As the air starts to get cooler and the leaves on the trees change colors to remind us that this is their version of spring, for trees to show flair. Fall is here, and with fall comes a whole host of changes. Brown trout and Steelhead are in spawn, Elk are starting to get into rut, and bears are preparing for the winter. Hunting season starts to draw near and you see more and more orange hats, camouflage, and Muck boots on people, but not you.
You have thought for years about hunting but have never given it a shot, something has held you back for one reason or another, however it is time to shrug that junk off. It is time for you to consider hunting seriously, so I am going to help you. Hunting has been a part of my life for a long time, and is something I have always known. I have been hunting since I was 6 years old, with my father. Carrying a Remington .22 into the woods to shoot squirrels. Later I graduated to owning a 20 Gauge, single shot, shotgun which gave me more options. I was now hunting big game, deer. As well as ducks, doves, and small game like rabbits.
So after years of never understanding how people can be against hunting, or not even attempt hunting I wanted answers. The questions I had of course are all based around one central theme, “Why don’t you just try hunting”. My thought process of course being that if you just saw what it was all about, it would not only destroy a lot of misconceptions, and for a lot of people it get rid of their reservation against hunting. Hunting is after all, taking a life and with that comes a lot of controversy and personal hang ups, and it should. Taking a life is not something one should take lightly, however once you look at the bigger picture and know all the moving pieces behind hunting you will understand why we spend so much money, time, and energy to do what we do, hunt.
Humans have spent thousands of years hunting. The earliest recorded history are paintings found on hides and cave walls, depicting hunting trips. It was very important not only as a means of survival it was part of their daily culture. When you look at the timeline of modern man, we have spent only a tiny fraction of our existence not hunting. Not hunting is a modern invention and it shows how man has progressed to the point of no longer needed to risk and life and limb searching for food. That is pretty impressive, but the need for hunting still exists.
How, can in the era where science can create meat in a glass jar in a controlled environment, need to still hunt? Well for starters it is essential for the wildlife we love to view and share the wild with, without hunting game animals face extinction. I know, that seems rather counter intuitive, you need to kill something to save something. Hunters in North America account for the bulk of the money spent on conservation. Paying for hunting licenses, guns, ammo, equipment related to hunting all has a tax connected to them. So when hunters buy them their money goes into funds that pay for conservation efforts to protect our natural areas. Bird watchers going into a national park to look at animals are not funding wildlife conservation to the scale that hunters are. Even for the hunter that just gets drunk with his buddies in a shack in the middle of nowhere on the weekends to get away from his wife, he is helping conservation just by being there. Paying for tags, licenses, and other fees go to fun protection programs that look after endangered species, hunting brought back Elk, Big Horn Sheep, Bison, and it is spreading. Elk that have been killed off since before 1900 in eastern America are now back in places like Tennessee, Kentucky, and Pennsylvanian. Hunting accomplished that, nothing else.
The Benefits of Hunting
A hunter also, generally, views themselves as a steward to our natural places. They know that in order to harvest that big game animal they want, that the areas need to be clean and kept in order. They know that the habitat needs to not only be protected by humans, but also by nature. Nature is one of the most destructive forces on the planet and hunters do what they can to help mitigate the losses. It shows how the selfish act of hunting, is also a benefit. They need to keep the areas safe for the animals so they can kill one of them eventually. It seems silly on paper, but it actually works. The North American Method of wildlife management is the envy of the modern world. Hunters accomplished this, so being a hunter puts you right there on the front lines helping.
Now of course hunting has a lot of personal benefits as well and both hunting and fishing share a common philosophy, being outside heals every aspect of your being. Being out in the wild, in the sunlight, breathing fresh air, moving around tracking an animal, hiking to up to a ridge to get a spot to glass for game, and above all just flat out not being inside. Humans were not meant to be inside all day, shelter was a means for protection from the elements and over the years we just made our lives a little “too” protected from the elements. Being out in the wild helps cure depression, its good exercise which is not only good for the body, its amazing for the mental health.
