You’re hanging with your buddies, watching the big game, and enjoying a couple of Keystone Lights. You notice one is admiring a new whitetail deer mount on the wall of your den. “That’s a nice deer,” he says. Then he looks at you and says, “You know, I’d like to learn how to hunt, but I don’t know where to start.”
You may not realize it at the time, but you have just been given a golden opportunity to mentor a new hunter. Recruitment of new hunters used to be a family affair—fathers taught sons, uncles taught nephews, and grandfathers taught grandsons. Sometimes recruitment occurred when the son of a non-hunting father was taken under wing by a neighbor who did hunt. These days, it’s a lot different. Family structure has changed, and many young men and women live with only one parent, which makes it hard to pass down the hunting tradition.
So, just where do you start?
Begin with hunter education. All states now require new hunters to pass a hunter-education course in order to buy a hunting license. Increasingly, states are making use of new tools to make this process a lot easier. Instead of sitting in a classroom for eight hours of instruction, potential hunters can take an internet course at their leisure to become certified. (Some states still require an in-person certification process to show basic safe-handling gun skills.) Check with your fish and game department for the exact process.
These courses are a good first step. But a new hunter needs a lot more, and that’s where you come in. They now know the basics of safe gun handling. Your role is to help them learn how to shoot. For this, you’ll need access to a shooting range. You may already be a member of a club that allows guests or you may live near a public shooting range.
For a neophyte the best way to teach marksmanship is with a .22 scoped rimfire rifle. There is very little recoil, and the ammo is plentiful and inexpensive. Make sure your student is wearing proper ear and eye protection. Start at 50 yards. The shorter distance helps build confidence. When your friend displays reasonable accuracy at this distance move to the 100-yard range. What he’ll learn here is a little mistake, like a flinch when the trigger is pulled, is enough to cause a miss on a deer at 100 yards.
The next step is to shoot a centerfire rifle, most likely the rifle you use. This rifle will develop more recoil. Watch how they handle it; it will help you to recommend the right caliber for them. For instance, many younger shooters start with the .243 because it has far less recoil than the .270 or .30-06.
When ready, direct him (or her, women increasingly are joining the hunting ranks) to your gun store where he can purchase a rifle, riflescope, and appropriate ammo. That done, back to range. Here you’ll help properly sight-in the rifle. Though there is a lot of interest these days on taking long shots at big game, a neophyte should confine themselves to shots of 100 yards or less.
Then perform a fine-tune drill by having him shoot at a life-size target of a deer. This is where you show him exactly where to place a bullet for a clean, quick kill. The next step requires trust on your part. In order to help your friend to a successful first hunt, you’ll have to guide him on the land you hunt. And as a guide it means you won’t be hunting, you’ll be guiding. That’s a big difference.
Most whitetail deer hunting occurs from tree stands or ground blinds. Either way, you’ll explain that you have to be quiet and restrict your movements. Deer have excellent hearing and eyesight and spook easily. If your friend makes a mistake and send a nice deer scurrying off, don’t criticize. Use it as a teachable moment. “See what I mean?” is all you need to say. They won’t make the same mistake twice.
So, let’s say it’s an hour before first light. You’re sitting on stand, the air is chilly, and your friend is tense with expectation. That’s normal. As a deer approaches, you tap him lightly on the shoulder and let him get ready. You’ve already instructed him to wait until the deer turns and stops, offering a broadside shot.
If you’ve done your job properly, the der falls when your friend pulls the trigger. It’s a big moment. You welcome your friend into the club, and then you show him to dress out the deer.
Later, after the guns are emptied and stowed away, you can break out a celebratory Keystone Light.
There is also one more moment for a celebration with Keystone Light—when your friend places a fresh venison backstrap on the grill. Job well done!
But let’s say your friend wants to take up upland bird hunting rather than deer hunting. Most of the above applies; they’ll still have to pass a hunter education course. But instead of purchasing a rifle, they’ll buy a shotgun and you’ll spend time shooting clay targets (skeet, trap, or sporting clays) to help them gain shooting experience with a shotgun. Either way, it’s a win-win:
Time spent with a good friend enjoying a day outdoors is one of life’s greatest pleasures.