Hunting for Beginners

How to Get Started Hunting for Beginners

Men in nature with rifle
Robin Skjolborg/Taxi/Getty Images

Hunting for Beginners

Hunting for beginners. It seems like a simple subject, but there is a lot to learn for any hunter. Heck, I've been hunting for decades now, and I'm still learning. But we all have to start somewhere - so beginner hunters, start here.

Knowing where to begin to learn about hunting can be tough, and knowing how to advise adults who would like to hunt doesn't always come easily to someone who has been hunting since childhood.

I didn't need to take any special steps when I started hunting, other than to do what Dad told me and learn as I went along.

It is a learning process for me, to try to put myself in the shoes of an adult beginner - because I simply don't know what it's like to be an adult beginner in hunting or shooting. I'll do my best to advise you well, but if you are a hunter who began hunting as an adult, your experience could be very valuable to others. Please feel free to contact me and let me know if there's anything in particular that I have left out, that worked for you.

Before we even get into it, let me say that hunting season is not the time for a beginner to get started hunting. You want to start the wheels in motion well before it's time to get out there and hunt. When you do go afield, you need to be educated as well as possible, and familiar with your chosen equipment. Spend some months prior to hunting season learning how to use the stuff you'll be taking with you, practicing with your gun or bow, etc.

First Step

I think the best first step for a beginner hunter would be to attend a hunter education course, sometimes known as a hunter safety course. For more information on this, check out Introduction to Hunter Education, from the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA). This should help you understand more about hunting, hunters, and the wildlife we pursue.

Find a Course, and Take it

The online introduction linked above is no replacement for taking an actual hunter education course in person. There, you will meet other folks like yourself, adult hunters attending the course with their children or other young people (I took my course with my nephew Rusty), and qualified instructors. And in many states, it will allow you to do some shooting as part of the course. For a beginner, the course will likely provide a good atmosphere in which for you to fire your first shots.

Check with your state's wildlife agency to find a hunter education course near you. I have compiled a list of every state's wildlife management agencies, which should help you find exactly what you need.

Be an Apprentice

In most cases, a non-hunter can accompany a licensed hunter in the field, so if you can find a mentor, you ought to be able to go along with him or her (without hunting) to get a feel for it and see what it's like. Some states even offer "apprentice licenses," which allow folks who haven't completed a hunter education course to give hunting a try... but I recommend taking the course beforehand, anyhow.

Check the Regs

You should also look at your state's license requirements and make sure you can meet them.

This will also help you better understand what's required of you as far as licensing and hunter education. While you're there, review the regulations for the species you'd like to hunt - and be aware that a statewide season may very well not apply to state-controlled public hunting lands such as wildlife management areas (WMAs).

Many WMAs have unique restrictions on when and what you can hunt there, which may vary from statewide seasons (which may apply only to private land). Find out what kinds of equipment are allowed; some areas allow just about any hunting tool, while others are very restrictive - even when other parts of the state may allow the use of a wider array of hunting tools.

Review Gun Safety Rules

Before you handle a gun, make sure you read and understand the rules of basic firearms safety.

It's always a good idea to review these rules from time to time, also - even if you are experienced with guns. And don't forget that most of these basic safety rules also apply to archery equipment such as bows and crossbows. Read, 'em, learn 'em, live by 'em.


Okay, so now you've fired a few shots from a gun - or maybe you're well-versed in its use from prior experience. Either way, you need to practice with it to become proficient. Head to the range and get started.

Where to Shoot

Wondering where to shoot? The NSSF has a website dedicated to answering that very question. It's simply called Where To Shoot.

Don't Hurry Out to Buy a Gun

I wouldn't rush out and buy a gun, unless I knew for sure what kind of gun I liked and did well with - and would work well on my chosen game. So you may want to practice with borrowed guns before you hit the woods. If you have friends and family who will go to the range with you and let you shoot their guns, that's great. If not, try calling some local ranges. Tell them you don't have a gun but you would like to try shooting. Many ranges offer gun rental, and some provide loaners. So give it a try.

No Bows?

I'm not purposely trying to leave bowhunters out, but I personally believe that bowhunting is not best for a new hunter. In my opinion, a beginner hunter should have the odds stacked in his or her favor, and to me that means hunting with the best possible tool - and a bow ain't it. If you do choose to take up bowhunting, whether as a newbie or as an experienced hunter, practice is even more important.

