Learn to Hunt

Learn to Hunt

So you want to — or might want to — learn to hunt? That’s great! I applaud your curiosity and gumption. Getting to the point of even searching out information to learn to hunt is something that most Americans (or people in other developed nations if you aren’t American) will never do in their lifetime. We created Modern Hunters for you and the thousands of others just like you.

Read More: Why We Created Modern Hunters


Learn to Hunt

In learning to hunt, I think there are two main processes that occur. The first is the obvious one — gaining hunting knowledge. The second is less obvious, though equally important: an evolution of personal thought. I think that the first process may tend to produce the second. The more that I learned about hunting, the more novel questions and dilemmas I was exposed to. Being forced to consider these new issues caused me to reconsider some of my long-held opinions in other areas. Translating my views from one of a never-eat-animal-products vegan into a considerate carnivore took some cognitive effort. Could I philosophically justify killing an animal? Could I actually do it? Here, I’ll highlight our posts about how to learn to hunt as well as a few of our ‘thought pieces’ on issues you might meet along your path to becoming a successful hunter.

The Basics
Guns, Gun Safety, and Marksmanship
Archery and Bowhunting
Finding a Spot to Hunt
Hunting Gear
The Outdoors
From Animal to Meal
Philosophical Questions
Other Resources

The Basics

How do I get my hunting license?

In most states, to get your hunting license you will need to take a hunter education course. Note that many of these courses are only a couple of days long. Becoming a hunter takes a lifetime of learning, so don’t expect too much out of this course. But it will give you an introduction to some of the most important hunting topics.

Read More: So You Want To Be a Hunter: Hunter Education

What are ‘tags’?

Some of the most basic questions in learning about hunting are also some of the most difficult to find simple answers to. The reality is that hunting seasons and tags are very complex and vary across each state. We break down the basics for beginners, but ultimately you’ll learn the local regulations by spending a good chunk of time on your state hunting agency’s website.

Read More: Understanding Hunting Seasons and Tags

Guns, Gun Safety, and Marksmanship

What about guns and gun safety?

For those who did not grow up around guns (like me), the topic can be intimidating. The thought of holding — and shooting — a gun can be even more intimidating. I’ve heard from a number of people curious about hunting that the aversion to owning guns provides one of the biggest barriers to learning to hunt. It certainly was a barrier at first for me too. Since then, I’ve become accustomed to the safe use of guns. It’s really important, before ever buying a gun, to have a plan for safely storing that weapon. It’s also important to have thought extensively about gun safety and to practice these principles religiously.

Read More: Basic Gun Safety for Hunters

What gun should I start with?

After becoming more familiar with guns and gun safety, it’s time to consider what gun to buy. My opinion is that a rimfire rifle is the best starting option for new hunters. The ammunition is relatively cheap, the recoil is very manageable, they allow for building marksmanship, and are capable of taking small game animals — the ones I’d recommend starting out with.

Read More: Small Game Rifles for Beginning Hunters

I’ve heard discussion about lead ammo, what type of ammunition should I buy?

Unless you live in California, where lead will soon be banned for hunting, this is ultimately a personal decision. I have decided that I prefer to hunt with non-lead ammunition for two primary reasons. First, lead is more toxic than most non-lead options, though unfortunately there is no truly ideal bullet. I prefer to cut the degree to which I and the wild lands that I hunt are exposed to toxins. Second, given that lead will soon be banned where I hunt, I prefer to add demand for non-lead ammunition, hoping that the manufacturers will step up and offer better options. On this topic, it’s really your call, but I suggest looking into the issue and forming your own informed opinion.

Read More: Are Non-Lead Bullets Toxic?

How can I make the range less intimidating?

I recall my first time at the range. I felt very self-conscious. All the stuff I knew about guns was only recently learned. I wasn’t too concerned about being unsafe, as I had ingrained the safety principles into my head. But what if I messed something else up? What if it was obvious that I was a total newbie? Would the tough guys at the range be mean about it? Fortunately, my concerns turned out to be unwarranted. After a few trips to the range I ultimately realized that my initial concern was way overblown. Now the range is a much more enjoyable environment.

Read More: First Trip to the Shooting Range

How can I become an accurate shooter?

Once you have become comfortable with gun safety and have chosen your gun and ammunition, it’s time to become comfortable — and accurate — with your gun. In order to do this, it’s helpful to follow some basic principles for marksmanship.

Read More: Beginner Rifle Marksmanship

Archery and Bowhunting

Is bow hunting a good option for a novice hunter?

Many new hunters are attracted to archery. But is bow hunting a good choice for a beginner? How does it compare to hunting with a gun? There are many factors to consider, including cost, ease of learning, and ethics. When, where, and what type of animal you want to hunt are also critical to weigh. Ultimately, the gun vs bow hunting decision should reflect your personal preference.

Read More: Gun vs Bow Hunting for New Hunters

Finding a Spot to Hunt

Where can I hunt?

