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Josh Wayner for TTAG

I used to shake a great deal when I saw deer wandering towards me across a vast fields of beans. Every inch they moved made my heart beat harder and it reminded me that I had to be patient.

Back in those days I hunted with a .45 bore Kentucky rifle my great uncle had found in an abandoned barn in rural Ohio. He gave the rifle to me to repair and it was my first true hunting gun. Today we are going to be taking a look at what it takes to get started in hunting and my experiences and insight as a modern hunter.

I was a better hunter in years past. It could be said that I was a better hunter because I had one shot and that shot was only good to about 75 yards. When you hunt with a muzzleloader and iron sights you are playing a very different game than what many people play today when it comes to hunting and in my opinion it is probably the truest type of gun hunting. More on that thought later.

You see, getting started in hunting is both easier and harder than one would expect for reasons that you may surprise you. Just like many things in life, hunting is a generational tradition and leisure pastime of many, and there are industries built to help ensure your success. I will elaborate on that in a few moments, but first I need to explain just how basic this can be if you want to get down to brass tacks.

The Hunter’s Mindset

The first thing you need to understand about hunting is that it is a relationship between the hunter, the game, and the land. The trifecta of these things can’t survive if one vanishes or becomes hostile. If the land is mismanaged, the game disappears along with the traditions carried out on it.

If hunters kill unchecked, game vanishes and the land suffers a collapse in the ecosystem. If the hunter is banned, nature falls out of balance and the ecosystem again collapses. A true hunter is a person who strives to preserve the game they kill in the present for the surety of the traditions of future generations.

The mindset of the hunter is of incredible importance to the preservation of the natural world. I have said many times that there is no animal rights group in existence that does more for the natural world than conservationists and hunters.

Political groups love to posture that hunting is murder, but are themselves responsible for countless inhumane animal deaths. It doesn’t fit their narrative when deer tags pay for the conservation and management of a massive population of animals.

deer hunting
Nick Leghorn for TTAG

If you want to begin hunting, you must understand that, above all, you are personally responsible for the taking of life. The hunt is a process that demands respect and if your first inclination is to want to shoot something, you don’t belong in the field.

Shooting an animal is the foundation of hunting, but it is only the most basic element. In the act of hunting, you are taking away that individual animal’s life. You stop its heart from beating and cause it to never see its herd or flock again.

If you think that animals don’t feel that loss, you’re wrong. I recently lost a prized Cayuga duck to a fox and my remaining three ducks called to her for days and didn’t eat or drink. I saw them sitting on the spot I buried their sister several times in the days since her death.

What does my duck have to do with hunting? Not much, except the fact that you must realize that you are shooting at things that feel pain, have relationships with their own kind, and can feel sadness, anger, stress, and fear. It is thus of extreme importance to kill game quickly, humanely and with great dedication. You can’t hesitate and need to be deliberate when taking your shot. Hunting requires grit.

You will hear them scream, choke on their blood, call for help, and, if wounded, they usually look right at you as you approach to deliver the final shot knowing they are about to die. It’s not a sight for the faint of heart.

Since you come to The Truth About Guns for the unvarnished truth, I will not lie and say that the business of killing is fun or pleasant, nor is it noble or great. The pursuit or ambush is where the excitement lies. In a way, the most unnerving part of hunting isn’t the shot, but rather the anticipation leading up to it.

Dan Z for TTAG

What is Fair Chase?

Fair chase hunting is hunting where the game has the ability to escape and evade you. Hunting where a shot is guaranteed isn’t true hunting despite what some people, even people in this industry, say. Not getting a shot sometimes is part of hunting. The chance to be in the woods partaking in the hunt is a reward in itself and you should not be disheartened if you do not see your game.

This is all part of the hunter’s mindset. A great hunter is marked not by the size the deer or elk shot, but the manner in which the animal was taken. In that sense, a great hunter may never take a shot in their life, despite being presented with many opportunities.

I wrote an article here in TTAG earlier this year on the ethics of long range hunting, which is an appalling trend pushed by many companies in the industry. Long range hunting is by definition not fair chase, as it extends the distance (and possible errors) in order to make the animal oblivious to the shooter. It is in my opinion a form of cruelty.

A long range hunter is not a hunter, but rather a killer who values the distance of the shot over the life of the animal. I have known and talked to many of these people, including names you’d recognize. Many display a blatant disregard for the animal. Each cited the distances they shoot with a certain giddiness. “I shot a coyote at 1,100 yards.” “I shot a deer at a half mile.” “500 yards is short range to me.”