In the Modern world where everything is fast paced, high energy, and intense. It is wonderful to be able to slow down for a little bit. Hunting requires your complete focus and attention, ever sense needs to be heightened. Your ears are scanning like your eyes straining to hear any kind of sound, your brain hears the sound and attempts to process it “Was that the monster buck I was waiting for or was it just a bird jumping in dry leaves?”. It makes you more alert, helps your memory, and just makes you a more self aware person. You may hunt with people but generally you are alone, quite, and waiting. So you spend a lot of time in your thoughts unplugged from all distractions. It is as close to meditation that most people will ever get in their lives and it really is great for the mind. Unplug from the human world and plug into the wild for a while. We came from the wild, and belong there.
As you can tell hunting is a lot more involved than most people think or are willing to understand. There are a lot of parts moving in the background that I suppose the general population of non-hunters would not understand. It involves not only an investment of time and money it also requires an investment of your mind and soul. You as a hunter will have to take on the responsibility that goes along with this decision and with that you will achieve pride, confidence, self determination, the ability to lead, endure, and succeed regardless of all obstacles. Including weather and terrain.
Not everyone has it in them to be a hunter. All of us have it in us to at least go out and try and see what it is all about. In the end you will learn more than you think and who knows you might want to join the ranks of million of men and women from around the world. To hunt, is to be human.
You have seen the benefits and now you want to make it happen, so you need to consider what is expected from you as a potential hunter. You need to understand what you are responsible for because no make no mistake as a hunter, you carry the weight of a lot of responsibility. A wild and free animal has lived a much longer, healthier and happier life than any animal in captivity. You have made the conscious choice to take that life, and once you do that, you own that animal. You are responsible for what happens to it, from the moment you lay eyes on it till the moment you put that thigh in your smoker.
The Ethical Hunter
You have the moral and ethical responsibility to be better than nature. Humans came from nature, but also are self aware and can make choices based on right and wrong. Nature has her own set of rules and if nature wants that deer to die that you are watching, a predator will find it and stalk its prey. When the time is right it attacks, violently and horribly, the deer is in utter terror the entire time as adrenaline fires through its body as it tries in vain to escape. Fresh meat tastes better to a predator, so why wait for the deer to flush off this mortal coil to eat. So the deer is eaten alive, fully aware of its fate and in agonizing pain. Nature is a bitch. You as a hunter are better than nature, you may want the meat of the animal but no need for the critter to suffer. Putting a broad-head or a bullet into the vital organ of an animal with proper shot placement kills the animal almost instantly. The animal often has no idea what has happened, it felt the shock but before it can process what has happened it is dead. Dead after living a long, healthy and full life, in an instant. Not a screaming bloody mess.
Nature will let that animal rot in the sun once it is killed. After all, the bugs and the worms need to eat too. However as a hunter you have the ethical responsibility to use as much of that animal as humanly possible. You need to get as much meat as you can off that animal, and if you can figure something out with the hide. I don’t expect everyone to go out there and be a mountain man using the scrotum to make an tobacco pouch, but I do expect you to eat everything you put on your plate when you serve yourself. So do not waste that meat. Leave the guts for the scavengers and other predators out there, donate the hide, and process all that meat. Like I said, the moment you spotted and picked out the animal it is your responsibility from first contact, to the sight picture, trigger pull, follow through, and the whole processing part. After all, all the hard work begins right after the shot is taken.
This is what I mean about how taking a life is not easy and honestly it should not be. The moment of truth is very exciting because you are harnessing thousands years of human history that most of us have kept dormant. The only way you can tell if you can, or cannot go past that point, of pulling the trigger, is to try. That is all I ask. Go out there with someone willing to take you, and try. You may bring the rifle up and decide, no this is not for me, I cannot take a life. There is no shame in that. I am 34 years old and I have been hunting since I was a kid. I still have times where I bring up my scope to take a shot, and I cannot take it either. So here is some folksy hunters wisdom, only take the shots you are sure about, if something is telling you no then don’t do it, and that is true in life. The only way you can find out, however, is to put yourself out there and try.
