to field dressing printed from the web and put it in a plastic bag in my backpack - so I’d be ready if I was fortunate enough to harvest an animal. Good preparation is a hugely important part of successful hunting.
Getting Started Starts Now
When I decided to take up bow hunting, I was inspired by simply shooting a friend’s old compound bow at a local archery range. There was something about taking aim and releasing that arrow that resonated with something deep inside of me. Simply by shooting his bow, I realized that even though I’d never hunted with one, I was in-fact a bow hunter. So that day at the archery range I set a goal. I said to myself and to my friend, "I am going to buy a bow of my own, practice and kill a deer with it next season". Mind you, although I was a long-time small-game and bird hunter, I had never hunted with a bow. My goal was to figure it all out…the equipment, the strategies and how to prepare for a hunt in ways that would help make me successful. So that’s what I did. Since then I’ve taken about twenty deer with a bow. I’ve fed my family with several of those deer and donated others to local food pantries or others in need. I am a bow hunter. A sportsman. A provider. And it all started with simple, clearly stated goal.
What’s your game? What’s your goal? It is time to get started!
If you have questions about this article or how to get started in hunting, please feel free to ask the question in the comments box or to send me a note directly at Sean AT prohuntersjournal DOT com. If you're not a member, you will have to register for the site to leave a comment. I will do my best to help answer your questions or get you in touch with someone who can.
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