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Intro to Hunting | Tips to Get Started

Intro to Hunting

Hunting is an ancient food-obtaining practice that has fallen out of favor in modern times but is seeing a surge in popularity. People are seeing the benefits of hunting to either supplement other sources of food or as a way to get back to nature and eat free-range. This resource will help you understand the benefits of hunting and the best ways to get started.

Table of Contents
  1. How To Get Started with Hunting
  2. Why Hunt
  3. Hunting Ethics
  4. Hunting Economics
  5. Hunting's Impact

How To Get Started with Hunting

Decide what you want to hunt, why, and how you want to hunt it.

For example, if your property is overrun with squirrels or rabbits, they could be causing a nuisance, and hunting them is a great way to control their population and the damage they might cause. And they taste good in stews, so there's that, too.

Or, perhaps you like to hunt larger animals such as hogs or deer and you want to fill your freezer to get you through winter. That takes care of the what and why. Now let's look at how.

There are many ways to hunt. Firearms seem to be a favorite, along with bow hunting. But more people are seeing the benefits of air rifle hunting, as well. If you don't already have hunting equipment, you should do some research into which method would work best for you, and what is legal to use in your area for the animals you want to hunt.

Don't forget to take a hunter's education course, get all the proper licensing, check the season, and bag limits for the animals you want to hunt.

Once you decide on and buy your equipment, it's time to practice with it. Target practice will be one of the most important parts of your hunting journey. Whether you're shooting a firearm, bow, crossbow, or airgun, you'll want to make sure you can put the projectile on target every time you fire it.

If you have room on your property, you could set up a target range and get as much practice as possible until you hit the bullseye. Otherwise, you'll need to find a range that you can practice on. Many ranges offer memberships that can help reduce use costs. With target practice on point, and your research done, it's time to plan a hunt.

What do you need for your first hunting trip?

This is where you decide on the location and duration of your hunt, and find out what other outdoor gear you'll need. If you're hunting on private property, close to home, for the day, you might just need your hunting setup, some water, and maybe some food. But if you're hunting far from home, you'll need to make sure you bring everything you'll need for both the hunt and your time away.

Things to consider:

  • Will you need camping gear
  • Pay extra fees for the location
  • Set up shipping for your equipment
  • Or send the meat home after processing

A simple hunt to plan is a day trip to public land:

  • Check your season, location, and local requirements
  • Get your setup ready
  • Make sure you have enough ammunition
  • Practice a bit before you leave
  • Take your hunting license
  • A cooler for food and drinks
  • Head out to the field to bag your limit
  • Bring it all home to process

Can you teach yourself hunting?

It's easier learning to hunt from a mentor, but if you don't have anyone you can learn from directly, trial and error has been a learning method people have used since ancient times. Today, there are many methods of learning from others; books, blogs, videos, etc. You could very easily glean as much information as possible from all these sources and then head out into the field by yourself to put the information to practice. You wouldn't exactly be "teaching yourself" because the ideas aren't original to you, but you would be learning the practice on your own. So, if you don't know anyone personally who hunts, you are not restricted from learning to hunt for yourself. The tools are out there, you just need to put them to good use.

Why Hunt

Hunting goes back thousands of years to when people didn't eat if they didn't find food for themselves. While modern times have brought us grocery stores and restaurants, many people choose to go out into the wilderness and hunt down their own food. Why make that choice when it's no longer necessary for survival?

There are several reasons that people choose to hunt for food.

These are just a few of the many reasons, but let's explore these.

Family Bonding Activities

Just a few generations ago, if your family didn't hunt and gather or farm and garden, you didn't eat. During that time, the family would go out together, work as a team and collect food items. Many memories were created and stories were told about the successes and failures of these family trips. Today, family bonding is just as important as it has ever been. Hunting for food can build just as many memories, and provide stories to share just as it did in past generations.

Camping trips, fishing trips, and hunting trips are all excellent family bonding activities. Fishing and hunting provide the extra benefit of food both on the trip and for future use. Nothing beats time in nature to bring people together and procuring food as a group brings out the primal instincts many people haven't accessed for several decades.