There is nothing that will ever convince me that long range hunting is ethical, sportsmanlike, or displays superior hunting prowess. It’s a cowardly act by people lacking the patience and skill to guarantee a clean shot, which can only ever be done at close range. The greater the distance, the more variables are introduced to the shot, and variables increase the chances of cruelty.

As a new hunter, you should strive for excellence, and that excellence comes from respecting the life you seek to take by not recklessly causing harm or inflicting agony on it. A good hunter knows when not to take a shot. If you second-guess yourself for a moment, don’t pull that trigger.

Books make an excellent resource. This one by Michael Huff contains most of the information you will need to get started hunting coyote. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

How complex is it to start hunting?

Good, basic gear is easy to find. You don’t even need a background check for it. If you go to a local gun shop or even a big box place like Cabela’s, you will be able to find all of this gear:

-A .50 caliber percussion muzzleloader, style of your choice. A Hawkins is ideal for most hunting.
-Black powder or a substitute.
-Patches and balls.
-Some loading equipment and small tools.
-A good knife. The knife I have used for many seasons is the ESEE RB3, but there are lots of options out there.
-Binoculars or a rangefinder.

Get these things, zero your rifle at 50 or 100 yards, and then go knock on some doors in a rural area. You will probably have no problem finding private land to hunt on.

hunting tags
Nick Leghorn for TTAG

You’ll need to buy the appropriate tags after you settle on the land you want to hunt on. Do this, wear some good camo or weather-appropriate clothing and sit with your back to a tree. You will have reasonable success just as I have and you will never need to open a hunting magazine or go into another gun shop again.

Keep your rifle clean and oiled and get familiar with the land. That’s all there is to it.

The complexity comes from overthinking your gear, buying into fads, and compensating for a lack of skill with more gadgets and guns. If you can’t hunt deer with a cap-and-ball rifle, you probably shouldn’t be hunting.

Keeping it simple is the best way to start and develop good foundational skills. Patience is the greatest virtue of the hunter and you can only learn that firsthand through toil and grit. Many elements of modern hunting remove patience by extending distance or supplementing lack of skill with gear.

JWT hunting

Modern Hunting

Hunting is a massive industry today. Every company wants to sell you success through their ammunition, optics, and guns. Not to mention the massive markets in clothing, gear, gadgets, tools, and the brand culture that extends to aspects of everyday life.

You know a Browning man from a Remington man just by the sticker on his vehicle and, for the most part, that brand loyalty will continue to his children and was likely passed down from his family. I know many a family that has a Browning logo on everything they own, right down to the tattoo on their shin.

The brand culture of modern hunting has, in my opinion, eroded some of the traditional culture. Corporatism is part of the modern world and it has had a degrading effect on the individual and their ability to succeed as a hunter. The race for more and better gear continues every day.

It used to be that hunting gear and guns were an investment that would be passed down from generation to generation. Today we live in a world of fad cartridges, ever-changing opinions, and a great deal of fake news.

Modern hunting often turns into a race for new gear, ammo, and image. The first thing hunters change is their gear, not their approach. If you are frustrated with a lack of success, perhaps change your style of pursuit instead of your guns and your gear.

If you aren’t a good hunter with a $500 rifle, you probably won’t be much better with a $5,000 rifle. Perhaps taking the time to reflect on what your weaknesses are before trying to cover them up in gear and guns will improve your results. You will be better off in the long run recognizing the areas where you are lacking.

Josh Wayner for TTAG

Where should I start?

If you want to be a good hunter, the best place to start is by getting involved in a group that has a strong hunting culture. I don’t know many hunters who keep at it long if they don’t have friends and family who are involved, too. Getting yourself into a local range or sportsman’s club is a good way to meet people, find good hunting spots, understand the gear and gun requirements of your area, and receive solid advice.

The world of hunting seems impenetrable to many outsiders, but if you have a strong stomach, a great deal of patience, and dedication to your task, you will be a successful hunter. Hunting is all about mindset and you will be much better off if you keep it simple, reference good books and local resources, and make an effort to understand your game.

Keep in mind that hunting is a very important part of the nature of mankind. By choosing to be a hunter you are choosing to return to your deep ancestral roots.

The tradition of the hunt is on the brink today thanks to rampant marketing and endless rat races for gear and some sort of edge. Deer are the same now as they have been since we hunted them with stone-tipped arrows. Your modern, expensive rifle doesn’t make you much more likely to bring one home than if you had a primitive bow.

Hunting starts within and if you are patient, it won’t matter what weapon you have in your hands.

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  1. We can argue until we are blue in the face. I think the rest of Us would get along just fine without you humans. , , , , Nothing wrong with hunting though. However I think that three way equation could remain in tact with iut the human factor. If the rats get to thick the coyotes clean then out. When the rats are gone the coyotes start having less pups. I used coyotes and rats as an example.

