Hunting for beginners. It seems like a simple subject, but there is a lot to learn for any hunter. Heck, I've been hunting for decades now, and I'm still learning. But we all have to start somewhere - so beginner hunters, start here.
Knowing where to begin to learn about hunting can be tough, and knowing how to advise adults who would like to hunt doesn't always come easily to someone who has been hunting since childhood. I didn't need to take any special steps when I started hunting, other than to do what Dad told me and learn as I went along.
It is a learning process for me, to try to put myself in the shoes of an adult beginner - because I simply don't know what it's like to be an adult beginner in hunting or shooting. I'll do my best to advise you well, but if you are a hunter who began hunting as an adult, your experience could be very valuable to others. Please feel free to contact me and let me know if there's anything in particular that I have left out, that worked for you.
Before we even get into it, let me say that hunting season is not the time for a beginner to get started hunting. You want to start the wheels in motion well before it's time to get out there and hunt. When you do go afield, you need to be educated as well as possible, and familiar with your chosen equipment. Spend some months prior to hunting season learning how to use the stuff you'll be taking with you, practicing with your gun or bow, etc.
I think the best first step for a beginner hunter would be to attend a hunter education course, sometimes known as a hunter safety course. For more information on this, check out Introduction to Hunter Education, from the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA). This should help you understand more about hunting, hunters, and the wildlife we pursue.
Find a Course, and Take it
The online introduction linked above is no replacement for taking an actual hunter education course in person. There, you will meet other folks like yourself, adult hunters attending the course with their children or other young people (I took my course with my nephew Rusty), and qualified instructors. And in many states, it will allow you to do some shooting as part of the course. For a beginner, the course will likely provide a good atmosphere in which for you to fire your first shots.
Check with your state's wildlife agency to find a hunter education course near you. I have compiled a list of every state's wildlife management agencies, which should help you find exactly what you need.
Be an Apprentice
In most cases, a non-hunter can accompany a licensed hunter in the field, so if you can find a mentor, you ought to be able to go along with him or her (without hunting) to get a feel for it and see what it's like. Some states even offer "apprentice licenses," which allow folks who haven't completed a hunter education course to give hunting a try... but I recommend taking the course beforehand, anyhow.
Check the Regs
You should also look at your state's license requirements and make sure you can meet them. This will also help you better understand what's required of you as far as licensing and hunter education. While you're there, review the regulations for the species you'd like to hunt - and be aware that a statewide season may very well not apply to state-controlled public hunting lands such as wildlife management areas (WMAs).
Many WMAs have unique restrictions on when and what you can hunt there, which may vary from statewide seasons (which may apply only to private land). Find out what kinds of equipment are allowed; some areas allow just about any hunting tool, while others are very restrictive - even when other parts of the state may allow the use of a wider array of hunting tools.
Review Gun Safety Rules
Before you handle a gun, make sure you read and understand the rules of basic firearms safety. It's always a good idea to review these rules from time to time, also - even if you are experienced with guns. And don't forget that most of these basic safety rules also apply to archery equipment such as bows and crossbows. Read, 'em, learn 'em, live by 'em.
Okay, so now you've fired a few shots from a gun - or maybe you're well-versed in its use from prior experience. Either way, you need to practice with it to become proficient. Head to the range and get started.
Where to Shoot
Wondering where to shoot? The NSSF has a website dedicated to answering that very question. It's simply called Where To Shoot.
Don't Hurry Out to Buy a Gun
I wouldn't rush out and buy a gun, unless I knew for sure what kind of gun I liked and did well with - and would work well on my chosen game. So you may want to practice with borrowed guns before you hit the woods. If you have friends and family who will go to the range with you and let you shoot their guns, that's great. If not, try calling some local ranges. Tell them you don't have a gun but you would like to try shooting. Many ranges offer gun rental, and some provide loaners. So give it a try.
I'm not purposely trying to leave bowhunters out, but I personally believe that bowhunting is not best for a new hunter. In my opinion, a beginner hunter should have the odds stacked in his or her favor, and to me that means hunting with the best possible tool - and a bow ain't it. If you do choose to take up bowhunting, whether as a newbie or as an experienced hunter, practice is even more important.
It is often more difficult to use archery equipment than firearms. That increased challenge is what draws many to bowhunting, but it also means that far too many hunters have headed afield with too little practice over the years. Whatever your chosen hunting tool may be, practice with it - a lot.
It takes time to become proficient with both gun and bow, regardless of what you may have heard about how easy it is to kill a deer with a scoped rifle. There are easy shots, sure, but they are usually not the rule.