Hunting Tips for a Complete Novice
Russ Chastain 03.17.20
Hunters have always appreciated the game they take and its ability to help feed their families, but in modern times most of us hunters really don’t need to hunt for food. In times of crisis, though, that might change. When survival hunting becomes a vital way to feed one’s family, everything changes.
With the current COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis in full swing, businesses are closing, including restaurants. Could supermarkets be next? I certainly hope not, but when that becomes a very real possibility, folks who never thought of hunting before might be ready to start learning about it. So, let’s get started.
This will only be a rough outline, because there’s really no way to condense everything you need into one post… but we will do our best and will continue to post helpful information.
Before you head afield to hunt, you need to know some stuff. Hunter’s Ed was developed for exactly that reason, and most or all states require new hunters to pass a hunter’s ed course. Although many of these programs include face-to-face meetings, there are online options available. Hunter-ed.com has a list of states, offering courses you can take right at home.
Some states currently require new hunters to participate in a “field day” activity where they may do things like learn in a classroom, fire guns on a range, and learn about blood trailing, tree stand safety, and survival skills.
Whether these face-to-face meetings will continue to be held or required is anyone’s guess, but taking an online course is a great place to start your hunting education.
Gun Safety Rules
Firearms are wonderful things, and many people happen to love them. They can also be deadly, which is why hunters use them and why you need to know how to handle guns safely. A good place to begin is by reviewing these gun safety rules. You may also wish to contact the NRA (NRA’s original purpose was gun training, not politics) or local gun ranges and ask about receiving personal instruction on how to safely use firearms.
Contrary to popular belief, hitting a target isn’t always easy, especially when that target is alive and moving. Practice shooting until you can consistently place your shots in a tighter group (points of impact closer together) than you’d necessarily need to in order to kill your quarry.
You may have to try different ammunition in your firearm in order to find a load that both accurate and suitable for the game you will be hunting.
For shotguns, practice will let you learn how your gun “patterns,” or how far apart the pellets are when they hit a target at various ranges. Use large sheets of paper or cardboard for this. If you’ll be hunting birds, practice shooting at moving targets such as clay pigeons. These can be gotten affordably and thrown by hand in an informal setting, or mechanically at a shooting range.
Check Hunting Regulations
Newbie hunters may not realize it, but hunting is tightly regulated and game laws can be quite complicated. Laws still apply, so you should look up the hunting regulations for your state. Some states even have free hunting apps you can download to your smart phone. These offer users the ability to look up hunting seasons and bag limits, learn legal methods for taking game, report harvested game to the state wildlife managers, and more.
Decide on a Hunting Tool
Will you hunt with a rifle? Shotgun? I don’t recommend you start with a bow or crossbow, because hunting can be difficult enough with a firearm. If it’s about getting food, waste is out and you want a hunting tool which provides the greatest practical reach and margin of error. That’s a firearm.
Hunting big game? You almost certainly want a rifle. A bolt-action rifle is about as basic and effective as you can get, and sticking with a common caliber such as 30-06 will allow you to find ammo in just about any gun shop, and that particular cartridge is also capable of taking any native critter that walks or crawls in North America.
If hunting small game and turkeys, a shotgun might be best. This will let you hit squirrels and rabbits even when they’re on the move, and with practice you can also shoot flying birds.
A good rimfire rifle in 22 LR (long rifle) is one of the most flexible firearms you can get, and a pocketful of ammo will let you hunt small game all day long.
Learn the Terrain
You will do best if you are at least somewhat familiar with the area you’ll be hunting, but at the same time, remaining undetected by game is also important. When you move, do so slowly as you observe the lay of the land and scan for game, game trails, and game sign such as tracks, bedding areas, poop, etc.
Take Your Time
It’s easy to get in a hurry about most anything, but when hunting you really need to take your time. In learning how to hunt animals, try to consider how vigilant you would be if you lived in the wild and predators were always lurking around wanting to eat you. That’s how vigilant your prey will usually be, so you’ll have to defeat those natural defenses.
When you do get an opportunity to take an animal, expect yourself to be shaking like a leaf and hopped up on adrenaline. Pull yourself together, talk yourself through it, and be absolutely certain of your target and what’s beyond it. Often, your bullet will go right on through an animal — and if you miss, the bullet will be quite deadly as it continues its flight. Make sure your shots won’t be flying off over the horizon, across open fields, near homes, etc.
After the shot, your animal may run — or it may fall dead right there. It may even do some combination of those things; many an animal has been knocked down by a shot, only to get up and run away. So remain patient, load another round into your gun’s chamber, and be ready to finish it off if necessary. You may need to track or blood-trail the animal, but that’s too large a subject to discuss here.
Take Care of the Meat
Once you recover your animal, you need to take care of the meat. Dad used to say you need to “knock its guts out.” Most folks call this “field dressing,” and it mainly means you take the critter’s insides out.
Once you get it skinned and get the meat home, you’ll need to cut it up. This is called processing or butchering. Here’s a link to a post discussing exactly that — and showing you how to do it.
That’s About it
Well, those are the basics. There’s a lot more to hunting, but we all have to start somewhere. Stay tuned for more helpful hunting posts in the near future.