Hard work, good return
Hunting is hard work. You are going to have to wake up early and spend the day out in the elements pushing yourself to get to where the animals are. After all they don’t want to be found and are pretty good at that, so you have to be willing to go the miles to get the meat. Pulling the trigger on deciding to hunt really does require a lot of thought and self evaluation. It will push you mentally, physically and at time spiritually. However all the work pays off in more ways than we can even wrap our brains around. It makes us stronger, healthier and better people. It makes us care more for the world around us and the animals that live within it, and it makes us appreciate where our food comes from. Anyone can go to the store and get some hamburger but you have decided to take matters into your own hands and be there for the entire process. You do not need a proxy killer to go out and do your bidding for you, you are willing to make the sacrifices needed in order to obtain good meat.
By the way, its worth noting, game meat is the healthiest meat on the planet. It is rich in proteins and lean on fat, bad fat that is. Animal fat is good for humans and the animal fat found on game meat, all be it few, is delicious and healthy. Game meat can be prepared in a number of ways and the only limit is your imagination and budget. Part of hunting is learning to prepare that meat, and how to handle it properly. Most people that say they do not enjoy wild game meat probably had it prepared improperly or it was processed incorrectly. So do what you can to learn so you do not end up wasting meat.
As a meat eater you will form a connection with your food you never thought possible. Every one that eats meat goes to the butcher or the store to buy their food and the preparation of said meat is about all the personal connection they share. When you open up meat you have packaged, processed, skilled, gutted, shot, and stalked, you are not just pulling out food. You are pulling out memories associated with the struggle required to obtain this delicious natural offering. You remember the cold nights camping in a tent eating dehydrated meals and drinking cowboy coffee. You remember the sun rising over the mountains on a clear morning. You will recall seeing a beaver working on his dam near a creek you had to cross that almost made you fall. This of course scaring the beaver causing him so slap his tail on the water giving you a much needed laugh. Like your cave dwelling ancient ancestors you will regale others with your tale of the great hunt as they feast on your spoils. It is quite a good feeling. One I cannot put into words.
Time to take those first steps!
So your options have been weighed. You see the benefits of hunting and have decided this is something you want to undertake. So where do you start? Well before you go out spending thousands on equipment you need to take the time to educate yourself. If you have never hunted, most states are going to require that you attend a hunters safety course. These courses are generally taught by state wildlife enforcement officers and they take their job rather seriously. You will learn a lot and be able to ask questions right at the source. They will cover topics beyond safety such as laws, ethics, and how to be a better hunter. This is the smartest and most logical next step. Once you take and pass a hunters safety course you will then be armed with even more information that will help you decide if you want to follow through, without having to commit a lot of money and time.
Now you have your hunters safety certificate, and are still determined to join the elite few left in this world that know what it means to harvest their own, healthier, meat. Find someone to go hunting with. Most of us in our social networks have friends that hunt, or have friends that know friends that hunt. A lot of hunters are willing to share that portion of their lives with others and will be happy to take someone new out into the woods. You will learn more from another hunter out in the field than you will from any book, article, or youtube video. In fact just tagging along without a license just as an observer a few times would be extremely beneficial to you and your future as a hunter. You will also get an idea of what you need to do to follow through with the next, essential steps.
You need your own equipment. Other hunters may loan you items, including weapons, but being a hunter is about being self sufficient. So finding out what you like is first and foremost. Head out to local gun stores and hunting/Sporting Goods stores. The people working behind the counters at these establishments are generally well informed and some may even hunt. They will be able to show you and allow you handle different weapons. Find out what feels comfortable to you, and then leave. If you are just getting started, you have no need to buy a brand new rifle. If you can afford one and simply must have one then by all means get what you want, but if you are not sure and not willing to invest a lot of money, go find yourself some used weapons. Once you know what you are looking for, head online and look at sources like Armslist.com and hit up local pawn shops, especially in areas where people do a lot of hunting. You can save a lot of money and might luck up and find someone selling an older rifle they no longer need that has a very nice scope and other attachments. Now keep in mind, you can do this for shotguns, bows, crossbows, muzzle loaders, and pistols. It just depends on your laws, preference, and budget.
Once you have obtained your weapon, be it bow, rifle or whatever, you need to hit the range and often. You need to became extremely familiar with the limitations of yourself and your equipment. Here on the range you will establish how far you need to be in order to place a clean and ethical shot. Over the years your skills will evolve and develop, and maybe you are already an avid shooter with tons of experience. It never hurts to work on the fundamentals and the basics now and again. Remember you are taking a life, so take it clean and give this animal some dying dignity.
