Here are the Web’s Best Tools to Learn to Hunt
So you want to learn to hunt? That’s fantastic!
And much needed. Did you know that hunters are one of the biggest conservation groups in terms of dollars provided towards habitat programs and wildlife management? As participation rates steadily decrease (older generations are retiring from hunting), conservation dollars and wildlife management both also decrease. That’s bad news.
But there’s a problem – learning to hunt can be hard. As a first time hunter, there’s a steep learning curve.
First, you have to take a hunter safety course, understand difficult hunting regulations, decide where to hunt, and then figure out how to prepare wild game food.
From Gardener to Forager to Deer Hunter
If you’re like me, you probably already have a small (but somehow always growing) backyard garden. Maybe you raise our own suburban chickens, ducks, or rabbits and like to eat local food. Maybe you even forage for mushrooms and ferment your own sauerkraut! If so, I think we’d have a lot to talk about…
But the next logical step after all this is hunting wild game. The problem is most people don’t know how to start hunting in the first place. How do you make the leap from gardener to forager to deer hunter? It’s not as daunting as it first seems.
A good hunting mentor is usually the best way to learn how to hunt. They’re able to walk you through each step and coach you along the way. But there are lots of other resources available for those who want to learn to hunt.
If you’ve been saying, “I want to start hunting” for a while now, I hope this will help.
Below, I have collected the web’s best resources on the learn to hunt process. Ranging from gear suggestions, training, and field dressing techniques, I hope this beginner’s guide to hunting will inspire you to get started on your new hunting journey.
Hunting Regulations, Hunter Safety Course, and Terminology
Each state has its own regulations you need to comply with. However, these regulations aren’t always the easiest to read, especially if you’re just learning how to hunt. Understanding common hunting terms can be a challenge too. One of the first things you should do as you learn to hunt is take a hunter safety course or gun safety course. The course will teach you about firearm safety and the applicable hunting laws.
Hunter Education / Regulations
- International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) – Hunter education requirements by state and in Canada
- HUNTERcourse.com – Online hunter safety course
- Hunter-ed.com – Online hunter safety course
- Deer Hunting Terminology – Commonly confused deer hunting terms
- Small Game Hunting Terminology – Commonly confused small game hunting terms
Learn to Hunt Program
A positive trend I see these days is the uptick of learn to hunt programs. Various state agencies have realized the importance of recruiting new adult hunters instead of just focusing on youth. R3 (recruitment, retention, and reactivation) efforts are critical to continued conservation. Below are a few of the pioneering learn to hunt programs that offer several hunting lessons, but check with your state agency as they may be developing something similar. If they’re not, let them know you’d like to see more of these workshops!
The next big step as you learn to hunt is acquiring hunting gear for beginners. If you know a family member, friend, or co-worker who hunts, first check with them to see if they have any extra equipment. Most of us do. They may be willing to loan it to you on your first hunt so you can test the waters a bit.
If you don’t know anyone with this gear, you’ll have to buy the necessities. I’ve got you covered there. Here is another post about that very topic. I discuss the absolute gear essentials and some “nice-to-have” items. There is also a free checklist you can print off to bring to the store with you.
Common Wild Game Species
It’s easier (emotionally and financially) for most first-time hunters to start out with small game (e.g., rabbits, squirrels, grouse, etc.). You don’t need a lot of gear to learn to hunt these species, plus you can learn valuable hunting skills while doing it.
After a few small game hunts, many people move up to white-tailed deer, one of the most common and popular big game species in North America. Now we’re talking real amounts of protein to put in the freezer. After that, some may move on to even larger game animals (e.g., elk, bear, etc.). But this site will mostly focus on small game and white-tailed deer, because they strike the right balance. They’re relatively easy to hunt (i.e., they are very available across the country) and they still provide a great deal of meat for you and/or your family.
- Project Upland – Information about upland game birds (e.g., grouse, pheasant, woodcock, quail, etc.)
- Morning Thunder – Information about America’s 5 wild turkey subspecies
- Conservation Groups – There are several groups with loads of information about their respective game animals (including Quality Deer Management Association, Ruffed Grouse Society/American Woodcock Society, Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Ducks Unlimited).
