Your hunting story resonates with me, but how exactly did you do it? What was your process for learning on your own without a mentor? Over the past few months, I’ve received these questions from a number of readers. So, here it is. The story of how we taught ourselves to hunt from scratch.
If I could give only one piece of advice to novice hunters, it would be this: Prepare for failure. This is not the most uplifting way to start an article, I know. No one likes to fail. Indeed, most hunting articles, including those I write, focus on how to be successful. But coming home empty handed is inevitable in the pursuit of wild game. Keeping your spirits up through the process of trial an error is a vital, though often unspoken aspect of learning to hunt.
Growing up in suburban Massachusetts, I had never touched a bow or gun until I was in my early 20s. My knowledge of hunting weapons was extremely limited. When I became serious about learning how to hunt, I quickly discovered that I had to make a choice — was I going to learn to hunt with a gun or with a bow? Was one type of weapon going to be more effective for a new hunter like me?
In an era where ‘eco-friendly’ is the hip phrase of the day, new hunters and the hunting curious are more frequently asking if hunting is sustainable. Could I take up hunting, they wonder, as an environmentally-conscious means to eat? Is hunting better for the earth than buying meat at the grocery store? Should we all just revert back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to ‘save the planet’?
What do skunk-scented body spray, an ozone machine, and activated charcoal have in common? I’ll give you three guesses. Strange as it may seem, all of these items can be used as hunting gear. Add chlorophyll tablets and scent-elimination chewing gum to the list and things start to sound downright weird. Why do hunters use these things? Do I need to use them too?
Welcome to the world of scent control. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you stink. Worse still, your scent matters for hunting — a lot.
Becoming a hunter changed the way I experience the wilderness.
You see, before I was a hunter I was a backpacker. And before I was a backpacker I was just an outdoorsy kid from the suburbs of Massachusetts. In my youth, the wild served as a backdrop – the set for my latest made-up adventure movie, starring me. The wild was my playground. In those early days, I saw myself as distinctly separate from the rest of the natural world.
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.
While this wasn’t technically my first time eating venison, it was my first time eating venison from a deer that I hunted myself. In this article I reflect on the harvest of this deer, and our favorite preparation of the meat, and savory taste of a simple venison steak.
If you want to give someone a visual cue that you hunt, inviting them into your home where you have heads mounted on your wall will likely be very effective. However, if you’d like to signal — outside your home — that you culturally identify as a hunter, arguably the most effective way is to wear camouflage clothing. Donning camo, especially as part of one’s daily wardrobe, has become a strong signal of cultural identity, a clear lifestyle choice. Nothing screams “I like to hunt” quite like a camo hat worn to the mall.
I bet I look ridiculous right now, I thought to myself. Nick and I were sitting in full camouflage in the middle of an open pasture of National Forest. A herd of cows was approaching from the west, and they didn’t seem to see us. Eventually, the cows started to surround the rocks we were sitting on top of, just ten yards away, many of them looking straight at us. They must see us, I reasoned. We stayed still and they carried on with their grazing. Were they indifferent, or just unaware? To find out, Nick stood up. The cows immediately reacted with mild panic, scattering away with great haste.
Was it the brand new camo I was wearing? Had my new outfit turned me into a backcountry ninja? Or just a (much less impressive) cow ninja?
In this article, I’ll share what I’ve learned about hunting camouflage over the last few years. I’ll examine how animal vision and perception inform camo selection, outline the pros and cons of different camo styles, and share my favorite camo tips.
The other night a few friends gathered around our kitchen table to share the first piece of backstrap from my very first deer. It was a beautiful and delicious experience that, just six years ago, I never would have imagined happening in my life. I didn’t grow up hunting and neither did Nick. In fact, up through early adulthood I didn’t know a single person who hunted. I didn’t know a single person who even owned a gun or a bow.
Now in my late 20’s, here I am — a new hunter with a new blog. There’s certainly no shortage of hunting websites and blogs out there. Was there really need for another? I think the answer is ‘yes’, and here’s why.
“Oh gross! Did you see how that guy had the head of some deer he killed mounted right next to his dinner table? That is so weird. It’s… like… cult-ish or something. You’d have to be pretty sick to want to look at the face of some animal you killed all day (shudder).”
Fresh meat, field to table: this is the dream of meat lovers, hunters, and locavores alike. But for anyone who didn’t grow up around hunting, farming, or butcher shops, knowledge of how to turn a whole animal into an individual meal is usually missing. It certainly was for me for most of my life.