While you are building your skills and become more and more consistent as a shooter you should be heading online and asking other hunters questions. Hit up hunting groups on Facebook and follow other hunters on Instagram and twitter. Ask questions, and learn more. You need to educate yourself on everything you can about your target species. Learn where they live, learn what they eat, learn what times of the day they are the most active. Start to learn their patterns, when they go to places and why. Read as many articles as you can that provide any bit of information that will make you a better and more informed hunter. This will help you out a lot and save you from those moments where you are holding your head in your hands cursing about not seeing anything, all because you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time of day.
Every job needs the right tools
Every hunter since the dawn of man has needed certain tools in order to get the job done. Over the centuries the of course evolved but the central purpose remains the same. We now have at our disposal hunting tools that run the scale from a simple knife to state of the art satellite connected night vision cameras that do the scouting for us. So before you go out and start spending your hard earned money on things you do not need right now, just start with the basics.
- A knife
- A Weapon (Bow, Rifle, Shotgun, etc.)
- Clothing for the elements
- Hunting Licenses/Tags
- Hunting Maps/Compass
- Optics of some kind (binoculars, range finder, monocular, spotting scopes)
- Basic survival kit and First aid
A good Blade goes a long way
Your knife is very important so make a good choice. Go to a sporting goods store and be willing to spend at least a little bit of money. Your knife will be used by you to begin the process of breaking down the animal. It needs to be sharp, easy to grip, easy to carry, and durable. The last thing you want is to be dealing with dull crappy knife that makes your life miserable. The sun is setting, the wolves and bears are out and the last thing you want to be doing as the temperature drops is piddling around in the dark with a dull knife. So do yourself and get a good knife, Kershaw, Old Timer, Buck, Gerber, SOG there are a lot of options at a lot of different price ranges. I personally carry two knives, a Kershaw folding knife and a Havalon Baracudda. Finding what you like will be all up to you, there is really no wrong answer as long as its a good knife. Don’t skimp. Besides knives are just useful for so much more than just hunting. Your knife also will help you out around camp, using it to open food bags, processing firewood, eating, field hygiene. If you can or want, carrying more than one for a specific mission would be ideal, however one good knife can get you pretty far.
Your Weapon of choice, what do you choose?
Your weapon is essential, and should be the focal point of your kit. Of course it is also one of the more expensive initial investments. However something to consider with buying a firearm in general, they hold their value well and in some cases over time become more valuable. So it is an investment more than anything, and like any investment you get what you pay for. You have options to help save money mentioned before, use them. I started out using only shotguns to hunt living out in the swamps of the Coastal Carolinas, I now live in Montana and use a rifle. The first deer I killed in Montana I shot at 50 yards with a 100 year old rifle I bought for $80 dollars. This was in 2013. So just find what you like and what you can afford and listen to what others say, to a point. It still boils down to you and what you want and need. There are a lot of firearm experts out there that will tell you a million different reasons why their choice is better than everyone else choice. Of course its different, modern firearms pretty much are all well designed and work better, yes some are better than others but only marginally. The difference between a $600 rifle and a $1500 rifle is the difference between hitting a 5 inch target at 500 yards as opposed to a 1 inch target at 500 yards. Both will result in a ethically harvested game animal.
Dress for Success
Nothing and I mean nothing ruins a hunt more than bad clothing. What I mean by that is, there is no such thing as bad weather. Just bad planning, bad equipment and bad clothing. We live in the future, we have clothing for every clime and place that will keep you comfortable. Being comfortable will make or break your hunt. When you are freezing your butt off and wet waiting for twilight for the monster buck to come walking out, you are going question your very existence. It might even drive you out of the cold bush and into the warm vehicle on the ride back to the house, empty handed. If you are miserable you are not going to be able to focus on the task at hand and mistakes will be made. Do yourself a favor and stay head of the weather and get proper clothing. Get good layers and learn when and where to use them. Take care of yourself, you are going to need all you got before the hunt is complete so don’t set yourself up for failure. Get the right clothing. You can shop around, find sales, and you can get off brands. However you do get what you pay for so if you plan on hunting a lot, know that he elements take their toll. Clothing will wear out and cheaper clothing will wear out faster needed to be replaced. Get what you can afford but keep in mind that you may have to end up buying this twice, so if you can spend a little more to get better quality I would suggest doing that. Being comfortable means being able to stay out longer and go out further. The more time spent in the bush the more opportunists you will have to harvest. You cant get an elk sitting on your couch.