The answer to this question depends heavily on what part of the country you’re in. If you live in the western U.S., it’s likely that you can hunt on the vast amount of public land available to you. If you live in the eastern U.S., public land represents a much smaller percentage of overall land. You may need to find private land to hunt on.

Read More: Where Can I Go Hunting?

Do these spots have animals?

Once you’ve located a legal hunting spot, how can you figure out the areas of it that may be more and less suitable for the game you’re interested in? Well, the traditional and still best option is to lace up your shoes and go hiking around. However, thanks to the wonders of the internet, there are also options for e-scouting, using tools like Google Maps to find areas that look more and less suitable to animal habitation.

Read More: E-Scouting Tools for Hunters

Hunting Gear

Do I need camouflage?

If you ask someone to describe the looks of a hunter, the resulting description will invariable include that hunter wearing camouflage. Is camouflage necessary for hunting success? The answer is that it really depends on the type of animals you’re hunting and the ‘method of take’ (what weapon you’re using).

Read More: Do I Need Camouflage to Hunt?

Don’t I need binoculars and a riflescope?

Choosing the right optics, the first time, is important. Not doing so provides a costly lesson in this importance. Quality optics are very useful for western hunting, where one might be able to see for miles on end. Good optical instruments are also useful for denser eastern hunting, though perhaps slightly less critical. The most important lesson we learned about our optical gear? ‘Buy once cry once.’

Read More: Choosing The Right Optics

Is scent control necessary?

Animals have stellar senses of smell, which can pose a problem for hunters who would like to move through the wilderness undetected. A whole line of gear exists to help hunters control their odor, from special scent-reducing clothing to hunter-specific deodorant. We learned that scent control is very important to successful hunting, but can be accomplished sufficiently without fancy technologies. Using the wind to your advantage and eliminating strong odors in your everyday environment are likely the two most important steps you can take.

Read More: Do I Need Scent Control to Hunt?

The Outdoors

What if I have little experience outdoors?

Man, this is possibly one of the most intimidating aspects of hunting, and it has nothing to do with hunting itself, per se. Robyn and I are both urbanites, raised in big cities our whole lives. When we were growing up our parents didn’t hunt, didn’t much fish, and really didn’t camp. My first real camping trip was with friends in high school. I didn’t go backpacking until midway through college. I didn’t first hunt until graduate school. But I think the most important point is that I now do all these things regularly and with confidence. Don’t let your lack of experience outdoors serve as a deterrent if you’d like to hunt, just think of it as an opportunity to learn every step of the way.

Along these lines, after a few backpacking trips with me, Robyn decided that she wanted to try backpacking solo. It was a horrible experience at the time. But, it was one she learned extensively from. During hunting seasons it’s common for us to spend every single weekend backpacking in the boonies. We intend to write more articles on this topic, but for now you can see the gear I use for desert backpack hunting here. I should note, backpack hunting is not required to be a successful hunter, so don’t worry if you don’t feel up to it yet!

Read More: My First Solo Backpacking Trip
Read More: Desert Backpack Hunting Gear

From Animal to Meal

How do I process a whole animal?

This is one of the most asked questions on one of the most intimidating topics related to hunting: how do I take apart an animal once I have killed it? Robyn has compiled an extensive library of the best links and videos on the internet that teach how to field process wild game of all sorts of different species. How did we learn how to make a jackrabbit — and a deer even — into meat? We watched these videos and read the associated instructions. Honestly, this method of learning is not to different from how field processing has been passed down through the ages: we watch someone else do it, then try it ourselves.

Read More: Teach Yourself to Field Process Wild Game

What does wild game taste like?

If you didn’t grow up among hunters, you may have limited or no experience eating wild game. Maybe you’ve heard mixed reviews about eating wild animals — that they taste “too gamey” or just too weird. While deer may be somewhat similar to beef and pheasant might be somewhat similar to chicken, new hunters face some uncertainty about what their quarry will taste like. We write about our first taste experience for each animal we hunt. Thus far they’ve all been delicious and a joy to eat.

Read More: First Taste: Eating Venison
Read More: First Taste: Eating Rattlesnake

Philosophical Questions

Can I compassionately kill?

Yes, I think so. However, this question was one of the most difficult ones to answer philosophically. Ultimately, I had to do it to know the true answer to this. It’s subjective, it’s personal, and it’s going to be rooted within your personal ethical system. But I think that hunting can be one of the most compassionate and involved ways to consume meat in our society.

Read More: Food Ethics and Why I Hunt

What is it like to kill?

Well, each and every time a hunter takes an animal’s life is different. And every hunter is different. But perhaps the story of Robyn’s first deer can shed some light onto this question. Or, maybe my successful mule deer stalk will give a little insight into what it’s like to be yards away from your quarry.

Read More: A Girl’s First Deer: Robyn’s Hunt Story
Read More: My Successful Mule Deer Stalk

What if I don’t fit in with ‘hunting culture’?