It is often more difficult to use archery equipment than firearms. That increased challenge is what draws many to bowhunting, but it also means that far too many hunters have headed afield with too little practice over the years. Whatever your chosen hunting tool may be, practice with it - a lot.

It takes time to become proficient with both gun and bow, regardless of what you may have heard about how easy it is to kill a deer with a scoped rifle.

There are easy shots, sure, but they are usually not the rule.


Ladies First

What about women who would like to start hunting? Well, they have something made just for them. It's called Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW), and it's all about the ladies. They offer workshops for women to help them learn more about the outdoors, which they say "means becoming more competent, more confident, and more aware."

BOW has been around since 1991, and specializes in helping female beginners learn outdoor skills.

All equipment is provided; a woman needs only a desire to learn and to have fun doing it.

Learn the Area

If possible, get out in the woods before the season opens, and take a look around. Get familiar with your surroundings, learn the terrain, and look for signs of the animals you'll be hunting. Be sure to check regulations first, to be sure you're allowed to go in there. Some public areas have severely restricted access.

Hunting License

You'll need to get a license before you can legally hunt. License fees and special taxes on hunting equipment pay for many conservation and education programs, such as hunter education, habitat preservation, public shooting ranges, and the like. You're paying for more than your privelege to hunt; you're helping to preserve hunting and wildlife for future generations.

As mentioned earlier, check your state hunting regulations to find out what's required of you.

There may be special licenses and permits for certain types of hunting; for example, hunting with archery equipment or a muzzleloader often requires extra fees. Do your research beforehand, so you know everything that's required before you head out to hunt.

Get your Gear Together - But Don't Fall for Hype

You will need some basic gear in order to begin hunting, including comfortable clothing, a strong sharp knife, good footwear, length of light rope, gun or bow and ammo/arrows, etc.

But you absolutely do not need to go out and spend a pile of money on the latest camouflage or high-dollar miracle fabric. You just don't.

If you want to, then by all means, have at it - you definitely won't be alone. But it's not necessary. Make sure you can stay warm and dry and comfortable, and that you can perform all the tasks you need to do (including retreiving, dressing, and preserving any game you take). Beyond that, everything else is just gravy.

Start Small

Small game hunting is often a great way for a beginner hunter to begin, because it usually offers more opportunities and a greater chance for success. It also provides a successful hunter with a taste of what's to come, should he or she keep on hunting and shed the blood of larger animals in the future. Some people can't hack it, and it's better to find that out after shooting a squirrel or rabbit than after slaying a whitetail deer.

On top of that, small game hunting provides a great chance to practice woodcraft skills such as stealth, and finding your way around the woods.

Learn More About Hunters and Hunting

Make sure you read up on hunting and hunters. The more you know, the better you'll be able to understand the how and why of wildlife management and the hunter's role in it.

Below are some things that I think will be useful reading for you... take a look.

Basic Hunting Heritage

Who are Hunters?
Questions About Hunting and Hunters
Why Hunt?
Why do Hunters Kill?
Q&A: Hunters and Killing
Busting Myths About Trophy Hunting
Hunting: a Tradition

Hunting Know-How

How to Sight in a Gun
How to Hunt Responsibly
How to Shoot More Accurately
How to Defend Hunting
Hunting and Shooting Quick Tips
Reading Whitetail Body Language When Deer Hunting
Learn About Wild Game Animals
How to Walk in the Woods
How to Field Dress a Deer
How to Keep Venison Fresh for the Butcher


Hunting/Shooting Glossary
Take a Kid Hunting
Women Who Hunt

From Other Sources

The Hunter and Conservation (pdf file, by NSSF)
The Ethical Hunter (pdf file, by NSSF)


Get out there and enjoy yourself. I think you'll find that hunting is one of the very best ways to spend time.

It will provide you with a better understanding of (and a greater appreciation for) wildlife and how animals live in the wild, and a deeper appreciation for all types of life. It will also help you stay more in touch with your roots; hunting is natural, and has been a part of human life and existence ever since Adam and Eve were booted out of Eden. There's no shame in honoring that long, rich hunting heritage.

- Russ Chastain