A License to kill
To legally hunt you are going to need to get your hands on licenses and tags. This is going to vary from state-to-state and in some cases even with the states it can vary from region-to-region. Getting your licenses and tags also means educating yourself on the laws. Not going to lie, some of these laws are written to straight up trip you up, so don’t let them. When in doubt, call a game warden. They have people paid to answer your questions and they will, and get their name. Trust, but verify after all. Be sure to educate yourself on the licenses and tags process as well, some states require advanced raffles to be entered for some species and they have cut off dates long before the season starts. In other states simply going and buying tags over the counter is an option. So you need to find out what you need to do, and sooner rather than later. This is a process that should start months before the leaves start to turn. Another aspect of the licenses you need to be aware of is the fact that what you are paying for is directly supporting hunting. It is giving money to the people that will be out there stopping poachers. As a legal hunter you have the responsibility to stop poachers if you can. They are out there giving hunter a bad name and therefore they are giving you a bad name. You are playing by the rules like everyone else so when others do not they put a lot at risk. Do what you can to stop them, even if that means just reporting them.
These boots are made for walking
Now to get you and your equipment to where the animals are, you need good footwear. This could have easily fallen in under clothing but I feel my feet are more important than most anything else and warranted its own point of focus. If your feet hurt, you will not be a productive hunter. If your feet are wet and its cold, you are now placing your life in danger. Having good, waterproof, and warm boots coupled with good socks that wick away moisture is the most important part of your kit. You are going to need to cover some miles and with some luck you will be going back under the weight of extra meat harvested. So you need to take care of your feet. Get extra socks and put them someplace that will keep them warm and dry. Keep your boots dry, even if they are waterproof. Don’t bother getting boots that are not waterproof, spend the extra. Head to a sporting goods store and hunting store and try on many pairs, walk around in them, and remember these are going to be strapped on your feet under weight for many hours a day on uneven terrain. So make sure they fit and are good and broken in before you head out. I have been in some bad places weather wise, terrain wise, and had it not been for proper boots I might still be out there trying to hobble out. You cannot put your life on the back burner and your feet are your life. If I seem like I am beating this point home, I am, you need to take damn good are of your feet as a hunter. Without them you cannot get where the game animals are and you will also be unable to get yourself home. Which for most of us would be a problem.
Don’t get lost in the Bundu!
With the proper boots you have the means to go anyplace on land, you just now need to know where to go. So find a good source for topographic maps and learn how to read them. Land navigation is important not just so you don’t end up lost, but so you don’t end up wandering into a place you do not belong. Land ownership is a big deal and so are property rights. You do not have the right to hunt on someones land without permission, even by mistake. So pull the trigger standing in the wrong spot and you can find yourself in some serious trouble. Possibly facing finical consequences, loss of hunting privileges and maybe even jail time. So know where you are, know where you can go and stay alert to your surroundings. If you can afford or want a GPS, get one. They have map packages you can buy that actually include land ownership boundaries. However even with a GPS, cover yourself and get a map and compass. Technology is great and generally very reliable, until it isn’t. Failure to plan is planning to fail, they are not expensive and do not weigh a lot. Get them, study them carry them. See about taking some land navigation classes, there is even some good sources online. The Military has a lot of free education published online that teaches proper land navigation. The grids may be different by format but the fundamental information is the same. Don’t be a victim of your own stupidity and fail to bring the proper means to navigate. Even if it is someplace you know very well, you never know what can happen.
