If you’re anything like me, you didn’t grow up hunting. Maybe you didn’t even know anyone who hunted. And just maybe, you’re in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s and you’ve never even shot a gun before. Well, that was me, too (at age 29 to be exact).
Growing up in the suburbs of Southern California, I was never exposed to hunting. It wasn’t until my 20’s when I moved to Michigan, where everyone and their mom hunts, that I ever considered it might be a fun thing to do. I decided I would absolutely go hunting if I was invited by someone who knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, 6 years went by, and nobody invited me.
At this point, I was desperate to start harvesting my own meat. But I didn’t feel I could go out on my own. How could I go hunting before if I’ve never even shot a gun? What would I do if I actually killed an animal?
Turns out, it’s not as difficult or scary as I made it out to be. It just takes a little preparation. Here’s how I started hunting on my own and how you can too, even if you were a total newbie to guns and hunting.
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Get Your Hunting Education
The first thing I knew I needed to do was get a hunting license. So I signed up for the online safety course, finished after a few weeks (it isn’t exactly exciting), and got my certificate. The course primarily covers firearm and hunting safety and doesn’t say much about hunting itself. So I needed to continue my education elsewhere. I turned to podcasts (thanks, Harvesting Nature!)
My workdays were primarily spent driving, so I listened for hours of hunting podcasts every day. It got me excited to hunt, but for someone with zero hunting knowledge, so much of what I heard went over my head.
What is the rut?
What’s the difference between a buck, doe, and fawn? What are toms and gobblers?
What the heck is glassing?
This is where reading books aimed at beginners definitely helps. Local library to the rescue!
Overcoming My Discomfort With Guns
After getting familiar enough with the concept of hunting, I knew I needed to learn how to use a gun. I’ll be honest, my biggest hesitation towards hunting was using a gun. I decided to sign up for a handgun 101 class at a local shooting range. This was key towards building my confidence and convincing me that I could start hunting on my own.
In the class, we practiced with a .22 which happened to function about the same as the .22 long rifle I bought for sale during Black Friday. After the course, I brought my new rifle into the range a few times until I could hit the target more than 50% of the time. That was good enough for me. Time to get outside.
Gear; Buy as Little as Possible
Starting a new hobby always comes with the chance to spend a lot of money on gear. Don’t. At least not yet. You need very little to start hunting.
You need a gun, which I chose a 22 rifle (Savage 64 to be exact) to start with because they are cheap and great to learn how to shoot with. Ammo is hard to find these days, but with a little tenacity, you can pick some up.
Clothing? Don’t buy camo. At least not yet. All you need is a bright orange hat and vest. You probably already have a good pair of boots or hiking shoes. Just wear clothing that will keep you warm and dry in your area. You can get started chasing small game for about $200. That should get you your first animal.
Planning Your First Hunt
Another big hangup for me was figuring out where to hunt and when. The world of public land, regulations, and complex hunting seasons can make this challenging.
Big game hunting can have complicated seasons in many states. Luckily, I chose to focus only on squirrels. In Michigan, squirrels are wide open during the entire hunting season; September 15 to March 31. So long as I’m wearing orange and hunting on approved land within that time frame, I’m good.
The greatest peace of mind came with using the OnX Hunt app. It shows what land is public and what is private. You can download the maps and use them while out hunting to ensure you never cross over into private land.
Then, of course, you actually get to hunt. The fun part. The first few times I went out with my 22, it was quite surreal. Walking through the woods on my own, rifle on my shoulder, looking for an animal I can harvest; it felt like the fulfillment of a childhood dream. I wish all of those years spent playing video games as a teenager were spent hunting instead…
There are many strategies to use when hunting. Getting into them is beyond the scope of this post. Just know, the first few times you go out will feel awkward. Embrace it. You’ll figure it out as you go. Just get out and try to find an animal.
The Lost Art of Just Getting Started
You don’t need to know it all before getting started. Just embrace the adventure of trying something new. Start with the bare minimum and step into the process. And if you don’t come home with an animal? At least you spent a day outside. That’s far from wasting time.
So get your license, some orange garb, and your gun. Take it to your local gun range and ask them to teach you how to use it.
Then head to your nearest piece of public land or state game area. There’s no better mentor than first-hand experience.