Hunting also teaches patience, persistence, and cooperation. While in the field, you wait for the quarry to arrive or go find it in the woods (patience), you work together to set up the blind or stand and spot the quarry (cooperation), and before you ever go out to hunt you practice targeting until you consistently hit the kill zones (persistence). While many other sports teach these same principles, winning a game is a pale comparison to the accomplishment felt from bagging an animal that feeds your family.

Spend Less on Groceries

In recent years, the cost of food has increased with inflation, and several factors have affected food supply chains making the situation worse. Hunting allows people to provide their families with much more food than they can easily buy at the store at a much lower cost.

Whether you hunt small game, large game, or a combination of game, you can fill a freezer with meat that can feed your family for many months for pennies on the dollar compared to buying packages of meat from the grocer. The low cost of a hunting license makes hunting accessible for almost everyone, and harvesting animals from the wild is as close to free as you can get.

Equipment costs will vary depending on the type of equipment you choose, whether it's new or used, and the operational cost of the equipment itself (ammunition, accessories, etc.). For example, if you already have a suitable rifle for the game you want to hunt, your costs will be an annual hunting license and ammunition. Or if you have a suitable bow, your costs will be a hunting license, maybe a new string, and more arrows as needed. But if you're new to hunting, your costs will include acquiring the necessary equipment, as well as the license and whatever ammunition your equipment requires.

Processing fees also vary depending on if you hire a butcher to do the processing or you do it yourself. If you have the time, knowledge, and space, doing your own processing is best. You can divide the meat exactly the way you want it, and preserve it in your chosen method. But if you don't have these things, and can't acquire these things, you may be better off hiring a butcher to process your meat, especially if you have a lot of meat to process at one time.

The most economical way to fill a freezer with meat is to use equipment you already have and do your own processing. With that, you could harvest up to 1000 lbs of meat for less than $1 per pound. (That's assuming you take an assortment of animals in your local area on public or personally owned land.) For most people, travel, transportation, and processing fees will add to the cost of hunting, but it is still usually less cost to hunt than to buy packaged meat from the store.

Keep in mind that: 1 moose provides 500 lbs of meat, 1 bison provides 450 lbs of meat, 1 elk provides 200 lbs of meat, 1 deer provides 75 lbs of meat, 1 wild hog provides 50 lbs of meat, 1 turkey provides 10 lbs of meat, 1 rabbit provides 3 lbs of meat, and 1 pheasant provides 2 lbs of meat. The more bone-in pieces you keep for slow roasting the more meat you get from the larger, leaner animals.

To compare, let's take 1 wild hog against 50 lbs of store-bought pork. The wild hog weighing 100 lbs costs $150 to process into cuts and ground. Divide the processing fee by the 50 lbs of meat weight and the cost is $3 per lb. According to National Hog Farmer, the per lb price of pork as of April 2022 was $4.84. So the same 50 lbs of pork from the store would run you $242.

Conservation Efforts

Hunters the world over contribute to conservation efforts. They thin out herds that would overgraze or overbrowse pastures and forests. Thinning herds also keep diseases from spreading. They keep predator species in check. And they help maintain the land that supports the herds they hunt.

Population control of prey animals keeps them and the land healthy by restricting how much they eat of the plant life. Overgrazing or overbrowsing depletes the plants needed to sustain the herds, which in turn stresses the animals thus weakening their immune systems, and making them susceptible to diseases. Diseased animals can then spread disease to other animals and people they come in contact with. Overgrazing also stresses other wildlife that live off the same land causing problems with their populations also.

Predators live off the land and herds, too. When a prey population explodes, so does the predator population. But when the predators over-thin the herds, they move on to areas inhabited by people and start eating livestock and pets. Keeping the herd population regulated also keeps the predator populations regulated and out of the way of humans.

Hunters contribute to land management through hunting, but also through laws, licensing, and taxes. They have a love for the land and the animals they hunt there, so they want to help preserve it all for future generations. Following the regulations, seasons, and bag limits keeps game available and the land in good condition. Licensing fees support Parks and Wildlife organizations that manage public lands. Reporting hunting harvests help the Game Wardens keep track of wildlife for management purposes. And the taxes on hunting supplies provide over $500 million a year to state fish and game agencies. This funding is used to acquire public lands, maintain and improve habitats, research wildlife, and educate the public.

