10 Tips for Beginning Hunters

By Dave Dolbee published on in Archery, General, Hunting, Safety and Training

The first hunt is a right of passage for some and the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream for others, in many instances it is likely both. It is a part of the hunting community’s heritage and a coveted moment worthy of celebration when introducing a new member of the next generation to hunting. Having a young son rapidly approaching that age, I am certainly eagerly awaiting the day he asks for his opportunity to go afield. To that end, I am sure a beginner’s guide to hunting could be of value to neophyte and veteran hunters mentoring new hunters alike.

Species, conditions, environment and ability all play a role in dictating the many different ways to hunt. Pine forests provide prime ground to hunt from a tree stand while a ground blind would likely be more appropriate for the open plains and scrubby sagebrush of the Southwest. Spot-and-stalk could be used equally well in either case, but requires a level of experience and patience all its own. However, that is a topic large enough to fill several stories all its own.

Dolbee with Texas Whitetail Buck

Texas sagebrush country does not favor tree stands or still hunting, but a good ground blind will provide plenty of wildlife viewing and a great opportunity for a mentor and new hunter or guide and hunter to select the right animal at the right time.

I have had the opportunity to hunt ground touching the Arctic Circle for caribou and pursued Gould’s turkeys in Mexico. I have looked down on whitetails in Georgia and stalked blacktails in Northern California. I have hunted from a pit blind in Texas for waterfowl and taken eye-level black bear in Alberta and many species and locations in between. If there were one universal piece of advice I could offer, it would be to find a mentor with local knowledge of the species and the area and follow their lead.

Many great hunting programs on cable T.V. are both entertaining and educational. Honey Brake, Mossy Oak’s Hunting the Country, Gamekeepers and Inside the Obsession on the Pursuit Channel, to name a few. I highly recommend these and other shows, reading as much as you can about your quarry, environment and more, but it is not a replacement for time and experience afield. The learning cycle is never complete or a box that can be checked off as finished.

Prior to any new hunter heading afield a hunter safety course is a must. Several states allow you to take the course online at your leisure and then receive your Hunter Ed card after finishing a state-required field and skills day. This is a mandatory requirement for new hunters (with a few exceptions) and a perfect opportunity for veteran hunters to reinforce their knowledge or encourage new hunters by taking or retaking the course as well. All told, you can accomplish this for less than $15 per person, which is a small price to pay for safety.

5 Fundamentals

Scout

Scout the area before placing your stand, and always keep in mind that you are hunting deer not trees. The same argument could easily be made for other species, but the point remember is not to look for a perch that is ideal from the hunter’s perspective, but one that increases your odds for a quality shot at a game animal.

Wind

In the past while scouting, I recall once finding the perfect tree for a stand surrounded by more sign than I knew what to do with. It was in bottom where the wind was completely predictable. No, you could not count on it to blow out of the North, South, East or West. Instead, you could count on the wind to blow from all four and everything in between! A quick puff from the wind checker showed the wind constantly swirled. I wanted to hunt that bottom. Deer were certainly using that bottom. However, the wind made it unhuntable.

The deer loved that bottom for a reason. It was a safe zone from danger. Always remember to watch the wind when hunting AND to consider it when choosing a hunting location.

bowhunter with Blacktail deer

It’s not the size of the animal, but the smile on the hunter that makes it a trophy.

Cover

Unless you are hunting dairy cows, cover matters. And take it from someone who has been busted on more than one occasion, many game animals—including deer, bear and smaller game—look up. You need a backdrop of cover at a minimum. Most hunting happens in the fall season when most foliage has fallen. Look for artificial foliage or a location where clumps of trees can provide a backdrop.

Movement

I have many hunters afflicted with “Walking Disease.” They start out in a tree stand or blind, but get bored and second-guess their position. Before they know it, they are afoot and actively searching for game. Fishing and catching are two different things. Likewise, hunting and shooting are different. Sit tight and let the game come to you. If you cannot do this, plan to still-hunt from the beginning and with the permission of the hunters around you.

Keep Alert

It is easy to get lulled into complacency. You may be sitting for minutes, hours or in some cases days waiting for your chance. Don’t blow it by playing a video game, texting or dozing off.

5 Tips for the Shot

Be Ready

Make a few dry runs as soon as you get in your stand or blind. Range out your shots and review the distances a few times in your mind. When bowhunting, draw your bow once or twice, and check for proper clearance or game-alerting squeaks. When hunting with a firearm, check your sights, safety and rest, sling etc.