As you learn to hunt, I cannot stress enough how important it is to get comfortable using your weapon. After taking a firearm safety course or bow safety course (which you WILL have to do), get out to a shooting range. If you know an experienced hunter who can help you out at the range, that would be best. But if not, most people at shooting ranges will be more than happy to offer help if you’re respectful and honest about your skills.
It can be intimidating when you first start practicing with a rifle, shotgun, or bow, as you want to make the best possible shot. And it’s a little different depending on the animal you’re hunting. For example, shotgun hunting for small game animals is a totally different situation than bow hunting for whitetails. Small game animals often flush wildly and you don’t aim so much as point the shotgun in the right direction. But bow or rifle hunting requires you to carefully aim your shot to hit a specific vital area (almost always the heart and lungs). The chart below shows you some general shot placement tips for various wild game animals and different weapons.
One of the most common things I hear from new hunters as they learn to hunt is that they’re extremely nervous about the field dressing process. Like anything in life, once you learn some key concepts, it’s not hard. But when you’re looking at your first dead animal with a knife in your hand and the adrenaline and emotions going wild, it sure can be confusing. Here are some good videos of the process for several common wild game species. Fair warning: they are graphic in nature. But you should be prepared for that.
Steven Rinella has a lot of very helpful information about these topics, as he does about anything hunting-related. For the small game species, you can see it’s mostly about skinning and quartering the animals. For big game animals, you can simply skin and quarter them or you can gut them first. It just depends on your situation.
- Field Dressing a Deer (or any antlered/horned game animal)
- Butchering a Rabbit or Hare
- Field Dressing a Squirrel
- Plucking a Wild Turkey
As far as other species, here are a few more videos on how to field dress an animal.
Butchering and Processing
The easiest way to learn how to butcher an animal is to get help from someone else. If you don’t know anyone who can help, you can try it yourself or bring it to a butcher who would likely process it for you for a small fee. But there’s something special about processing your own meat from the animal you just hunted. It’s a very rewarding experience and one you should eventually strive for.
For deer, there are really only a couple cuts of meat you need to pay attention to (e.g., back straps, tenderloins, roasts, etc.), and the rest will probably become stew meat, burger, or sausage. Knowing that makes the process much easier and less stressful. For small game animals, the process is much less intimidating. Most people only use the breasts from small game birds, squirrels/rabbits can be quartered, and turkeys can be plucked for a whole bird.
Besides the field dressing video links above, Steven Rinella also has other how to hunt videos and two amazing books to help guide you through hunting and butchering both small and big game animals. If you don’t already own them, they deserve a (prominent) spot on your living room table.
- The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1: Big Game
- The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 2: Small Game and Fowl
Wild Game Recipes
One of the best rewards as you learn to hunt is learning how to cook wild game. There are thousands of ways to prepare a wild game dish. Sometimes the best recipes can be those with minimal preparation and as few ingredients as possible. Other times, it’s fun to really dive into the culinary world and whip up a fancy meal.
As a side note, anyone who complains that they don’t like the “gamey flavor” of wild meats either doesn’t know how to butcher and/or cook the animal correctly or was served meat by someone who didn’t. Chicken tastes different from pork tastes different from beef. It’s the same with wild game.
Hank Shaw is one of the best-known wild game chefs around. I’ve prepared dozens of his recipes from various wild game animals, and I’ve never been disappointed. Here are a few of his amazing books on how to prepare big and small game animals. These too belong in your kitchen to be referenced weekly.
Now Go Get After It!
That’s it. I hope that these learn to hunt resources give you a good springboard for going on your first hunt.
Learning how to hunt for food is seriously addicting. It’s a rewarding feeling to:
- harvest your own wild protein instead of heroically swiping a card to buy a plastic-wrapped steak;
- experience an adventure in a challenging environment;
- know that you’re not just another cog in the great corporate engine.
These are amazing qualities and skills that will give you a fresh look at life.
If you have any questions or observations about your first time hunting, don’t hesitate to comment or contact me.