How Hunting Can Add to Your Outdoor Experience and Where to Begin
Like many of you reading this, I have long considered myself an avid outdoor adventurer. In the same time, I had a neutral attitude towards hunting. Many friends and family hunted, which I respected, but felt it was not an activity for me. After eventually taking the plunge and taking up hunting myself, I realize that it has enhanced my life in ways I never expected.
First, there is the obvious benefit of being able to harvest your own meat. Living in a world where food security is an issue to so many people, this benefit alone is enough reason for many people to hunt. The meat you harvest is 100% organic and humanely dispatched. Killing is the least fun part for myself and many other hunters, but knowing that animal had an amazing quality of life that was ended quickly helps those feelings. Compare this to the life of any animal on a commercial farm or a typical death suffered by a wild animal and there is no question harvesting wild game is superior.
Second, prior to becoming a hunter, I rarely left established trails. While there are many trails leading to amazing sights, there are countless more sights missed by staying only on the trail. I love discovering new waterfalls, reflection ponds, and unique perspectives atop game trails. I also greatly enjoy the solitude that can come with hunting. With the increasing popularity of outdoor activities in general, all my favorite spots are feeling more crowded. It is nice being able to find your own space again in remote places.
Third, while hunting, you learn more about wildlife. I love wildlife and can spend hours observing the behaviors of different animals. Prior to becoming a hunter, I greatly enjoyed any chance encounter with wildlife that I had, but never pursued them. To be a successful hunter, you need to study the behaviors, patterns, and habitats of your intended game animals. Even in the off season, much of my time is now spent off trail scouting for game and learning about their lifestyle. In addition to increasing your chances of locating game during hunting season, observing them will also help you learn to identify the animal’s gender and age. This is especially important should you want to pursue big game where restrictions are often placed around age and gender.
Where to Begin?
Of course, starting any new hobby as an adult can be very intimidating. Where does one begin? My recommendation would be to first start with your local shooting range. Many ranges offer beginner level instruction and rentals at affordable prices. These intro courses often allow you to handle a wide variety of weapons. You will need to find a weapon (rifle, shotgun, bow, etc.) that you are comfortable handling and in a size/caliber that is appropriate for you before making a purchase. Once you have identified your weapon of choice, practice accuracy from multiple distances and positions and learn how to make adjustments to ensure accuracy.
Second, take a hunter education class. Most states require hunter education certifications, but, even if they do not, take a course. You will learn everything from weapon safety to local ethics to shot placement. Hunter education classes are offered in every state by the department of fish and game at a very affordable price. Certifications are generally transferable from state to state and do not expire. I would encourage anyone who is even curious about hunting to take a course.
Next, identify the type of animal that you would like to pursue. You will need to factor in the location you are in (or are willing to travel to), the type of weapon you have purchased, and your own physical abilities for tracking as well as packing out the animal. My personal recommendation is to start small. Small game can be found in almost any state in the form of rabbits, turkeys, grouse, pheasants, and many others. Small game still makes great table fare and is very easy to pack out. A 70” bull moose might be on your bucket list, but locating, dispatching, field dressing, and packing one out are a tall order. Wasting an animal is not only unethical, but also illegal in most locations. Choosing to start with small game means you can pack out the entire animal with ease should you need help removing the meat.
Fourth, buy a hunting license and get very comfortable with your state’s department of fish and game. Learning the regulations surrounding hunting in your area is vital. Depending on the animal you are pursuing, hunting may be limited to specific dates, times, genders, ages, etc. Some hunts may be limited enough that you have to participate in a lottery to get a permit. It is also important to know the laws regarding hunting near roadways, structures, and private property. Start by reading your state’s regulations (which can be found online or in print anywhere hunting licenses are sold.) Regulations can be difficult to understand and I would encourage any questions to be directed directly to your local fish and game department or a conservation officer. Your local fish and game office is also a great resource for learning. They often offer courses for new hunters and many will offer you personal advice on where to go. Ladies, here is where we have an advantage. Many states are now offering courses designed specifically for us under the “Becoming a Woman of the Outdoors” or BOW program, it a quick serach away for each specific state.
Utilize your existing gear. Camouflage is cool and there are fantastic technologies available with lightweight hunting gear, but it is not a requirement. Sturdy footwear, hiking clothes, and a backpack are all that are needed. I have had plenty of successful hunts wearing a purple jacket and rubber boots. Wear neutral colors if you want to fit in more, but I would not invest in an entire new wardrobe prior to your first hunt. Some states do require you to wear a certain amount of orange when hunting, so be sure to check the regulations before heading out. If you are hunting in a popular area, it is better to wear highly visible colors such as orange or pink for safety purposes such as on a hat or vest.
The Final Word
While hunting is not for everyone and pulling the trigger can be an intimidating concept, I encourage anyone who is curious or looking for a new outdoor challenge to learn more. Having a deeper connection with nature and a way to provide for yourself and your loved ones is very satisfying. As with any backcountry activity, safety is top priority and choosing ethical partners is of utmost importance. Hiring a reputable guide, tagging along with a trusted mentor, or even inviting a friend to take on this new journey with you is highly recommended. You have the outdoor gear, knowledge, and passion already. Why not give it a shot?
About the Gear Tester
Michelle currently resides in South Central Alaska and works as an environmental technician for the Native Village of Eklutna performing fish, wildlife, and habitat surveys in an effort to restore their historic lands to their traditional bounty. When not at work, you can fine her hiking, skiing, climbing, horseback riding, running, biking, hunting, fishing, or trying out new ways to explore the outdoors. She can be found on Instagram under michelle_ventures. To learn more about the river restoration project, visit eklutnariver.org.