Enjoy Time in Nature

The technology-driven world that we live in has cut us off from the natural world in many ways. Hunting helps us to get away from technology and back to the basics of life. Hunters see parts of nature that are hidden from most other people.

Watching animals in their natural habitat is becoming rare in today's world. But when a hunter sneaks into the woods under the cover of darkness, sets up a blind or stand, and waits, they get to see nature come alive with the rays of the sun. The animals are unaware of the human presence and behave normally. Once the human presence becomes known, animal behavior changes in an instant. Getting a chance to see the natural behavior of animals in the wild is a treat most of us miss.

Taking a few days to scout and track an animal opens up your mind as nothing else in the world can. Scents are stronger, colors are more intense, and every movement in the distance could lead you to the object of your quest. Adrenaline flows through your body during a hunt that intensifies the whole experience. It becomes an indelible mark on your mind that lasts a lifetime.

The peacefulness of nature is a welcome change from the fast pace of modern society. It is a relief to let your mind take in the sights and sounds that don't include man-made structures and noises. Sitting at basecamp at the end of the setup, or laying out on a slope at the end of a long trek, looking up at the stars with the breeze rustling the trees brings a calm to the soul that is completely missing from the constant grind of daily life. Once you find that peace, the chaos will become overwhelming and you'll need to reclaim that peace throughout your life. Thankfully, all it takes is another opportunity to get away from the city and back into nature.

Skill Building

Several skills are needed for hunting, and some of them could save your life in an emergency. Skills like map and compass navigation, marksmanship, basic butchery, first aid, building a shelter, and starting a fire are all essential to surviving in the wild. Other skills like mental and physical toughness, endurance, observation, and tenacity are essential for hunting, but also for surviving whatever life throws your way.

Since the advent of the GPS system, map and compass navigation aren't really taught anymore. But devices can break, run out of battery power, or just get lost, which would mean you, too, are lost. Using a map and compass when the GPS fails can save your life. Reading a topographical map can give you insights into the terrain to prepare you for what's ahead and give you more options to plan your route.

Marksmanship begins long before you take to the woods. Hunting ethics requires you to know your shot is good before you ever pull the trigger or release your arrow. Knowing your effective shooting range, and making sure you are in that range are paramount to achieving a kill shot. Practice your shot until you can consistently hit your target kill zone, then plan your hunting trip. You never want to leave an animal wounded. If your first shot isn't a good one, it becomes your responsibility to track that animal down and put it out of its misery.

A razor-sharp knife is your best friend when it comes to field dressing your downed prey. Basic butchery techniques will help you quarter and debone large animals that you wouldn't otherwise be able to carry back to camp, maximizing your meat yield from the hunt.

Survival skills become that much more important when you're away from camp, or when you find yourself in an emergency situation. First aid, shelter, and fire-starting extend your chances of waiting out a rescue.

Observation and mental toughness may be the most useful skills to build for hunting and everyday life. Keeping watch on your environment is critical to know what to do in any given situation. Observe your surroundings, and know the behavior patterns of the animals you are hunting, so you know what counter moves you need to make to catch them. Prepare yourself mentally for the fight ahead. An animal fights for its life to the bitter end. Even when it looks dead, it might have some fight left in it. Keep your wits and you'll come away from the encounter unscathed.

With the world changing more and more rapidly, mental and physical toughness, observation, endurance, and tenacity can help you not only survive, but thrive. You never know what you're going to face from one day to the next, but people with grit will always make it through to the other side.

Build Food Security

Before World Wars I & II, the majority of people grew and/or hunted their own food around the world. After the wars, the increase in industrialization moved more people to the city, and the food system began to take shape. However, recent developments have taught us the system has weak links that are easily broken, and our food supply can be cut off at any time.

With commercial farm production declining, people may find themselves in need of an alternative source of meat. Not everyone has the room to raise farm animals, but with hunting, there really isn't a need for that. Nature has a farming system of its own that we can use to feed our families.

