How to Start Hunting

by Shawn O'Neal
how-to-start-hunting

I don’t have memories of sharing venison around the family table or hearing cousins telling deer camp tales at Thanksgiving. Hunting wasn’t something I was really conscious of, not having any friends or relatives who participated in it. The traditional path of sharing this knowledge, passing it from one generation to the next on family farms and in familiar woodlands, is something that is increasingly rare. It was in trying to remedy this lack of personal experience that I ended up shadowing bow hunters through the aspen groves of Dixie National Forest. 

I had known for a few years that I wanted to learn to hunt. I purchased some camo and a book on whitetail hunting from a big-box store, but that’s where my preparations stalled. It all seemed too intimidating. Should I buy a rifle next? If so, what kind? I imagined myself standing in the woods with a gun and a confused look on my face, not knowing if what I was attempting could even be called hunting.

That’s why, in my early 30s, I jumped at the chance to help out a friendly, local outfitter. In exchange for helping with camp chores and filming bow hunts for elk and mule deer on the public lands of southern Utah, I’d have a front row seat in a live-action classroom. Not everyone will have the time and flexibility to apprentice with a hunting outfit. Still, there are many open avenues to pursuing these important skills. 

Why hunting?

First, get clear with your goals. I knew I wanted to explore a more genuine connection to my food. Above all, I desired to take a responsibility for how it arrived in my freezer. By knowing what it is that interests you about hunting, you will be better able to communicate those objectives to the people who can help you reach them. Is it waterfowl or big game that intrigues you? Would you rather spot-and-stalk with traditional archery gear or learn the perfect place to set a tree stand during rifle season? Recognizing the importance of a safe and ethical hunting experience is universal, but everything else is personal preference. Understanding that will help focus your efforts. 

Also, keep your expectations reasonable for your initial hunts. That epic Alaska trophy caribou hunt or African safari can wait for now. Hunting closer to home will save money and energy and give you a greater opportunity for success. It’s much easier to scout and plan for areas you can visit and explore on a regular basis. 

Reach out. Then do it again. And again.

I was lucky to meet experienced hunters I could learn from, but it didn’t happen instantly. If you have friends or coworkers who hunt, start there. Plan on asking around until you find a mentor who appreciates your goals and demonstrates the patience of a good teacher. If your social circle is low on outdoors-people, there are numerous online resources to help connect aspiring and accomplished hunters. Additionally, meetup groups, mentoring programs, and social media pages can get you started. Educational programs like Becoming an Outdoors-woman (BOW) can provide opportunities to learn practical skills while connecting with like-minded people. 

State wildlife and land management agencies are important resources and should be utilized. They often provide detailed information on game species and can help make sense of sometimes dense and changing regulations. Remember, they want to help get people out hunting and fishing. Some agencies even have outreach programs for novice adult hunters. Start by contacting your state’s agency to arrange a hunter safety course, a requirement in most states.  

The rewards of hunting are many: time outdoors, sustainable food, and a sense of accomplishment in a meaningful pursuit. They are worth the effort of stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing new challenges. These first steps may lead you on a journey to share the values and experiences you learn with someone who looks to you and asks, “How do I start hunting?” 

[H/T Meetup, American Hunter, BOW, US FWS, IHEA,]

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