Three years into my hunting journey, I am by no means an expert in wild game processing or butchery — I still consider myself a novice — but I do have expertise in the art of being a self-taught hunter. Everything I know about animal processing I have taught myself through the use of mostly free and widely accessible resources. It is not only possible to do, but a lot easier than you might think. So, for the new hunters and the do-it-yourselfers, I’ve compiled a compendium of videos and instructionals to help you break down whole animals in the field without an in-person mentor. You can teach yourself to process wild game!
Small game hunting most commonly refers to the pursuit of animals the size of rabbits or squirrels. And while bringing home a cottontail for dinner isn’t as noteworthy as hauling back a deer, small game hunting can be rewarding and delicious. In addition, small game hunting can be a good place for a first timer to begin their journey toward becoming a competent hunter. Small game tends to be relatively plentiful, easy to find, and require very little specialized gear, thus providing excellent opportunities to hone skills without having to make a huge investment in equipment or travel. Small game hunting is where Robyn and I started when we decided to learn to hunt, and we’re glad that we did.
The one piece of gear that is not optional in small game hunting is some sort of weapon. For new hunters like us, this meant either a rifle or shotgun. After Robyn and I learned basic gun safety and how to use a rifle, we faced the hurdle of figuring out what guns we should buy. We quickly found dizzying array of small game gun options to choose from. The wide selection was intimidating at first — we simply had too many choices.
If you’ve been following Modern Hunters on Facebook or Twitter, you are likely aware that I punched my first deer tag on Saturday during the last weekend of rifle season. To any hunter, that sentence right there makes perfect sense. But relaying the same news to some of my non-hunter friends produced some looks of confusion and a wave of curious question-asking. What is a tag? How many do you get? What do you mean by rifle season? Why are there so many regulations? It’s easy to forget just how much jargon there is in the hunting community. So for the new hunters or hunting-curious folks out there, here’s a primer on understanding hunting seasons and tags in the United States.
The doe flared her nostrils, snorting into the wind. She knew I was close. Maybe she had heard the sharp noise of the twig snapping as I brushed by the desert shrubs. Maybe the swirling wind earlier in the stalk had brought her a whiff of my scent. As she again flared her nostrils, it was clear she was desperately trying to catch my scent to know whether and in which direction she should flee. But now the wind was blowing strongly in my favor. Sitting at seventy yards, hidden behind a shrub, for me things were going swimmingly. For the doe, not so much.
Dandelions are a gateway drug. Well, at least according to Hank Shaw, author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. It’s not an edible plants guide book, nor a detailed, learn-to-hunt instructional. It’s also neither a pure narrative nor philosophical tale. The beauty of Hunt, Gather, Cook is that it’s at the crossroads of all of these things. In this part how-to, part recipe collection, part manifesto, Shaw takes the reader on a journey through his lifelong passion for wild food. I walked away with new perspective, some new knowledge, and more inspiration to diversify my wild diet.
The first time I ever went to a shooting range my excitement was overshadowed by my nervousness. I had shot guns once before but had never been to an official range. So many thoughts and unpleasant predictions were churning in my mind: Everyone will know that I’m a newbie… I won’t know what to do… What if I make a mistake? Am I going to accidentally break some rule or norm that I don’t know about? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who has had these thoughts before their first trip to the range. Shooting ranges can be quite intimidating. It’s normal to feel like your inexperience is going to doom you and it’s normal to worry about doing something wrong.
Anxiety thrives on a lack of information. In this article I will discuss how to prepare for your first trip at the shooting range and what to expect when you get there. With preparation and experience, these “first time jitters” quickly fade.
Are some non-lead bullet options, like these copper bullets from Barnes, possibly toxic?
Lead is toxic to humans and the environment. This fact — rooted in solid scientific evidence — is the source of much debate among hunters and shooters. Many claim that the science isn’t settled or is wrong, oftentimes relaying personal anecdotes about how they’ve eaten animals shot with lead ammo for years and haven’t noticed any ill effects. Others attest that the notion that lead is toxic is merely a ploy to further regulate hunting and shooting sports. But the science behind the toxicity of lead is sound. Lead harms the nervous and reproductive systems in the human body and accumulates in and harms animals and their ecosystems. Really, it isn’t something we should be tossing into the environment in large quantities. It also is certainly something we don’t want to be eating.1
In response to its proven toxicity, lead ammunition is in the process of being slowly phased out. However, when lead is phased out, other materials will be phased in. How safe are these primary substitutes and how well do they work? Are non-lead bullets toxic too? I wanted to know the answer to these questions to make sure that I could harvest wild animals humanely while minimizing ammunition-based contamination of the meat and the environment. Unfortunately, some of what I found in my research is rather concerning.