Hunting large animals like moose, elk, bison, and deer can feed a family for several months. It only takes one hunting trip to get 200 lbs or more of meat with these animals. Hunting smaller animals, like rabbits, pheasants, squirrels, and grouse can fill in gaps and provide variety. Hunting a combination of animal types can feed your family all year long even if there's nothing on grocery store shelves. If the food system breaks down, the only food security will go back to our pre-war era self-reliant hunting and gardening.

Help Feed the Hungry

Across America, hunters donate harvested game to participating meat processors to be distributed through food banks to feed the hungry. Hunters provide over 11 million meals (nearly 3 million pounds) annually to those in need, with the five highest donating states being Virginia, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, and Ohio, respectively.

Support the Local Economy

When hunters travel for hunting opportunities, They support the community they arrive in through lodging, equipment, licensing, food, processing, and shipping expenditures. These businesses often depend on the income from hunting parties to sustain them throughout the year, especially in rural areas.

When hunters stay close to home, those expenditures are transferred to their own local community. From licensing to processing fees, there's nothing more local than wild free-range meat harvested from your own backyard (or public land in your county).

Improve Personal Wellness

Many people have become concerned about how the food they eat is affecting their health. This comes down to knowing how the food is produced and processed. The push for organically grown, minimally processed foods has developed a segment of the food industry that is steadily growing and may soon overtake the non-organic segment as the industry leader.

People are also concerned with how much time they spend indoors being inactive as many in our society work behind computer terminals at desks 40 hours a week. They feel getting out into nature helps to stimulate their minds and bodies and that hunting connects them to the land and their food even more.

Wild game is a highly nutritious protein source. The animals spend every day grazing or browsing in areas barely touched by humans. There are very few chemical residues, and they don't receive any extra hormone treatments. They are highly adapted for survival and escape predators on a daily basis. This adds to the challenge hunters face when stalking prey, which provides a greater workout.

Hunting can improve your overall sense of well-being in several ways, not the least of which is the peace and exercise you get from being outdoors, and providing yourself with a highly nutritious source of organic meat.

Hunting Ethics

Ethics are a set of standards that govern behavior. Hunting ethics are all about respect; for the law, the land, the people, and the animals.

  • Know and obey all the hunting laws in your area.
  • Leave little trace of your presence on the land you hunt.
  • Be courteous to all the people you encounter; other hunters, non-hunters, land agents, and land owners.
  • Be proficient with your weapon.
  • Know the habits and behavior patterns of your prey.
  • Cover, pack, and prepare your prey for processing as soon as possible.

Before you step into the hunting world or invite someone else, understand the benefits and standards for Ethical Hunting.

Hunting Economics

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2011, there were 13.7 million hunters spending $38.3 billion which helped create 680,000 jobs to support hunting activities and brought in around $12 billion in taxes.

Hunting revenues are the lifeblood for many small businesses and rural communities. Without this support, those communities would not survive. Hunters pay for lodging, equipment, bait, food, licensing, processing, and shipping in the areas they hunt. Preserving these communities is just as important to the hunters as it is to the communities.

And that is just the revenues made directly from hunting. Now let's look at if those millions of hunters stopped hunting.

If hunting was suddenly banned, and people had to replace what they hunted with meat from the grocery store, it would cripple the meat industry. For example, 1 elk provides approximately 200 lbs of meat, which is roughly equivalent to half of the beef provided by a cow.

The 2018 hunting harvest reports state there were:

  • 176,900 moose (500 lbs)
  • 4787 bear (120 lbs)
  • 2500 caribou (100 lbs)
  • 365,620 turkey (10 lbs)
  • 5,702,929 deer (75 lbs)
  • 121,800 elk (200 lbs)
  • 11,000 hogs (50 lbs)
  • 51,000 javelina (20 lbs)
  • 42,000 pronghorn (40 lbs)

That comes to approximately 528,260,315 pounds of meat harvested from the wild in 2018. And those are just the animals that had to be reported. That doesn't take into account the unreported harvests. Now imagine if that much meat had to be provided through the commercial meat industry. It would take over 1.2 million cows to fill the void. Not to mention the damage that would occur to crops when these animal populations begin to overrun their habitats and start moving onto human-controlled areas.

