January 12, 2024

Hunting for Beginners: How to Get Started & Tips for Success

Experienced hunter shows two new women hunters tips and tricks

There are many reasons why folks take up hunting.

For many it’s the chance to enjoy delicious free-range meat you caught yourself.

For others it’s a passion for the outdoor adventure.

On top of all that, hunting teaches many useful skills, builds first-hand knowledge of the natural world and promotes wildlife conservation. 

If you’re taking up hunting for the first time, there are many things you’ll need to learn. 

First and foremost, hunting isn’t just a hobby – it’s a lifestyle. From beginners to experienced hunters, there will always be new tips and tricks to pick up along the way.

Successful hunting takes a commitment to refining your skills and learning everything you can about hunting regulations, firearm safety, the species you plan to hunt and the gear you need to purchase. Make sure your loved ones are supportive of your interest, as you’ll need to dedicate significant time and resources to your new pursuit.

With that in mind, here are some helpful tips for starting out on your exciting journey as a new hunter. 

#1: Find a Mentor

As with any other skill, the only way to become a good hunter is through hands-on practice. And the best way to get valuable practice is under the guidance of an experienced hunter. 

Three hunters walk across an open field with the sun shining overhead

Some states offer an apprentice license that lets you hunt as long as you are accompanied by a licensed adult hunter. In other states, you may still accompany a licensed hunter, but you won’t be allowed to actually kill an animal until you have a license of your own. 

Get in touch with relatives, friends, neighbors or coworkers who hunt. Tell them about your goals, and politely ask if they’ll let you “tag along” on their next outing. Offer to bring food, help with fuel costs or other thoughtful gesture in return. Most likely, they’ll also be happy to recommend the best gear for starting out. 

Check your community for local hunting programs, wildlife organizations or similar groups. Depending on the species you’re interested in, you can also find valuable information through organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited

When you’re ready to book your first adventure, choose a guided hunt. You’ll have an experienced hunter by your side who knows the lay of the land and lots of useful advice. 

#2: Invest in Hunting Education

You’ll need to complete a hunting safety course before you can obtain a hunting license. Hunting education familiarizes you with regulations, ethics and safety habits. Many programs include hands-on training with experienced hunters. 

Once you pass the exam, you’ll receive a hunter education certificate that lets you obtain a license. Be sure to make several copies of your hunter education card and store them in a safe place. Keep a picture of it on your phone as well. 

#3: Know the Law

As noted above, hunter education includes an overview of regulations in your state. Violating the law can lead to expensive tickets, revocation of your license or worse, so knowing the rules ahead of time will save you lots of headaches in the future.

Visit your state’s game agency website for information on licensing requirements, hunting seasons and more. Some species, such as feral hogs, can be hunted year round in many states. Others have limited hunting seasons, such as turkey in the spring and deer in the fall. Season dates will also vary by hunting method, such as rifle or archery, or by age, such as youth hunting seasons. 

Besides hunting seasons, states also have laws related to other aspects of hunting: 

  • Some specify which types of animals within a species you may take, such as antlered or antlerless deer, or red or gray squirrels.
  • Bag limits tell you how many individual animals you’re allowed to harvest. 
  • A possession limit pertains to the number of animal carcasses you may store before cooking them. For example, there are limits on how many squirrels you may store in your freezer at one time.
  • Tagging and reporting regulations mean that you must report your harvest to your state by a specific deadline.
  • Wanton waste laws make it illegal to leave behind most edible parts of a game animal. 

#4: Obtain a Hunting License

You’ll need a resident license to hunt in your home state and a non-resident license for out-of-state hunts. Non-resident licenses cost more to obtain. 

You also need to know the difference between a hunting license and a tag

  • A license lets you hunt most small game, such as rabbits and squirrels. 
  • For larger species such as deer and elk, you may need an additional tag. 
  • If you plan to hunt migratory birds like geese and ducks, you’ll have to purchase stamps. 

A general tag lets you hunt the species during the scheduled season. For some high-demand species, the state may issue a limited number of draw tags, which are awarded by lottery. 

#5: Hone Your Firearm Skills

Rifles are commonly used for hunting large game like deer, elk, antelope and bears. Shotguns are used for most bird hunting, along with deer hunts in the Midwest and East. Many hunters also enjoy bow hunting with either a simple, handheld bow and arrow, or a more sophisticated compound bow. 

If you have no prior experience with firearms, begin target practice with an air rifle or rimfire rifle at first. These options feature low recoil, which helps beginners avoid bad habits like flinching or jerking. 

When you’re ready to purchase a gun for hunting, you’ll want to match it to the type of game and regulations where you live. Contact a few gun shops and tell them what you’re looking for. They’ll be happy to recommend the best model for your needs. Lighter calibers and smaller gauges are ideal for beginners, as they feature less recoil. 