Sights

Sights, or focus in the case of shotgunning for waterfowl or upland game, matter. If your heart isn’t thumping and knees are not shaking, you might want to rethink hunting as a sport. You might also want someone else to ensure you are human and have a pulse. Remember, you cannot rush the shot.

cameraman wearing Mossy Oak Snow geese

Whether it’s snow geese, pheasant, bear, deer or some other big or small game, take the time to record the hunt and memory. With digital photography, one picture costs the same as 100. Take as many pictures from as many angles and poses. You can always sort out the keepers at a later time.

Safety

In this case, I am referring to the safety of the firearm or the bow. Both have a common safety and in the case of a firearm, there is a mechanical safety as well. Keep the weapon on safe until you are ready to shoot. This includes keeping your finger off the trigger while raising, lowering, or acquiring the target in your sights.

Patience

Just because you can see the game doesn’t mean it is right for the shot. Birds may fly closer, big game can take a step and expose the vitals or turkeys and turn offer a better angle. Again, do not force the issue; wait for the right opportunity for an ethical high percentage shot—and the knowledge and feeling of harvesting your game.

Record

After you spend the countless hours preparing for the hunt, including training, practice and time in the stand or blind, remember to take a moment to remember the experience. If you are going to take pictures, clean the animal and remove or cover the blood. Digital film is cheap. Take hundreds of pictures so you can sort through them later and pick the best ones.

Do you have a story of your first hunt or a tip for new hunters? Let us know in the comment section.

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Comments (3)

  • Bill from Boomhower, Texas

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    Ditto Neil, I agree, and thanks for writing it, Dave. I’d only tagged along with my dad on a few deer and dove hunts when I from about age nine to fourteen. Never took anything to my credit, but one day one the deer lease, while gathering dead-fall mesquite for the cabin fireplace, a jack rabbit jumped, and ran. My dad said; “Shoot!” I emptied a pre-’64 Winchester ’94 25.35, kicking up dust at his tail with every shot. My dad re-assured me that if it’d been a deer, I’d have got him. My dad died when I was fourteen, so I turned out to be the only Hell my mom ever raised. Then, in my early twenties, the hunting bug bit me hard, but without that “mentor”, I resorted to buying and reading all the hunting magazines I could find, watching the limited number of hunting shows on TV(before cable and satellite), and talking with co-workers who’d share experiences with me. With a lot of successful small game hunts under my belt, I went down to Ft Hood to participate in their “Pot Luck” deer hunt. That’s where you buy a Ft Hood hunting license, drop it in a big hopper just before 3AM, and if they draw your number, you climb in back of an Army troop carrier, and they drop you off, at pre constructed blinds in sectors used for impact areas, and manuvers. BANG!!!! I get my first Buck, but no one there to share the moment with. Instead, I have out on the ground, two of my better deer hunting annual magazines, opened to the step by step picture articles, showing how to “field dress” a deer. I’d studied those things so many times, the print was worn away from the pages. I felt confident when the Guide, driver, and the other hunters returned, and we hoisted my deer into the back of the truck. I had those blood stained magazines hanging out of the back pocket of my camo BDUs, and a big grin on my face, as we drove back to the base. If you’re new to hunting, I don’t think you should overlook any source of intel on your quarry. There are more TV hunting shows than ever today. Same with magazines, and hard bound books. Information on all facets of the sport abounds! If you’re new to the sport, taking a few trips to Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, places like that can be a great source for more than deals on gear. Those guys who work there might be busy, but if you’re courtious and show a genuine interest, I bet every one of them would enjoy sharing their experiences with a new upcoming young sportsperson, whether you’re male, or female. The initial info gained from these encounters might be over-shadowed by a new and life long friendship as well. I used to stop for a few minutes, at the end of the last day of hunting season every year, and just reflect on the experiences I’d had that year, and in prior years, while watching the sun fall beyond the horizon. I’d almost always shed a few tears, take a deep breath, and begin planning for next year. Welcome, if you’re new to the sport. Question and reason everything. There are no stupid questions. Repect game laws. Respect the land you’re fortunate enough to have, respect the land owner, and his wishes. Repect yourself, and any other hunters in the area whom you may encounter. Respect wildlife, and the game you seek. Remember, deer are Wards of the State. All game deserves our repsect and protection to ensure future populations for everyone to enjoy. Happy trails!

    Reply

  • Neil Schmidt

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    Nice article, Dave. Although it was written with new hunters in mind, it provided a good review for us old-timers. Thanks.

    Reply

  • Denny Bonwell

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    The tips for new hunters is right on the money, I would ad one more thing. Learn the “noise” of the woods you are going to hunt, every woods is a little different, one will have a lot of bird noise, when things are “safe” for game the woods has a noise. When it is dead quiet you are moving to quickly or moving in your stand. The game “read” the woods, you need to also.

    Reply

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