So, not only does hunting add millions of dollars per year to the economy, it saves millions of dollars per year in environmental damages and meat production.

Hunting's Impact

Hunting has been part of life for thousands of years. Its impact on people and the environment is substantial in several ways.

Ecological Impact

Hunters provide the largest support for conservation efforts. License fees, taxes on hunting supplies, and direct donations provide over $1.6 billion annually for land and wildlife management.

The amount of vegetation these animals eat in a year is staggering. If we didn't keep their numbers in check it wouldn't be long before they ate all the plant life in their territory and either starved or moved on to farmland.

  • Deer eat about 12 pounds of vegetation per day. (30 million)
  • Elk eat more than 20 pounds of vegetation per day. (1.1 million)
  • Moose eat 50 pounds of vegetation per day. (1 million)
  • Bison eat 25 pounds of vegetation per day. (15,000)
  • Pronghorn eat 15 pounds of vegetation per day. (500,000)
  • Wild hogs eat 10 pounds of food, both plant and animal matter, per day. (6 million)
  • Caribou eat 12 pounds of vegetation per day. (2.1 million)
  • Bears eat 30 pounds of food, both plant and animal matter, per day. (55,000)
  • Javelinas eat 5 pounds of vegetation per day. (250,000)
  • Turkeys eat 1 pound of food per day. (7 million)

That's roughly 191 billion pounds of food a year eaten by animals that are hunted. Imagine if those animals weren't hunted anymore and they were allowed to continue eating up their habitat uncontrolled. The devastation would be seen fairly quickly. Hunting keeps these animals in check and prevents them from overgrazing the land.

This concept was well demonstrated in Yellowstone before wolves were reintroduced to the area. The large herd animals roamed freely without fear and browsed every square mile of Yellowstone National Park as they chose for 70 years. They ate the vegetation off the young trees, stunting their growth, and ate most of the fallen nuts and berries preventing new crops from growing. The ground was so weak from the lack of grass and trees that the banks of the river collapsed on a regular basis, allowing the river to meander through the park. The herds had turned the park into a grassland with very few trees.

After the wolves were reintroduced to the park, the herd behaviors changed. They began avoiding areas frequented by the wolves, sticking to areas where they were less easily trapped, and moved throughout the park more frequently. The consequences of this behavior reshaped the entire park. Trees began to grow and flourish in areas that hadn't seen woods in decades. The new stands of trees created habitats for various small animal and bird species to live in the park again. These smaller animals also made it easier for foxes, owls, and eagles to return to the park. And the river solidified its course because the grass and trees supported the earth of the banks preventing their collapse. Now, we see a fully diversified ecosystem at Yellowstone, rather than it merely being a preserve for roaming deer, elk, caribou, and bison.

Social Impact

For many, hunting is more than a way to put food on the table, it's a way of life. They grew up going on hunting trips with extended family and friends. Telling stories of past trips and comparing their prowess against each other. These are memories they treasure and seek to pass on to future generations.

It's also a way to explore the wider world. To see different landscapes and connect with the land. It strengthens relationships and bonds people together. It demonstrates the cycle of life and death in a very tangible way. And it ties us back to the roots of humanity as a whole.

Hunting has been part of the human experience since the stone age, or longer. Our social structures were formed around the village and the hunting party. These structures were the deciding factor about who would lead and who would follow. Rights of passage were developed around building the skills and prowess of hunting. There is no denying that hunting is deeply rooted in our hearts and souls.

The act of leaving the city to spend time in nature brings many a calmness of spirit they can't find anywhere else. They return to the city refreshed and able to deal with the chaos better than when they left it. This drives them to leave the city periodically throughout the year to refresh themselves again to maintain their peace when dealing with the larger society.

Hunting is also a physical pursuit with an element of danger. The terrain you must traverse for your quarry can lead to injury and exhaustion. But the physical challenge is part of why people like to hunt. They prepare through fitness training and coaching throughout the year for greater success in the field. The miles they hike, the animal they harvest, and their marksmanship all provide bragging rights and stories to tell back at camp.

Additional Hunting Resources

Here are more hunting resources that can help you get started with hunting:

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