So, you’ve been thinking you’d like to become a hunter, but you’re not sure how to begin. No worries! Here are 10 basic steps to get you started.
1. Become proficient in a legal method of take and know sporting arms safety before you go into the field.
Any archery or firearms shop or range should be able to assist you in purchasing a correctly fitted bow, hunting rifle, or shotgun. Most also teach range safety and can show you basic operating procedures and shooting form. You should shoot often and shoot well before you consider hunting anything. Take lessons or practice at an archery range or trap and skeet club where you can get feedback from someone who is trained and certified until you are comfortable. Under no circumstances should you ever go into the field if you are not confident and proficient with whatever method of take is in your hands.
2. Take your state’s Hunter Education Class and pass the test.
Visit your state’s website for hunters education. The information to sign up and take the course should be listed. Some states require that you take a separate bowhunter education course to legally bow hunt. Now that you have your Hunter’s Education certificate, you can buy your hunting license and tags. You can also apply for special hunts through many state Fish & Wildlife/Fish & Game Departments or through various organizations that host novice or apprentice hunts.
3. Visit the website for the Department of Fish and Game/Department of Fish and Wildlife for your state (or the state you wish to hunt).
These sites will provide you with the rules, regulations, limits, seasons, tag and license costs, lottery draw information (if necessary), protected species and areas to watch for, reporting requirements, and a plethora of other information. Often states will have regulation hard copy manuals you can order or pick up in person. I recommend keeping a hard copy or downloaded copy in your possession while hunting in case any questions arise. Study the regulations, limits, and seasons well. There is no excuse to be uninformed and the game warden is not going to accept, “I didn’t know” as an answer. It is your responsibility as a hunter to know and follow the law.
4. Do your research.
For whatever species you are going to hunt, take the time to learn their behavior, patterns, tracks, calls, droppings, methods of legal take, habitat identification, shot placement, vital organ location, gender identification, food sources, species predators, species hunting or foraging behaviors, safety precautions, reproduction, how to approach them, how they fit into conservation, if there have been past population issues and why, how to field dress them, how to care for their meat, etc—bottom line, become a steward of the land. If you prepare yourself with the right information, you will not only be able to make more ethical decisions but you’ll be more successful and safer when you go to scout and ultimately go out and hunt.
5. Get yourself a good land boundary map, mapping application, or GPS device.
Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service both have good boundary maps available for a very reasonable price. Study the maps, the apps, and the Internet well and do much of your scouting with topographic maps before you even leave home—it will drastically cut down your driving or hiking time to find places to scout. You MUST be able to tell land boundaries and stay within legal public hunting land or private land that you have permission to hunt on. Pay attention to land that is posted with “No Hunting” signs or other such off-limits indicators. Much of the public land in the United States is open for hunting activities. Be careful to pay attention to what sporting arms are allowed in each area (i.e. shotgun or archery only areas). Know your local laws regarding recovering downed animals that cross into property that belongs to someone else.
6. Carry all paperwork, licenses, tags, and a pen into the field.
If you have permission to hunt private land carry your permission slip or other legal documents to prove your access–check with your state for the documentation requirements. Always carry a pen because once you successfully down an animal that requires a tag, you MUST immediately fill out the tag and affix it to the animal.
7. Scout often.
Once you have an idea of where to go from using maps go out and actually scout the different areas. Dare I say it, get out of your vehicle and take a walk! It’s healthy for you and will help you get up close and personal to the terrain, trails, and nature. Look for signs of animals: tracks, rubs, droppings, water, food sources, cover, etc. Some hunters like to set up trail cameras to monitor the activities of certain areas. However, it is not always legal to leave trail cameras and tree stands up on public land so be sure to check local regulations. Make sure to let someone know where you will be going when you scout and what time you will be back.
8. Prepare for the hunt.
Ensure you have a hunting plan in place. Pack the appropriate items you will need for the worst possible conditions in the area you will be hunting. Check in with local hunting or wildlife conservation and management organizations that are knowledgeable about the species and the location to ask any final questions. Make sure your equipment is safe to use and in good working order. Purchase any additional gear you may need. Tell a few people where you will be going, what trail head you’re parked at, what camp round you’re staying in, and what time to expect you back. Pack your first-aid kit, food, water, and any other survival gear you may need while out. Bring paper and a pen so that every day you can leave a note in your car AND at your base camp (if you hiked in) of the location you’ll be hunting for the day, your direction of travel, who is with you, what everyone is wearing, and any health concerns present. For longer trips, plan accordingly and check in often with your non-hunting contact to let them know where you are.
9. Go hunt.
Now that you are a licensed hunter who knows the area, knows the species behavior and patterns, has told someone where you’re going, and can operate a sporting arm or bow safely and accurately, go hunt! Tag your animal as soon as you retrieve it, using that trusty pen you packed with your paperwork. Field dress, quarter, skin, cape out, or otherwise process your animal for transportation home or bring it to a local meat locker. Be sure to follow local game laws regarding leaving carcasses in the field.
10. Follow through with your responsibilities.
Take your animal to the nearest check station, if your state requires that the tag be signed off for that species. Take care of the meat as soon as possible, no mater how tired you are (this is a major respect thing for me, though of course others may feel differently). Turn in your harvest reports on time, if required. Share your story with friends, family, and community. Encourage someone new to come with you the next time and help them through the steps to becoming a hunter.
[This article originally appeared in Harvesting Nature.]