If you are a new hunter, what I wish for you is that you see lots of the animals you’re hunting—let’s say it’s deer—before you kill one. Seeing animals tells you that you’re doing something right and gives you the confidence to keep coming back. On the other hand, too much luck too early—like shooting a trophy buck your first time out—will make you think that hunting is easy. And then you will want to quit when things get hard. And, because it is hunting, it will get hard.
Hunting offers both the ultimate freedom and the ultimate responsibility in a modern world running short on both. Nowhere else in your life do you have such agency. Within the law, you alone decide what is right or wrong. And you alone have to live with the consequences of those decisions. This mixture of freedom and responsibility leads most hunters to want to kill cleanly, to spare the animal unnecessary suffering. Don’t take any shot you can’t make nine times out of 10. An ethical kill is as sure as an execution. When in doubt, don’t shoot.
The compelling thing about hunting is that it moves you from being an observer to being a participant in the world around you. Everything—the direction of the wind, every sound, every movement you notice—matters in a way it didn’t before. Hunting can be a kind of relaxed meditation. You can lose yourself in it. You can also find yourself in mankind’s oldest pursuit.
You will be seduced by gear and gimmicks—expensive bows and guns, electronic technology, “game-changing” gimmicks. The seduction is unavoidable. It’s a stage all hunters go through. Just remember that our ancestors, who were better hunters than we’ll ever be, hunted with nothing more sophisticated than sticks and string.
The skills needed to be a good hunter are patience and curiosity. Nature moves at its own speed, one much slower than we are accustomed to. You will sit in stands for hours and see one deer, or a few, or none. Sometimes, this is monotonous. It can also be thrilling. I’ve had any number of great hunts where I never pulled a trigger. Be curious. Why do deer prefer some fence crossings to others that seem equally easy? Why do doves seem to fly here and not there? Why do the turkeys love the acorns of one tree but not another? Asking questions makes you a better hunter.
There are tons of articles that will give you 50 best tips for new hunters. I’ll give you five:
- Any modern gun or bow has more accuracy than all but the most expert shots will be able to exploit. Get a decent model and be happy with it.
- Experienced hunters spend money on good optics. Quality binos will save your eyes from getting tired so quickly and perform well in low light, which is when game animals move. Most inexpensive rangefinders, on the other hand, perform as well as expensive ones.
- If your feet aren’t happy, you won’t be happy. Get boots you like to walk in. It takes shoe leather to learn your hunting ground.
- Camouflage is overrated. Most camo is designed to appeal to buyers at a distance of 24 to 36 inches. If you want a quick real world lesson in camouflage, watch a deer. When it moves through the woods, it’s easy to spot. The moment it stops, it frequently becomes invisible. Same with you. Don’t want to be seen? Be still and when you do need to move, do so slowly.
- Stay off social media. Look at Facebook or Twitter long enough, and you’ll come to believe that only trophy deer matter. This is bs of the highest order. Trophy deer are relative and extremely personal. All first deer are trophies, no matter what anybody says.