There are so many skills that go into hunting. But marksmanship is one that can truly make or break a hunt. You can do everything else right, but a missed shot, or worse — a marginal shot — is the kind of mistake that can keep a hunter up at night. In this article I will cover beginner rifle marksmanship. The tips and resources I share have helped me enormously in improving my shooting comfort and accuracy.
E-scouting tools for hunters provide the roots of a successful hunt.
Just because you know where you can hunt doesn’t mean that the area will have animals living in it. So, once you have figured out where you are allowed to legally hunt near you, the next step is to learn what areas are more and less likely to produce a successful hunt. I’m a firm believer in efficiency, and I think there’s a clear progression of scouting techniques — scaling from least to most time intensive — that can be used to find where the animals are living. These techniques include e-scouting, making use of wildlife officers’ knowledge, car-scouting for sign, intensive glassing, and backpacking in, among other strategies. A lot of time can be wasted by inefficiently scouting new terrain for animals. We learned that costly lesson last year. If you have a general idea of where you’re allowed to hunt, but don’t know how to efficiently select a specific area, this e-scouting tools for hunters post is definitely for you. And, if you’re a seasoned scouter you may still stand to gain a tip or two. Read on!
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers protects wild lands like these for our enjoyment.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers — one of the leading hunting and fishing conservation organizations — just posted a story of Nick’s on their blog. In the story We Could Be Deer Hunters After All, he recounts the final weekend of last year’s season where he and I find a big buck but leave empty-handed. We took away only the lessons we learned from the experience (some of which I detailed in my last post). In his story Nick talks in detail about the mule deer spot and stalk and — due to some adrenaline-addled choices — the harrowing situation in which he found himself. From that day we came away with one of our most important lessons: we could be deer hunters after all.
It all started at the dinner table. Nick’s aunt and uncle’s dinner table, to be more exact. It was the summer of 2013 and we were in the midst of an epic 3 week road trip. On our travels we had the chance to visit some of Nick’s family members that live in more remote areas of the West.
About a day into our visit we finally got around to explaining to his aunt and uncle the finer details of our food ethics preferences. Offers to pull bighorn sheep and deer meat from the freezer quickly followed. Up to this point, Nick and I had been hunting small game only. Deer hunting had been on our long term to-do list, but when that grilled venison backstrap hit my taste buds deer hunting was suddenly catapulted to high priority status. “We need to learn to do this”, I urged.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we hunt for mule deer out in the desert. It’s very open country. Being still-novice hunters, we probably couldn’t have picked a much more difficult first big game quarry. Mule deer are often called ‘grey ghosts’ for their elusive qualities, and attempting to hunt them in terrain that often has no more than knee-high brush — most often with a bow — makes getting one all the more challenging. You might even think, at first blush, that we’re trying to make it as hard as possible to get deer. That’s certainly not our intention, as we would really like to have the meat to eat. But given that we live in the desert Southwest, and given the seasons available to us, we’re left with a rather trying introduction to deer hunting. Fortunately, however, we aren’t starting from scratch. Last season I happened across a timeless and excellent introduction to hunting mule deer in the open expanses of the American West. Dwight Schuh’sHunting Open-Country Mule Deer, written almost twenty years ago, contains nearly all the pointers a budding mule deer hunter could want.
When I first reveal to people that I am a hunter, far and away their first question tends to be “But where do you go?” They aren’t asking because they’re trying to cajole me into giving away my favorite deer spots. They’re asking because they are genuinely puzzled by the notion that there could be quality hunting a reasonable distance from our metropolitan area. As city dwellers, hunting can feel far removed. And for city dwellers who don’t spend their weekend galavanting around the backcountry, the wilderness can feel downright mysterious. Now, I don’t know where you live, so I can’t tell you where exactly you can hunt. But I can help you figure it out. Fantastic hunting could be closer to your home than you realize.
I just finished reading Tovar Cerulli’s The Mindful Carnivore. To be blunt, I wish that he hadn’t written it. It isn’t that I didn’t find the topics enjoyable; I did. It isn’t that he isn’t a good writer; he’s good. The reason I wish that Cerulli hadn’t written his book is because I wanted to write his book. And it’s almost as if I did.
The 4 Rules of Safe Gun Handling. The 10 Commandments of Firearm Safety. The 3 NRA Rules. A quick internet search yields lots of firearm safety lists. And if you’ve started your journey toward becoming a hunter by taking a hunter education class, you’ve surely encountered and been drilled on some version of these. I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, I wanted to share some of the resources on basic gun safety for hunters that have helped me over the past few years to transition from a nervous newbie to a knowledgeable gun handler. I will also discuss how to put these safety tenets into action on the hunt.
Enjoying the outdoors via hunting should be equally open to everyone.
