If you want to learn to hunt, taking a gun safety course is your first step.
If learning to hunt is something you’re interested in, you’ll at some point run up against the legal process of becoming a hunter, which includes taking a gun safety course. Thankfully, there are laws (many laws) in place to keep everyone safe and wild animal populations thriving.
But when you attempt to tackle the hunting regulations and hunting laws for your area, you might be tempted to throw the whole idea (and that dry ‘Regulations’ pamphlet you’re reading) out the window. Why?
It can be extremely boring! I’ve often heard it referred to as great bedtime reading material – because it can put you to sleep faster than a nightcap and some slow jazz!
Then there’s all the confusing hunting terminology to wade through too.
If you’re running up against this issue, this two-part article will help you through the process of learning how to hunt.
- Part 1 (this article): What you need to know to get through your gun safety course (including the class options available to you), as well as what you will learn in the course.
- Part 2: What you need to learn after taking your firearm safety course. There’s a lot in this category that most people don’t think of!
High Level Overview of Learning to Hunt
Backing up to the beginning, there is some reason that you became interested in learning to hunt, right? Maybe you were drawn to the recreational side of getting outdoors or you became passionate about knowing exactly where your food came from, but there is a reason you got to this point.
That first spark of interest probably escalated through various steps (like reading this guide), and it will ultimately bring you to taking your firearm safety class and going on your first hunt.
I prepared an infographic below (adapted from its first appearance on the Modern Carnivore website), which will show you this process laid out in a more visual style.
(Click infographic to enlarge)
Why is this important to point out?
Many people are visual learners (I count myself among that group). I like to see several steps ahead to prepare me for what’s next. Being able to anticipate the next phase, if you will, helps me focus on the most applicable pieces in the stage I’m currently in.
How does this process match up with your own experience of learning to hunt? Let me know.
Understanding the Hunting Laws
Each state has slightly different requirements when it comes to this topic. Generally though, many states require you to take a hunter education course or gun safety course (called by many different names) before you can legally buy a hunting license if you were born after a certain date. For example, Minnesota requires anyone born after December 31, 1979 to take these courses before they can buy a hunting license. You can find your state’s requirements at this website.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “So where can I take a gun safety course?”
There are two primary options to fulfill this course.
Traditional Hunter Safety Course
State agencies will usually sponsor traditional gun safety courses throughout the year. It will involve attending a face-to-face class (usually on weekday evenings) several times, which is led by a safety instructor. Eventually it will culminate in a field day where participants can practice their safe firearm skills at a shooting range and take the final exam.
These classes are also mostly filled with kids (i.e., generally middle school age) who are learning to hunt for the first time. This can be uncomfortable for some adult learners, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t confuse lack of experience in this one subject with lack of maturity; there are plenty of elementary kids out there who could teach me about topics from painting to the universe.
Nevertheless, if you feel like you might be too embarrassed to sit in a class of kids and their parents like this, there’s another options for you…
Online Hunter Safety Course
These days, many states recognize the need to get more adults involved in hunting. To help ease the course anxiety, many now allow you to take an online equivalent hunter education course to meet this requirement. This is convenient for your schedule since you can take the class modules on your own time, even on different devices, and it saves you any commuting time besides.
While some states have their own versions, there are two premier websites for taking this course, in my opinion and that of the many people who have participated in them.
HUNTERcourse.com and Hunter-ed.com both offer a lot to students who are learning to hunt. They have tons of interactive animations and videos to explain the concepts. Just click on your state and you’ll find a free study guide and the specific requirements of the modules for your state. For either option, you pay the certificate fee only if you pass the course (you can keep taking it until you do pass).
After taking the online hunter safety course, adults can (in some cases, such as Minnesota) just print out your certificate and take a virtual field day to buy your license, though they recommend taking an optional field day at the shooting range. In truth, most states require you to complete an in-person field day to learn firearm safety more thoroughly and take the final exam. Your state agency would then send you the certificate so you can buy a hunting license. Additionally, you can have it printed on the back of your driver’s license.
What You’ll Learn in Your Gun Safety Course
When beginning hunters take a hunter education course or gun safety course, I think their expectation can sometimes be that the course itself will train them to be hunters. When in reality, the course only covers a very narrow and specific piece of the overall experience.
You’ll usually study major hunting laws and regulations and go over some basic hunting principles, including scouting, wildlife sign, etc. But most courses will heavily focus on major parts of firearms/anatomy and safe and responsible handling procedures. The instructors will really hammer home the general gun safety rules, since they are such a fundamental element as you’re learning how to start hunting.
Firearm Safety Basics
Assuming you plan on taking this course, here are the cardinal rules of gun safety. You’ll learn and memorize them soon – trust me. But if you review them now, you’ll be even more prepared for your gun safety course. You may also want to review this gun buying guide, which includes diagrams and descriptions of hunting rifles and shotguns to help you get familiar with them.
- Always treat a firearm as if it is loaded – do not assume it is empty. Check every time you pick one up and empty it unless you are going to shoot it or go hunting.
- Always check to make sure the gun safety mechanism is on as soon as you pick up a firearm – this can keep the gun from firing when you are not ready to shoot, but it is also a last resort (don’t depend on it).
- Always point the firearm muzzle in a safe direction – even when you have confirmed that a firearm is empty, it’s unsafe to point it towards something you do not intend to shoot.
- Never place your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot – it can be tempting to hold it that way, but keep your index finger alongside the gun or on the stock instead.
- Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it – you only have one chance, so make sure your projectile couldn’t hit something or someone behind your target; this also goes for what’s in front of it.
If you can follow these gun safety rules, you should be able to pass your final test with flying colors.
As a quick recap, it might seem intimidating when you first register for and take your gun safety course, but it’s a necessary step in the process of learning to hunt. When you pass the course (I have full confidence you will), you’ll then theoretically have gone from beginner to legal hunter. But there’s so much more to learn…
In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss those extra hunting skills you need to develop.
Let me know if you have any questions about taking your gun safety course – I’d be happy to help!