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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.