    • ” I think the rest of Us would get along just fine without you humans. , , , , ”

      Horseshit, Possum.

      Without us Humans to keep re-filling the dumpsters with tasty snacks, you and your brothers will have to work for a living, instead of dining out nightly at the same exact spot every time.

      Now, get off my lawn, er, road, or my F-150 will *splitch* your ass… 😉

  2. Monday is the opening day of small game season here in CA. I will be afield with my bow. A Bodnik Slick Stick.

    You kids and your new fangled muzzle loaders are ruining hunting.

  3. Finally, an article about hunting that doesn’t demean game animals by referring to their killing as “harvesting.” Thank you for understanding that.

    • Set the header up about two feet, open the throat’s, tighten down the slip clutch, shut down the screens, and get that reel to spinning. It all depends on how fast you drive that Combine

  4. How to hunt?
    1. Get pistol.
    2. Walk outside into back yard.
    3. Shoot deer.

    At least that’s how it is for me, if I ever get into “hunting”. Want another? shoot two, or wait one week, deer will return.

  5. By far and away, my most savored aspects of hunting are:
    (1) Being out in forests/fields and basking in nature.
    (2) Feeling excitement when your game animal/s approach.
    (3) Enjoying delicious wild game meals.

    And while I greatly enjoy putting accurate shots on game animals, it is the marksmanship aspect that I like — knowing that I am competent and accurate. I take no joy in killing animals because I deeply appreciate animals and I am thrilled to see them in nature.

  6. I also want to reinforce what the author stated: while there are of course several aspects to hunting, it really isn’t that complicated and doesn’t require a lot of investment.

    Break-action, single-shot rifles and shotguns are available in just about every caliber/gauge and often sell for around $250. They are perfectly fine for taking small game, medium game, and even large game. And if you are patient and look for sales, you can even acquire acceptable bolt-action rifles for about the same price.

    If your shotgun or rifle does not have iron sights, you can purchase scopes for $100 that are “good enough”. Of course it is even better if you can spend at least $250 on a quality scope.

    Last but not least, make sure you have adequate clothing and footwear for your hunting conditions. While super-duper camouflage is wonderful, countless hunters have taken countless animals without camouflage clothing. Just do your level best to keep your hunting clothing and footwear as scent-free as possible if hunting for deer, elk, moose, and bear. Oh, and choose hunting clothing that is as quiet as possible.

    Everything else is just window dressing.

    The rest is free: research the basics, get out in the field/woods, be alert and observant, learn from your mistakes, and have fun!

  7. My wife and I both got our first deer tags in the mail yesterday. We go on our first 2 day trip in mid August for archery season for her, then again for 2 days of rifle in October for me. It’s not a lot of time to hunt so our odds of finding and shooting a deer are slim, especially since we don’t have any experience. But we both believe that it is a successful hunt as long as we go.

    • TrappedInCommiefornia,

      If you only have two days for each hunt, you obviously want to make the most of it. I strongly encourage you to do the following:
      (1) Invest a fair amount of time scouting your hunting area well before deer season. Ideally, you will learn the game trails and habits of your deer a few weeks before your hunt. That means you will already know exactly where you are going to hunt at your hunting location.
      (2) Plan to hunt the entire day. That means bringing plenty of food and drinks. It also means having very comfortable seating. And “entire day” means being in position and settled no later than 60 minutes before first shooting light and staying until last shooting light at dusk.

      I also want to point out two important caveats about pre-season scouting. Be as stealthy as possible when scouting. That means being slow, quiet, and as scent-free as possible, in addition to wearing clothing in Earth-tone colors to make you as invisible as possible. Also, do not over-scout an area. Deer will vacate an area if you present too much human activity in too short a period of time.

      To give you some idea of what over-scouting means, limit prolonged activity at any single location to no more than two days in a row and then let that area “rest” for at least two weeks before returning.

      • Thanks for the advice. My goal is to scout the area I’ve been looking at on Google maps a couple of times next month to get a feel for it. Unfortunately I will likely be going solo on that since my wife will be home with the kids (hard to get a babysitter, hence the 2 day hunting trips). Luckily the spot we are looking at is only a couple of hours away, so we should be able to get up there reasonably early and stay late.

  8. Go hunting with an experienced hunter if possible. Try to avoid hunting alone when you are starting out. Hunter education classes are a good idea but no substitute for an experienced hunter to show you the ropes. Find a hunting club and make friends.
    As for what gun, loads, gear, etc that all comes later with experience. Just get out there. I recommend walking the woods a few weeks before and after hunting season to see where game goes and hides. You can also practice being quiet, odor free and stalking.

