Hunting preserves—private, regulated properties that stock game animals—are a great resource for hunters. They provide a controlled environment and an increased chance for success. Big-game preserves often include one-on-one guiding, great for novices, while upland bird preserves are a favorite for training young bird dogs.
Hunting safety is the first priority
Watch a safety video or take a hunter education course to learn more.
Read hunting laws and regulations
Hunting laws and regulations vary from state to state. Learn more.
Wear proper hunting gear
The more comfortable you are, the longer you’ll hunt and the better the chances for success.
Essential hunting equipment
Check out where to buy hunting firearms and ammo for your next trip.
Go with a friend
Hunting licenses can be purchased at various places, including local firearms retailers and angler supply stores, as well as directly from the local wildlife management departments online. States usually require hunters to take a hunter education course before they take to the woods, but many make exceptions if the hunter will be accompanied by a fully licensed and experienced hunter through an apprenticeship program.
Inviting someone to go hunting for the first time requires a bit of nuance. Here are a few pointers.It’s easy to ask a hunting buddy to go hunting.“Hey, man. Teal opens Saturday. You in?”“You know it!” he replies, as if you’ve questioned his manhood.Inviting a newcomer to go hunting isn’t so cut-and-dry. Depending on the person—especially someone who didn’t grow up around hunting—the prospect of actually going out for the first time can be intimidating.That’s because going hunting is not like going to a ball game or playing a round of golf. After all, a hunt might start in the dark and culminate at a strange place in the woods. If everything goes well, there will be gunfire and at least one bird or animal will die.The new hunter needs specialized gear, and he or she probably doesn’t have a clue what to pack or how to dress. They don’t know if “going hunting” means going out for an hour or for the weekend. They really have no idea how it’ll all go down.And once you’ve gotten a friend interested in hunting, a hunter education course is a prerequisite. This used to be a significant time commitment but technology has made the process much easier and hunter-ed.com offers state-specific hunter education resources.Therefore, your invitation to a new hunter should address some of these issues to make him or her feel at ease. It should also convey enthusiasm, and tell them a little bit about what to expect. Maybe something like…“Say, I’m going duck hunting for a few hours Saturday morning. The weather is supposed to be great—chilly, but not frigid—and I’ve got a great place to go with lots of birds. We’ll have a blast! I’ll even pick you up. What do you say?”Typically, the invitee will be curious and want to ask more questions, but he won’t want to come across as totally ignorant, so he might respond with something non-committal like…“Sounds fun, and I appreciate the invite, but I’ll have to see what I’ve got going on Saturday.”From here, you might have to coax them a bit more.“Fair enough, but just so you know: I’ve got all the gear you’ll need. I’ll even take you to get your license, or we can get it online. Then, on Saturday, I’ll pick you up about an hour before sunrise. We’ll head to my spot, toss out some decoys, build a blind, drink some coffee, and hopefully bag a few ducks…if we can hit ‘em. I’ll have you back before 11. You’re gonna love it!”Who could refuse an offer like that? About the Author: A native Oklahoman, Jeff Johnston is an NRA-certified shotgun, rifle, and handgun instructor, as well as an NRA Distinguished Expert shooter. A lifelong hunter, he’s taken many different species of game, including a few giant whitetails and one rare masked fox squirrel from Georgia of which he’s particularly proud.
Laying a foundation for a lifetime of safe huntingSo, you’ve asked a friend to go hunting with you, and you’ve even set the date. Now all you have to do is get your buddy geared up and wait for the big day, right? Wrong.Your hunt will never leave the truck if the new hunter doesn’t have his or her hunter’s safety certification. That’s because most states won’t issue a hunting license unless a hunter can prove he or she has the proper credentials. So, once you’ve gotten a friend interested in hunting, the next step is have him or her enroll in a hunter education course.A hunter ed course used to be a significant time commitment, involving a couple days or nights of in-person instruction. However, technology has made the process much easier.There are a number of excellent online hunter education resources available, including Hunter-Ed.com and the International Hunter’s Education Association. The best part is that many states also offer online courses, so your plus-one won’t even have to burn a weekend in a classroom, instead being able to complete the coursework in his or her free time on a computer or smartphone.Be sure to inform your buddy that that the class isn’t designed to be tough. It’s meant to teach beginners the basics of gun safety and safe practices afield, not to trick them into failing. Prospective hunters need no prior knowledge of firearms, game animals, or hunting to take and pass the course. For most kids, it’s actually fun.Hunter’s safety education is mandatory, and can sometimes be an obstacle in getting a new hunter afield. Fortunately, it’s now relatively easy to accomplish. Make sure it gets done. About the Author: A native Oklahoman, Jeff Johnston is an NRA-certified shotgun, rifle, and handgun instructor, as well as an NRA Distinguished Expert shooter. A lifelong hunter, he’s taken many different species of game, including a few giant whitetails and one rare masked fox squirrel from Georgia of which he’s particularly proud.