Eyes on target
Compared to most animals the human eyes are kind of weak in terms of distance. Pronghorn see about eight times what the human eye can see, so you need to be able to at least see them if they can see you. Same goes for a lot of animals. You need proper optics to get your eyes further. This will help you when you are spotting and stalking, you may see a deer with the naked eye and spend hours getting closer only to find out it was just a log and branches laying in the shade just right. Your eyes will play tricks on you, its part of hunting and being in the woods. Humans are conditioned through our primal survival instincts to see faces and movement, to keep us alert and alive. So having good optics will help you make sure what you see, is actually what is there. There are more options than you can shake a stick out, so starting out just go with what you can afford and want, over time you can always get better and more expensive items. Having good optics will also keep you safer as you will have a better idea of your surroundings. You can spot areas that might be easier to travel, you may spot other hunters or maybe a cabin you were not aware of, so you know where you can and cannot shoot safety. Having the ability to see better and further means you will just be in an all around better position. Hunting relies on you fine tuning and weighting your senses, so give them a boost and good good glass.
Insurance for those unforeseen events.
Anytime you go out into the woods you are leaving the safety and comfort of the human world. Humans no longer live in the food chain, we have just stepped out of that. However when you hunt, you enter the food chain. You are at the mercy of your knowledge, training, equipment, and nature. Nature does not care how smart you or what gadgets you have, she will do what she wants regardless. So you need to be prepared for what can go wrong. A basic survival kit with matches, some cordage, maybe some extra knives, emergency rations, a means to drink fresh water and good ole fashioned duct tape. With this kit you also need to have some basic first aid items, some bandages, antiseptic, tape, will be enough to deal with most injuries. Taking some pain killers and some other meds is not a bad idea as well. You are entering a hostile world out there and should take steps on making life easier for yourself in case things go bad. A survival kit is like a seat belt in a car, you may go through life never once ever needing it, but its better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it, it gets cold at night. Be nice to get a fire going if you end up having to spend a night out here. Having the means to signal would be good as well, after all when you left to go hunting you were smart enough to inform others so in the event you do not return, people know where to start looking for you. Remember it may not be a case of you being lost, you may have fallen and suffered an injury that makes movement hard or impossible. Things happen and you need to be prepared. It is your life, control it as best you can.
As you spend more and more time hunting and out in the bush you will find other items and equipment that will aid you in your quest. You will find that works best for you, what fits your needs and your budget. As your skills evolve you will need to upgrade your gear to expand with you, you will come to a point that your gear will eventually hold you back, if you let it. It all depends on what you want out of it and how much you want to invest. Its building blocks and over time it develops so don’t be discouraged. You are going to face a lot of hurdles, from nature and from yourself. Hunting will help you face and overcome them, because it will prepare for what life throws at you.
Part of hunting is accepting failure. You are going to find yourself failing more than you succeed. I remember going out for my first hunt looking for antelope. I had no idea what I was doing, I made a lot of mistakes and I ended up each day only getting closer, but still not quite getting there. I was learning. I was starting to figure out these animals and how they work and I soon had them dialed in, I was going to finally harvest one. Spent 6 hours sitting in face chapping winds resting on my knees propped up on a hay bail. Glassed them out over a mile away, I learned that since they can see so far it does no good to go to them, wait for them to come to you. So I wait. Weeks of failure came to a point and I had finally learned what I needed to do, and right before I am about to fill my first pronghorn tag, they spook. The herd splits and my chance was gone. Someone else, beyond my control, on the other side of where I was hunting accidentally spooked them. Sometimes it does not matter what you do, things just don’t always work out. Its good to learn these lessons, as they carry over into life.
Having looked at everything it takes to be a hunter, and having decided to go forward is a big and important step. You are now part of a culture that dates back to when man first started to walk up-right. You are now in company with our anthropological ancestors. It is an amazing feeling mixed with a lot of conflicting emotions, that in the end make you a better and more rounded person. Hunting is not for everyone, and if you just can’t get there that does not mean you are wrong, it just means you are not a hunter. Not everyone is, and there is nothing wrong with that. Just don’t stop those of us who want share that head space.
As a hunter you now represent us all. Be respectful. Be honorable, and do not make mistakes that will cost the culture as a whole. So are you ready to hit the trail and allow me to be your guide to the back country? I will keep you informed you just go out and try it! I look forward to welcoming you to the club.
Born in North Carolina, raised all over the world and currently living in the Rocky Mountains above Montana. I have spent most of my life fishing, hunting, exploring and adventuring. While the adventure continues I have started to jot a few of them down and write. I Love Fly Fishing and sharing what I know with others. Fish on!