  9. I already have a perfect firearm for the task, and I know I can hit what I aim at. It’s what happens after the shot that keeps me out of the field. I have no idea how to deal with that part of it.

      • I never knew this existed. Always wondered myself about that aspect.

        I want to go one year, I think it’s a primitive part of humanity that deserves exploration as much as anything.

        I don’t need to go hunting to know that I am grateful for the food I eat to be so…..simple in terms of acquisition. Also so labor free and so detached from the circle of life we all live in.

    • Ing,

      What you do after you take a deer, squirrel, etc. is a simple matter of planning ahead and bringing useful stuff along.

      Of course you have to bring a sharp knife. A simple folding pocket knife with a 4-inch long blade is totally fine. (I have field dressed several deer with such a knife. And the one time that I did not have that knife I used my emergency folding knife with a 2-inch blade which worked really well.)

      Field dressing a large animal is obviously a bit messy. Bring a roll of paper towels, a gallon jug of water, soap, and trash bag for cleanup after you finish dressing your large (or even small) animal.

      Finally, you have to be able to transport your animal. I have found that a cargo tray which slides into a vehicle’s trailer hitch receiver is fantastic for hauling an animal back home. Personally, I would wrap that animal quite tight in a tarp to reduce the amount of dust and road grime that might find its way into the animal’s body cavity. Most people would not bother.

    • Ing,

      I should also mention what to do with your large animal in terms of butchering it. Most people take their large animal to a butcher to process it at a cost somewhere in the range of $60 to $160. Other people butcher their animal themselves. I found an incredible video on the Internet that illustrates how to easily and quickly skin a deer and begin the butchering process. I am sure you can find similar sources.

      While I have butchered my own deer, I am not very good at it. It takes me all day. For that reason I take my deer to someone who lives two miles away and butchers it for $80. (And they do a fantastic job: I get nothing but pure meat without any bones, hair, or tallow/fat.)

      When I have butchered my own deer, I prepare a large work surface (usually a picnic table or large portable folding banquet table) outside ahead of time with plenty of plastic bags, paper towels, an assortment of knives, garden hose, and dish soap at the ready.

    • Just now checked back. Thanks for the helpful comments.

      It’s good to know that it’s potentially *much* less complex than I was led to believe.

      I don’t know if I ever actually will go deer hunting, but finding and killing your own food seems like an experience every red-blooded American ought to have, and I do love me some venison, so I keep thinking about it. One day, maybe…

  10. With all due respect,Josh Wayner, I think your definition of what constitutes ethical hunting is the type of thing that divides the hunting community. That’s something we just don’t need.

    Personally, I am NOT a fan of long range shooting because my greatest fear is wounding and losing an animal. I started hunting late in life and to date, I have take 2 mule deer bucks, a 6X6 elk, and an antelope, in addition to several turkeys. I think a person who has practiced extensively at the distances he wants to shoot, and knows he can make the shot, is hunting responsibly. Ever animal I have taken has been at less than 250 yards, and has gone down with a single shot. That’s my limit, but far be it from me to tell someone with the skills of Chris Kyle what they can or cannot do.

    • Cue the butt hurt. You knew there would be this one guy that didn’t get the point of the article. The whole point of being a skilled hunter is being able to outwit your game animal on his terms at distances he can detect you and escape. Just because someone can do something at long range doesn’t mean it makes them a “hunter”. It makes them a killer. It’s all about fair chase. Any moron can buy a gun and scope in today’s world and shoot a deer at 500 yards but what skills did he learn? Nothing is what he learned. I’m with the author on this. Anyone shooting at extreme distances is too lazy too put in the work to begin with. Your not a hunter. Your a Democrat.

      • Then almost every hunter I have ever known, in the state with the most hunters in America, has been a Democrat. Every one of them has taken a long shot at some point that had some or other interference, difficult angle, troublesome sight picture, whatever – be in the field long enough and be serious about getting game and not just waxing poetical about “ye olden days in ye olde forest” and you will see the same conditions. This guy writes an article like this every six or so months because they get lots of comments. I have hunted for years and years with a longbow. I could say any number of guys who use even muzzleloaders, even “ye oldey” muzzleloaders (I have lots of those as well) are cheating and chintzy hunters. But the truth is, even the longbow can be easy at times. At other times, long range riflery can be excruciatingly difficult. Also, all hunters are killers, at least the serious ones, anyway. Look at the way native hunters really talked about taking game, not the way it is shown in post-1960s Hollywood films. Hunters who have the strongest attachment to the hunt are often very clearly killers. The desire to detach the killing from the actuality through euphemisms or smarmy suburban moralizing is precisely the thing that is killing the American boy’s hunter mindset in our time. These ^^^^ up above are the types of conversations about “hunting” you overhear at a microbrewery among a bunch of urban software engineers who are talking about how they are just getting into the sport.