There is definitely a culture surrounding hunting. ‘Conservative’, ‘male’, and ‘rural’ are some of the stereotypes with the least pejorative connotations, but there are many words associated with hunting stereotypes that are much more pejorative. How does one who doesn’t identify as conservative, isn’t a man, and lives in an urban area become a hunter? How can they find a mentor if no one in their social network hunts? Won’t it be weird to talk to people at the range? In short, I think most of the pejorative hunting stereotypes are in general false. But it’s hard to get around the fact that many hunters are conservative men who don’t live in big cities. This is no big deal. I’ve found hunters to in general be incredibly friendly, welcoming, and outgoing. Hunting needs new hunters. Hunters need you. So don’t let cultural differences dissuade you from becoming a hunter.

Read More: Must Hunters be Conservative and Male?

What will my neighbors think?

This question is of little consequence for someone whose neighbors also hunt. However, for urbanites like Robyn and me who never meet other people who hunt in our daily lives, the hunter stereotypes mentioned above become relevant. Will my boss, my friend, my neighbor think badly of me because I hunt? I think not, especially after you give them the very good reasons you became a hunter. However, this is definitely a consideration for many and worth pondering if you’re in a similar urban setting.

Read More: Camo Culture and Contempt

Should I save ‘trophies’?

Whether or not to save an animal’s hide or antlers was something that Robyn and I debated at length. We also weren’t sure whether we should even take photos of our kill. At first we decided that ‘no’, it wouldn’t be respectful to the animal to keep these ‘trophies’ of our kill. We appreciated our kills for the sustenance they provided — not for their ‘trophy’ value. But over time our thinking changed, for the better. Now we retain images and mementos of the animals we harvest because we realized that to let these things of aesthetic beauty go to waste meant that we were losing part of the value of each of our kills. For example, we made a beautiful frame out of the hide we tanned from the rattlesnakes I harvested with my bow.

Read More: Kill Photos and Mounted Heads
Read More: Tanning Rattlesnake Skin

Is hunting an environmentally-friendly means to eat?

Sustainable ecological stewardship is a core component of hunting, thanks to federal regulations and taxes, responsible game management, and hunter-led conservation advocacy. When it comes to sustainable meat, wild animals have a relatively small environmental footprint compared to their industrially raised counterparts. While hunting can’t feed all of America, hunting is and will likely continue to be a part of America’s local and sustainable food movement.

Read More: Is Hunting Sustainable?

How can I keep up motivation?

Hunting does not lead to success every time. In fact, even after a few years hunting we still regularly come home empty-handed. Expect this to be the norm. Expect not to succeed right away. Focus on enjoying the learning process and relishing the time spent outdoors. We made many mistakes as we learned, going most of a whole deer season without even seeing a mule deer. Yet, when we finally caught sight of deer, all of our hard work was validated. The next season, Robyn successfully harvested a deer with her rifle. Hunting can be frustrating at times, but it’s definitely worth it in the end!

Read More: Coping with Hunting Failure
Read More: Mule Deer Hunting Mistakes: Our First Season
Read More: We Could Be Deer Hunters After All

Other Resources

While our goal is to eventually offer a one-stop-shop for those who want to learn to hunt, there are many other writers and bloggers out there producing excellent content both in book and online format. Periodically we review books that have appealed to us here. For example, we think that Hank Shaw’s Hunt, Gather, Cook provides an excellent introduction to some of the basics of hunting and gathering, along with some excellent recipes. More on the philosophical side of things, Tovar Cerulli provides thoughtful insight into the ethics of hunting in his book Mindful Carnivore. And on the very practical side, Dwight Schuh’s book Hunting Open Country Mule Deer provides time-tested strategies for spot and stalk hunting mule deer.

Read More: Book: Hunt, Gather, Cook
Read More: Book: The Mindful Carnivore
Read More: Book: Hunting Open-Country Mule Deer

As a final note, this will be a living, growing post. We’ll add new learn to hunt articles as we write them. If there’s something specific you would like us to cover, we’d love to hear all requests! Post your topic suggestions in the comments or shoot us a note via our contact page. No question is ever too simple, too basic, or “dumb”. We want to make learning to hunt as easy as possible.

3 Comments

  1. Another way to be local, learn about the wilderness and how to hunt is to volunteer with outfitters.

    One would have to put aside their biases against trophy-hunters to do this, but there are plenty of internship and paid positions with thee companies. Not to mention one gets to learn about the different way to cook animals and how to use them as outfitters don’t like to waste anything to keep the operating cost low.

    The only problem with outfitters is that they are aware some people have a fantasy along the line of Christopher McCandless or Robyn Davidson and will readily exploit these individuals without teaching the skills in exchange for unpaid internship.

    • Excellent read,
      Thanks for taking the time to type this wealth of information. Much appreciated, I much like yourselves, have lived in a city most of my life with a few years in Colorado, and now permanently living here. With the help of this site and many others out there, I feel it’s time to embrace nature and simply get out there. Once again, thanks.

  2. Best post i have seen by far. Thank you for puttinf this together. Appreciate the abundance of useful lonks as well.

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