This is a guide on how to get started hunting in general.
The first step in becoming a hunter is to attend a hunter's safety course. These can be found in many places throughout your state and a calender for courses is usually found on your state game commission's website. These courses are usually required before you can buy a hunting license and teach you not only safety, but hunting history, hunting tips, firearms basics, and more.
The second step to becoming a hunter is getting your hunting license. These can usually be bought where you took your hunter's safety course, but if not, you can buy them at any Walmart, Dick's, or a sportsman's store. When you buy your license (usually good for a year), you will usually also recieve a copy of that year's state rule book for hunting regulations. Read and reread this at least three times so you can rival any game warden in knowledge. Do the same thing with your firearm's manual later on.
The third step to becoming a hunter is buying a .22LR rifle. A .22LR rifle is a rifle which fires a .22 caliber bullet, or the projectile which leaves the rifle's barrel. When you purchase rifles, you use cartridges (in this case, a .22LR) which are well suited to the task you are trying to complete. A rifle in .22LR is capable of many things. It is a quiet, low-recoiling cartridge that is easy to find and cheap. This allows for lots of easy trigger time at the range and learning good firearms habits. It is also a great plinking toy. Plinking refers to shooting small objects like cans, bottles, and golf balls that go "plink!" when shot at with a small-caliber rifle. The .22LR is one of the only easy-to-find and cheap cartridges available for squirrel hunting which we will talk about later. A good .22LR rifle to consider buying is called the 10/22 and it is made by a company called Ruger.
The fourth step to becoming a hunter is to shoot your gun! Before heading to the range, ask some experienced friends to apprentice you in good firearms safety habits. Good rules that should always be followed include:
- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. This is the golden rule of firearms safety.
- Firearms should never, ever be loaded when not in use. An exemption is a personal home defense firearm that you are well versed in the use of. Take special care when there are children around.
- Never rely on your gun's safety if it has one. Firearms safety devices are just that: mechanical devices. And like any mechanical device, safeties can fail at the absolute worst time. This potential danger is nonexistent if Rule #1 is followed at all times.
- Always know your target and what is behind it. Never shoot at something you are not sure of and what exactly is in your bullet's flight path and what will stop it. If everyone followed this rule, there would practically be no hunting-related deaths. As is, hunting is one of the safest sports despite what the media will have you believe, but there is no such thing as too safe when it comes to hunting.
- Always use the proper ammunition designated clearly on the barrel of your firearm. Previously, we talked about .22LR. When you buy a .22LR gun, DO NOT use any other ammo in it, other than .22LR, even if it looks to be the same size or if it fits in the gun's chamber. This leads to catastrophic events and is extremely dangerous. Be diligent in selecting the proper ammunition. .22 Short is a completely different cartridge than .22LR. If your gun says ".22LR ONLY", do not put .22 Short, .22 Long, .22 CB, .22 Extra Long, .22 Hornet, or any other .22 caliber cartridge in it or it could be deadly. If someone asks what caliber your gun says, do not say ".22". Say ".22LR", for the above reason.
While there are other important gun rules, those are the most important. The others should be taught by your instructor as well as at your hunter safety course.
The fifth step to becoming a hunter is to practice. Please do not jump into big game your first season, no matter how much you are tempted. I highly recommend only hunting small game during your first season as a hunter. Using your .22LR from before, this includes squirrels and rabbits without dogs. .22LR likes to ricochet and is therefore a potential danger to dogs. When I say practice, I don't mean shooting a few shots from the bench. I don't know about you but I don't hunt from a bench with a straight, clear, level plane to a target at a perfect even number (50, 100 yards, etc.). For squirrel and rabbit hunting, I suggest sitting under the tree you will hunt from (Walk your hunting property, and find a good oak with fresh acorns and an active squirrel population), and throw a tennis ball about 15 yards in front of you. Using the same rifle and ammo setup you will use while hunting shoot it. And shoot it. And Shoot it. If the bullets don't move the ball further and further away from you, get up and do it yourself. This is great practice and place the ball at odd angles, and shoot sitting, kneeling, offhand, etc.
Okay, it's almost squirrel or rabbit season and you can hit the tennis ball all the way out to 100 yards every time in the wind (even though you can't see farther than 50 yards in the woods). You have all your gear setup and you've read all you can in books and on the internet. You're ready. But you can't stand waiting an entire month or even two or three if you started early. Here's what you do. Buy a shotgun. A 20 gauge shotgun is a light kicking shell that is also easy to find and usually cheap (sound familiar?) but a 12 gauge is a better choice if you can handle the slight increase in recoil. Shooting a shotgun takes a-lot more practice to master than a rifle. Try going to a local skeet range and shooting a few rounds. Skeet is a shotgun game that involves the shooting of clay targets flying though the air (also known as clay birds, clays, clay pigeons). One round of skeet involves 25 shots at 25 clay birds. Once you can consistently break in the high teens (it will take a few weeks or more of dedicated practice) or low twenties, you are ready to head for the field without crippling game birds. Your .22LR Rifle and 12 or 20 Gauge shotgun will allow you to take squirrels, rabbits (the shotgun can be used with dogs without the risk of a ricochet hitting a dog), and woodchucks at extremely close range (50 yards or less). Birds you can hunt with the shotgun (never shoot a rifle cartridge into the air) include ducks, geese, turkey, doves, grouse, pheasants, quail, chukars, crows, and others.
During your second year of hunting, you can try out deer hunting. This could be accomplished with your shotgun but a specialized deer rifle is preferred. By now, you are experienced enough to do your own research and have probably met enough people through camps, clubs, and at rifle/skeet ranges to guide you through your journey into hunting. This website also provides species-specific information elsewhere on the wiki.