  11. I have killed thousands of game animals and birds. Varmints 10 of thousands.

    Most have required one shot some 2 or 3 a couple required more.

    One does the best he can but stuff can happen when you pull the trigger.

    The animal moves at the last second, a gust of wind, a unseen branch and more.

    I am a firm believer in follow up shots.

  12. Well written but I disagree with SOOOO much of it. Especially on the subjects of long distance and the use of technology.

    Every species has unique traits which define it. Ours is an analytical brain. Using that brain is no different then a shark using its teeth, an elephant using its tusks, or a giraffe using its long neck to reah the high leaves. Every species uses its unique traits to gain an advantage. Using a scope and ballistic calculator apps are what we evolved to do.

  13. “If you aren’t a good hunter with a $500 rifle, you probably won’t be much better with a $5,000 rifle.”

    Ain’t that the truth.

    Good article. I think respecting your game is of huge importance as well. I honestly don’t enjoy killing the animal but I still hunt. I think it’s important to make yourself feel that occasionally being a carnivore and all. It’s pretty easy to pick up pounds and pounds of meat in the grocery store. It’s why I was raised and raised mine to respect their food. I absolutely hate to see food wasted or used for some stupid jackassery on YouTube.

  14. I absolutely loved your story, and agreed with every word. I’ve guided n cooked for outfitters out west numerous times, and reading this you nailed it. I started hunting when I was 10 or 12 with an old shotgun . My Dad would give me 2 shells n I would set out squirrel hunting. Never missed. Deer season would open I would receive 2 slugs for that shotgun. I’m not saying I got a deer every year for a young man I knew the area I was hunting, every trail every tree, I finally even figured out scrapes n rubs. I really consider myself a hunter compared to the outfit hunting. They would be bored hunting with me. Your article was awesome, brought back alot of memories. I’m now 62 and still love to get out there and get after it.

  15. 1. Single shot anything will make you more proficient. Hunger helps a lot, too.
    2. I quit hunting when I started to have enough money that I could keep me and mine fed.
    3. I still shoot gophers, but that is not hunting, that’s pest control. Not much thrill other than a well placed shot at range.

  16. An excellent article….with parts I disagree with. As long as the hunter honors the game and the land and strives for a skill level equal to or greater than necessary for their prey, they are ethical hunters.

    I have some very close friends who are long range hunters, and I have competed and trained at long range — I got my 2000 yard coin last week in Wyoming. I feel very very strongly that we as hunters should not condemn nor question the ethics of ANY legal forms of hunting; rather, save our ire for illegal poaching.

    Ethics are personal, as are skills.

    Whether I may personally agree with the style if hinting or not, I unconditionally support any style of hunting that is legal.

    Circumstances are also personal…I live in the Rocky Mountain West, and my ranch has tons of mule deer, coyotes, mountain lions, elk even the occasional bear. My non-hunting vegetarian Sweetie knows more about mule deer than some who, say, as grown up and lives in NYC, because she has opportunities simply not available to urban dwellers. We live around the animals, which allows us to learn their ways. Should we then criticize an urban hunter who pays one of my friends a lot of money for a guided hunt in Colorado?

    I’ve always liked the George Bernard Shaw quote:”“[H]e is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.”

    Michael B

    • Did you move to Colorado from commiefornia?
      I used to live in Co. Then the rich from ca. moved in and I left.
      Did moonlight more than 1 deer heading down to the golf course and the troughs of cracked corn. Best tasting mulies ever. Always go for the 1 or 2 year old does without fawns. Small enough to carry off after field dressing.
      BTW. Was a time when the local game n fish guy, along with his good buddy deputy would have illegal “trophy hunts”. GnF would chase elk out from the park on a snowmobile and the “guide” deputy would shoot the elk for the paying “hunter”.

  17. With bad hips and old age, I will stay within 100 yards. Just getting out there to appreciate what is out there is good enough for me. If I get something, that is a plus. Just say’n.

  18. Hi Josh, I enjoyed reading your guide on how to get into hunting. Getting the basics right such as choosing the right hunting gear and outfits, is very important to become a successful hunter. As you said, thinking from the game’s perspective can make a whole lot difference to one’s hunting strategies.

  19. Do not rush to buy a gun, do it thoughtfully. A gun is a thing that should be changed as little as possible. You have to get used to the gun, you have to master it. I found a gun near me here


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