When I asked a friend to name the first famous hunter they could think of, they replied ‘Ted Nugent’. When asked for the next, they replied: ‘Dick Cheney’. ‘George Bush’. ‘Teddy Roosevelt.’ And so on. What was and is very clear is that hunting has traditionally been associated with white1 men who are politically conservative. The mere sight of a liberal president shooting a gun creates a buzz. Plainly, liberals are not associated with hunting and many conservatives seem to like it that way. Lots of liberal groups actively distance themselves from hunting by either not supporting the activity or by denouncing it, turning hunting into a divisive political wedge issue. Must hunters be conservative and male? The simple answer is: ‘No’. There are very good reasons for both liberals and conservatives and men and women alike to support and take up hunting.
An assemblage of optics, some ideal, some less so.
Seeing well is vital to hunting well. If you can’t see it, you won’t kill it, and most importantly you won’t eat it. There are lots of variables that go into successfully spotting game animals, but one of the biggest sets of variables in this equation are the optical tools hunters use. Prescription eyewear, sunglasses, binoculars, spotting scopes, riflescopes, and rangefinders each enable (or disable) a successful hunt.1 In a earlier post I mentioned that the choice of optics for hunting is worth its own post. So, in this post I break down our experience with optics, what we wish we had known when we started, and what we think are the best strategies for purchasing optical equipment. The advice can be summed up succinctly: buy once, cry once.
About a month ago, Nick harvested a couple of rattlesnakes with his bow. When we kill an animal, it is very important to us to use as much of that animal as possible. For our snakes that meant eating the meat and preserving the skin. I promised to write a follow up post detailing my attempt to tan the rattlesnake hide and I am here now to deliver on that promise.
Most of our hunting occurs in the desert. Our hunting areas are characterized primarily by sagebrush, creosote brush, and cholla cacti. It’s pretty rough terrain subject to very harsh weather extremes. From foot scorching, mouth parching heat in the summer to bone chilling nights in the winter, the desert has a range of temperatures. It also has monsoons, flash floods, wicked lightning, and sand storms. Oh yeah, and it’s a desert. So all the water I have to drink to stay hydrated is packed in on my back. The desert is a challenging place to hunt and an even more challenging place to backpack hunt.
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.
This past weekend Nick and I set out for an evening of jackrabbit hunting. Nick took his bow with a couple of small game heads and I took the 10-22. The jackrabbit hunt was an utter failure—we only saw one jack the whole time and he was running full clip. No way to get a good shot on a sprinting hare with a rifle or a bow.
The trip wasn’t a total loss, however. Nick did spot what looked to be a monster rattlesnake while he was stalking through a rocky area. It was only after he took the first shot with his bow that he realized it was in fact two rattlesnakes coiled together. We ended up bringing both home for dinner that night. This was our first time ever harvesting or eating rattlesnake. Here are our thoughts on this first taste.
A number of years ago I made a list titled “Things I am afraid of”. My intention was to do as many things on the list as possible. Solo backpacking was one of them.
But it looks so beautiful and innocent out there…
I had been going on a few backpacking trips a year for a while, so I was fairly comfortable with the basic concept. The thought of going it alone, however—particularly when my female-ness was on my mind—remained a frightening prospect. What if I get kidnapped? What if I get attacked by a bear? What if I get lost? The mind can go in seemingly endless directions with this sort of thing. But at this particular time, my mind was in motivated-fear-conquering mode. So, I made a plan and started preparing. This is the story of what happened, what went wrong (spoiler alert: things went very wrong), and what I learned.
So, I’m a hunter—and that means I’m a killer. I end the lives of wild animals to consume them. For a human, being a killer is a pretty common thing to be, at least from a historical standpoint. But, today killing—especially direct killing—seems to arouse a host of emotional reactions in people. Some find it admirable that I kill and consume my own food. Some seem to find it a little distasteful, though being too polite, they’ll never really communicate this distaste. And some others are quite extreme and open in their disapproval: the willingly chosen blood on my hands causes them to respond with vitriol, to disparage the act of direct killing and those who take part in it—namely me.
But when I kill, I do it for a purpose. I kill because it is a more ethical way to live. As contradictory as that may sound on the face of it, it’s true.
Welcome to Modern Hunters. We hope that this site will be a place for sharing stories and perspectives on wild eating. The plan is to feature articles covering every aspect of procuring wild food, from fitness training and outdoor gear, to cooking and eating your harvest. You’ll find detailed how-to’s, gear reviews, recipes, and advice from our own trials and tribulations as self-taught hunters.
Whether you’re an experienced hunter, a novice hunter, or just curious about the culture of modern hunting, we’re glad to have you.