How to talk like a hunterHunters, just like any other hobbyists, have their own lingo to communicate quickly and effectively. (It’s also pretty darn fun once it becomes fluent!) New hunters should learn some of it so they can also communicate in the same language. A few examples follow.Upwind: Refers to the direction the wind is blowing in relation to an object, person, or animal. Because most animals have keen noses, it’s almost always best to stay “upwind” of them so your scent doesn’t blow directly toward them.Downwind: Opposite of upwind. Example: “The deer was downwind of Mike, so it busted him and ran off.”150-inch Buck: When serious deer hunters talk about bucks, they often refer to them in measured inches of antler as a means of efficient and universal communication. A 100-inch buck is small in most places; a 120-inch buck is average; a 150-inch buck is very impressive; and a 200-inch buck is a once-in-a lifetime type of animal. New hunters shouldn’t get wrapped up in measurements—after all the meat is the real trophy—but they should know of what their fellow hunters speak.Legal Shooting Hours: While state and local laws can vary, hunters generally are allowed to hunt 30 minutes prior to the day’s official sunrise until the day’s official sunset or, in some states, 30 minutes past it. It’s your duty to know your hunting area’s legal shooting hours.Dekes: Short for decoys. Many game animals—including big game like deer and elk, but especially migratory birds—can be effectively hunted with the use of dekes.Stand: Any place from which a hunter actually hunts. It could mean a treestand, an elevated box blind, a ground blind, or just a great spot on a ridgetop.Glass: As a noun, glass refers to a binocular. As a verb, it’s the act of using a binocular or spotting scope to scan an expanse in hopes of finding an animal to pursue.Bag Limit: Refers to the maximum number of game animals a hunter can legally kill, or put in his or her “game bag” to take home. Again, it’s up to every hunter to know the bag limits for the bird/animal and area where he or she is huntingMonster, Pig, Toad, Brute, Booner, etc.: Slang terms for describing huge game animals. Example: “That buck was a toad!”Still Hunting: A style of hunting in which the hunter does not stay stationary all the time, but remains still for a few minutes, then slips to a different position to observe again. It’s the opposite of “stand hunting.” About the Author: A native Oklahoman, Jeff Johnston is an NRA-certified shotgun, rifle, and handgun instructor, as well as an NRA Distinguished Expert shooter. A lifelong hunter, he’s taken many different species of game, including a few giant whitetails and one rare masked fox squirrel from Georgia of which he’s particularly proud.
When talking with prospective hunters, it’s important to keep the conversation simple.A few days ago, I was talking with a couple friends at a party. One guy is an experienced deer hunter, and he and I got deep into the weeds about a particular buck that had eluded him all last season. Meanwhile, the other guy, not a big hunter but a gun owner, listened curiously as we chatted. I could tell he was interested in hunting.“Had a heavy 10 with trash stroll through my set but I didn’t even flick the safety. He was nothing compared to the big boy,” said the experienced guy. He was referring to a 10-point buck with various non-typical points that he chose not to attempt to shoot. “I passed on six last week alone. Heck, I won’t even shoot a slickhead from my No. 1 for fear of spooking the Booner.”After this river of lingo, I saw the other guy’s eyes glaze over as he tried to keep up with the conversation. That leads me to the point of this post: When talking with prospective new hunters, don’t get too far into the weeds. Keep the lingo basic.Moreover, if you take a new hunter out, don’t enforce your strict standards of trophy judgment upon them. Explaining how you do it is fine, but let them take whatever legal animal they want. If your property management has a strict code of size standards, take them somewhere else. Likely your first buck wasn’t a 12-pointer, and neither should theirs. If they like it and decide to shoot it, it’s a trophy.Remember to teach them the fundamentals of hunting, rather than them for granted and only focus on the outcome. Show them tracks, sign, and explain why you do things the way you do them. Why is your treestand placed there? Why did you park here and walk to the stand that way? Why you can or can’t take small bucks on your property? What guns and ammo are the best choices? All these talking points are key to enhancing your plus-one’s involvement—and therefore their interest—in the hunt. About the Author: A native Oklahoman, Jeff Johnston is an NRA-certified shotgun, rifle, and handgun instructor, as well as an NRA Distinguished Expert shooter. A lifelong hunter, he’s taken many different species of game, including a few giant whitetails and one rare masked fox squirrel from Georgia of which he’s particularly proud.
How to be safe and courteous while hunting among strangersNew hunters should know that there are some unspoken rules of etiquette and additional safety concerns to keep in mind when hunting on public land. Whereas on private land those who enter often know each other and know who will be hunting where and at what times, encountering other hunters on public land is more random and frequent. With that in mind, here are a few unwritten rules new hunters should learn.
- Never block an entryway or an exit. Even vast tracts of public land will only have a few access points, and many of these access points have parking lots with one main trail leading in and out. When you park, keep in mind that other hunters could be coming and going while you are hunting, so never block the entry or exit with your vehicle. If you do, it will likely be moved for you.
- If you see someone in the woods who is in the act of hunting—not just walking down a trail—respect them by waving and immediately turning around and finding a new place to hunt. Wave your hands to make sure they see you. While you don’t want to yell for fear of spooking game, if they make any movements that indicate they haven’t identified you as a human, consider saying “Hello!” loudly. At that point, don’t be surprised if that hunter becomes frustrated that you’ve potentially fouled up his hunt. Humbly wave and back out the way you came. Just keep in mind that all licensed hunters have a right to use public lands, so respect other hunters who were there first.
- Communicate with other hunters on trails and in the parking lot. If you establish a friendly rapport, it will benefit both of you as you’ll know where each other plans to hunt and you can keep a safe distance between you. Plus, you might strike up a friendship and eventually hunt together.
- Strongly consider wearing blaze orange, even if the law doesn’t call for it. Although most hunters are very safe—as national statistics prove—you never know who will be in the woods when you are and accidents happen. By wearing orange, other hunters will easily see you and therefore be less likely to accidentally shoot in your direction.
- Use caution when employing elk calls, turkey calls, and decoys, which can fool not just game animals but even experienced hunters if they are expecting to see game.