So, you want to become a hunter. The only problem is that you aren’t close with anyone who hunts who could mentor you. Hunting wasn’t a part of your upbringing. You feel like you are starting from square one (maybe square zero?). This is where I was when I started and I’ll admit it can be an intimidating place to be. The goal of this multipart series is to provide the type of guidance my former self would have loved to have had. It is my hope that these posts will be straightforward, accessible, and ultimately helpful.
Hunter Education is the very first thing I recommend to any new hunter. There are a few reasons for this. The first is quite straightforward: Most U.S. states and Canadian provinces require most hunters to complete a hunter education and safety class before they can obtain any hunting license or permit. So it’s likely that you’ll have to do it no matter what before you can head out in the field. The specific rules around this can vary quite a bit by state (e.g., people of certain ages may be exempt from hunter ed, archery hunting may or may not be included in the mandatory requirement) so you’ll need to look up the regulations in your area. The International Hunter Education Association has a nice page on this very topic. Also, if you plan to hunt multiple states, check to make sure that satisfying the requirements for one state will transfer to others — this may not always be the case!
Beyond the practical need to complete hunter ed in order to hunt legally, the education provides a solid introduction to critically important basic skills. I took my hunter ed course in California almost five years ago, just about a month after purchasing my first rifle. While I didn’t go on my first actual hunt until a couple of years later, hunter education provided me with the basic knowledge needed to handle and practice shooting my rifle safely. Taking this course meant that the key tenets of firearm safety were etched deeply in my brain. I am thankful for that. Taking hunter ed also meant that I got up to speed on basic terminology. For example, what exactly does “caliber” refer to, and what do the numbers actually denote? What are all the components of a firearm called and what do they do? What does it mean to say that an animal is “quartering away”? Hunter ed gave me the language to know how to ask questions of others (and the internet!) in a way that helped me get the answer I was looking for.
Hunter education will also provide a comprehensive overview of federal and state regulations that are relevant to all hunters. There may be laws about owning, storing, and transporting guns and bows that you aren’t aware of yet. And there are typically a whole host of rules about hunting licenses, tags, game seasons, legal methods of take, and the like. You’ve got to know these. The course may also cover things like marksmanship skills, principles of wildlife management, hunting ethics, and basic wilderness survival.
Finally, taking a hunter ed course means that you will get to spend quite a few hours with a very experienced instructor. Yes, there will be others taking the course too, but you’ll get to chat with the instructor after class if you have a specific question that you didn’t have a chance to ask during class. Who knows, you might also meet some hunting buddies while you’re there.
Cost of the basic hunter education course varies. In some places like North Carolina and New York it’s free. In other places like California and Texas it will range from ten to twenty dollars. You may be able to take part of the course online, though it seems that the online courses are frequently more expensive than the traditional 100% classroom option.
You don’t need to be “ready to hunt” in order to take hunter education. It’s designed for beginners and it’s a great starting point. Get it out of the way early. Prioritize safety and basic knowledge before you dive into the world of gear, practice, and strategy.