Article contributed by Field Staff Writer Jen “The Archer” Cordaro.
10 Basic steps to get you started…
1) Become proficient in a legal method of take and know your weapon safety before you go into the field. Any archery or firearms shop or range should be able to assist you in purchasing a correctly fitted weapon. Most also teach range safety and can show you basic weapon operating procedures. You should shoot often and shoot well before you consider hunting anything. Take lessons or practice at an archery range or trap and skeet club where you can get feedback from someone who is trained and certified until you are comfortable.
2) Take your state’s Hunter Education Class and pass the test. Visit your states website for hunters education. The information to sign up and take the course should be listed. Some states require that you take a separate bow hunter education course to legally bow hunt. Now that you have your Hunter’s Education certificate, you can buy your hunting license and tags. You can also apply for special hunts through many state Fish & Wildlife/Fish & Game Departments or through various organizations that host novice or apprentice hunts.
3) Visit the website for the Department of Fish and Game/Department of Fish and Wildlife/Or the equivalent department for your state (or the state you wish to hunt). These sites will provide you with the rules, regulations, limits, seasons, tag and license costs, lottery draw information (if necessary), protected species to watch for, reporting requirements, and a plethora of other information. Often states will have regulation manuals you can pick up and keep in your possession. Study the regulations, limits, and seasons well. There is no excuse to be uninformed and the game warden likely won’t accept, “I didn’t know” as an answer.
4) Do your research. For whatever species you are going to hunt, take the time to learn their behavior, patterns, tracks, calls, droppings, methods of hunting, habitat identification, shot placement, vital organ location, gender identification, food sources, predators, safety precautions, reproduction, how to approach them, how they fit into conservation, if there have been past population issues and why, how to field dress them, how to care for their meat, etc…become stewards of the land. If you prepare yourself with the right information, you will not only be able to make more ethical decisions but you’ll be more successful when you go to scout and ultimately go out and hunt.
5) Get yourself a good land boundary map, mapping application, or GPS device. Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service both have good boundary maps available for a very reasonable price. Study the maps, the apps, and the Internet well and do much of your scouting with topographic maps before you even leave home – it will drastically cut down your driving time to find places to scout. You MUST be able to tell land boundaries and stay within legal public hunting land or private land that you have permission to hunt. Much of the public land in the United States is open for hunting activities. Be careful to pay attention to what weapons are allowed in each area (i.e. shotgun or archery only areas). Know your local laws regarding recovering downed animals that cross into property that belongs to someone else.
6) Carry all paperwork, licenses, tags, and a pen into the field. If you have permission to hunt private land carry your permission slip or other legal documents to prove your access–check with your state for the documentation requirements.
7) Scout often. Once you have an idea of where to go from using the maps (or more modern scouting tools), go out and actually scout the different areas. Look for signs of animals: tracks, rubs, droppings, water, food sources, cover, etc. Some hunters like to set up trail cameras to monitor the activities of certain areas. Be sure to let someone know where you will be going when you scout and what time you will be back.
8) Prepare for the hunt. Ensure you have a hunting plan in place. Pack the appropriate items you will need for the worst possible conditions in the area you will be hunting. Check in with local hunting or wildlife conservation and management organizations that are knowledgeable about the species and the location to ask any final questions. Make sure your equipment is safe to use and in good working order. Purchase any additional gear you may need. Tell a few people (non-hunters) where you will be going and what time to expect you back. Pack your first-aid kit, food, water, and any other survival gear you may need while out. Bring paper and a pen so that everyday you can leave a note in your car AND at your base camp (if you hiked in) of your location of the hunt for the day and who is with you. For longer trips, plan accordingly and check in often with your non-hunting contact to let them know where you are.
9) Go hunt. Now that you are a licensed hunter who knows the area, knows the species behavior and patterns, has told someone where youâ€™re going, and can operate a weapon safely and accurately, go hunt! Tag your animal as soon as you retrieve it, using that trusty pen you packed with your paperwork. Field dress, quarter, skin, cape out, or otherwise process your animal for transportation home. Be sure to follow local game laws regarding leaving carcasses in the field.
10) Follow through with your responsibilities. Take your harvest to the nearest check station, if your state requires that the tag be signed off for that species. Take care of the meat as soon as possible, no mater how tired you are (this is a major respect thing for me, though of course others may feel differently). Turn in your harvest reports on time, if required. Share your story with friends, family, and community. Encourage someone new to come with you the next time and help him or her through the steps to becoming a hunter.