-By Everett Headley
My earliest memories center around cold and wet days walking fields for pheasants, sitting on a pontoon boat waiting for something (anything) to bite my worm, and trudging through knee deep snow looking for elk and deer. I am at the point in my life now where these reminiscences are dear to me and their value fully known.
"I know that I am eternally blessed to have had a father (and family) who raised me hunting."
I am also aware that others do not share my fortune, but are eager to share the same traditions. Adult onset hunters, as they are called, are a huge growth sector. Usually in their late twenties and early thirties, these hunters don’t arrive from traditional sporting origins. The hurdles that many of us surmounted as tenderfeet, without even realizing it, seem daunting to those looking upon them for the first time. If that is you, then hopefully these suggestions below will help you to know where to start your hunting journey.
Take a Hunter Safety Course
Hunter Safety (or often called Hunter Education) Courses are available online and in all 50 states. While the requirement to take a course before purchasing a license will vary by state and age, if you are new to hunting there isn’t a better place to start. These courses are designed to teach the minimum safety standards all hunters are expected to follow. The Four Gun Safety Laws is a mantra that every instructor knows by heart and instills in students. Beyond firearms safety, most courses will cover basic skills like tracking, survival, wildlife identification, and equipment. They will also familiarize you with the laws and regulations of hunting in your state; It will still be your responsibility to improve on this knowledge. The added benefit of attending an in-person class is being able to pepper a subject matter expert with questions as you think of them. Hunter Education Instructors are passionate about passing on to the new hunters their own experiences. Look for a class near you.
Find a Mentor
“You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Finding a mentor is your safest and surest way to shorten the learning curve in hunting. While hunting is statistically one of the safest outdoor pursuits, it still has dangers for those who are unfamiliar. A mentor will be able to point out big dangers (don’t wear cotton, see my article on Layers) and offer suggestions on smaller issues that will help you hunt better and longer. These relationships can be difficult to establish and the First Hunt Foundation works to pair new hunters with mentors. Approach a prospective mentor with respect and a willingness to learn, coupled with the offer of a beer and burger, and you’ll do fine. Hunting is a very social tradition, best shared with others.
Look for Quality Resources
Your mentor will likely be able to recommend to you where to start. Most of us have a favorite book (Meditations on Hunting) we read and reread. Experience has shaped our gear lists with refinement, adding that which is necessary and dropping everything superfluous. Online content abounds that demonstrates strategies and techniques specific to your own style of hunting. Master Classes and courses are available on many sites for a fee. If you are looking to add hunting reading material to your bookshelf, you can see my list from Good Reads. A final note: make sure that the content creators you follow match your own passion and ethos.
Research Good Gear
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It can be daunting to try and fill a gear list for your first hunt. Listen to your mentor’s experience as you kit out. You will learn to tailor your gear load for your own style of hunting. Prioritize your purchases with core needs and then upgrade as you are able. The adage “buy once, cry once” will prove itself when less expensive gear fails you in the field. My current set of boots retails for $500, but they have survived five seasons, on dozens of hunts, and through nearly all environments in North America. Technical hunting clothing incorporates the unique needs of a hunter into a multitool, serving multiple functions. The AllClima Jacket might cost more than other shell jackets, but it will help you enjoy your time on the hunt to the fullest by protecting you from the elements and keeping you comfortable in the most challenging conditions.
Get Out There
Experience is the best teacher because it engages all of our senses, giving our brain more touchmarks to help remember. You can read about touching a hot stove, but do it once and you’ll never forget that nugget of knowledge. Every hunting trip will have a cascade of new experiences for you to discover. It can be overwhelming to try to take in every element, so I suggest focusing on one while you are out and writing it down. I still write down questions or thoughts I want to understand better when I return home; they may have nothing to do with hunting, but they do make my time in the field richer. There can be the hesitation to wait until you are a “better hunter.” Push it aside (while still being safe and smart) and just go. Making mistakes is part of the process, and sometimes the fun. I have yet to regret a day I decided to go hunting. Your first steps might be uneasy, but they won’t hurt.
Connect with Other Hunters
Historically, hunting has been social. Medieval stories tell of great hunts with troops of hunters who gathered in great halls afterwards for a feast to celebrate. Still today, deer camps are full of jovial tales of past pursuits with meals from successful harvests. Before social media, local hunting clubs served as these meeting points and there are still many around. Some have clubhouses that rival private lodges and conservation groups will have local chapters for you to engage.
Discover your own Motivations and Maximize Them
Every hunter has a different reason, or usually a combination of reasons to hunt. Recently procuring your own food has topped the list for new hunters getting into hunting. Others hunt to stay close and connected to the land. Tradition remains the inspiring factor for families introducing the younger generation to the hunt. Over time these can change and morph as experiences accrue. The pursuit should always be supported by your passion. When it is no longer enjoyable, it's time to go home.
Hunting offers a variety of experiences that one hunter likely could never exhaust. For myself, that is part of its allure. I could never conquer it all, instead I will discover new experiences I would otherwise have never been able to see.
About the Author: Everett Headley is an outdoor writer and educator. He was raised hunting and fishing in Montana. He lives in the Bitterroot with his Chesapeake Bay retriever, Cane, and his peregrine falcon, Freyja. You can find more of his work on his professional page, on Instagram and his podcast Elevate the Hunt.
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