You’ll also need to learn the basics of responsible gun ownership and usage:

  • Safe storage
  • Cleaning your weapon
  • Choosing ammunition
  • Proper handling
  • Shooting practice
  • Hearing and eye protection

Visit a local shooting range and get lots of practice well in advance of your first hunt. Your instructor will show you the proper shooting form and safe handling tips. Practice shooting outdoors to replicate hunting conditions as much as possible. For example, practice clay or skeet shooting in preparation for bird hunting. 

Remember, shooting a game animal is more challenging than target practice. For one thing, the animal will be moving, and it may be obscured by brush or other objects. Weather conditions may affect your vision and accuracy. 

Only pull the trigger when the animal is safely within your comfortable effective range. This refers to the distance at which you can make an accurate shot that hits the animal’s vital organs. For beginners, a comfortable range is about 200 yards with a rifle or 100 yards with a shotgun. 

#6: Get the Right Gear

Familiarize yourself with the basic gear that almost every hunter needs, along with specialized gear for the species you’re hunting. While many hunters choose to wear camouflage, earth tones such as browns, grays and greens are also appropriate. The main priority is to wear colors that conceal your presence. 

Dress in Layers

Layered clothing makes it easy to stay warm in cold weather and peel off a few layers in warmer temperatures. There are three basic layers every hunter needs:

  • Your base layer wicks away sweat and moisture to keep you from getting chilled. Choose a quality polyester, nylon or merino wool. Avoid cotton.
  • The middle layer serves as insulation to keep you warm. Polyester fleece, down or wool are good options here.
  • The outer layer protects you from the elements. A breathable, waterproof coat or jacket is recommended.  

Invest in a pair of quality boots with good arch support, insulation and a waterproof outer layer. Mid-calf length is appropriate for most hunts, while knee-high rubber boots are best if you’ll be trudging through wetlands. Wear wool or synthetic, moisture-wicking socks. 

Specialty Gear 

In addition to the basics, you may need additional items depending on the species you’ll be hunting.

  • Big game: Look for a climbing stand or collapsible ground blind. If you use a tree stand, you’ll need a safety harness and a haul line to raise and lower your rifle.
  • Turkey: Wear camo to conceal yourself. Turkey call options include a box, friction or push button call. You’ll also need decoys, binoculars and a harness.
  • Waterfowl: Wear a pair of waders and knee-high rubber boots for hunting in wetlands. Other essentials include decoys, ear protection and a pump or semi-automatic shotgun. 
  • Upland hunting: If you’re chasing rabbits, pheasants, quail or grouse, dress in layers with sturdy pants and boots with ankle support.

Purchase a high quality hunting knife for cleaning and butchering your game. Other hunting accessories include binoculars, a blaze orange vest, beanie or ball cap, comfortable gloves and first aid supplies.

#7: Learn to Prep & Cook Your Game

Knowing how to clean, butcher and cook your harvest is as important as any other hunting skill you’ll learn.

Be prepared to start from the moment you make that accurate shot. You need a sharp hunting knife, latex or similar type of gloves and a means of storing and transporting the harvested meat. Use caution to avoid contaminating the meat with dirt or debris. 

Your biggest priority is to freeze or refrigerate the meat below 40 degrees Fahrenheit as quickly as possible. If you’re hunting large game, be prepared to make several trips, on foot, between the place where you shot the animal and your vehicle. 

If you don’t have the skill to butcher the meat yourself, contact a professional processor for assistance. Have the meat vacuum sealed to avoid freezer burn until you’re ready to cook it. 

#8: Practice, Practice, Practice

As with most things in life, the more you hunt, the better you’ll be at it. As you gain more experience, you’ll pick up lots of important skills along the way.

Two hunters walk up a hill in an open field surrounded by trees

  • Scout before you hunt: Once you know where you’ll be going on your next adventure, research the area first. Study maps, read reviews online, and get in your vehicle and visit the area before your scheduled hunt. Bring a pair of binoculars and familiarize yourself with the terrain, the weather, and signs of wildlife.
  • Be still and quiet: Game animals are smarter than you think. They know when they’re being hunted. You must remain undetected until the moment you pull the trigger. Walk slowly, speak softly and listen carefully. Stay downwind so your scent blows away from the animal, and wear clothing that conceals your appearance.
  • Have lots of patience: Most of your hunting time will be spent quietly watching and waiting for your target to appear. And be forewarned, sometimes they won’t appear at all. The secret to a fulfilling hunting experience is to enjoy the wait, and appreciate this quality time to immerse yourself in the natural world. 

Book Your First Hunting Trip

So, you’ve taken some lessons, gotten your license and bought all your gear. Your next big question is where to go on your first big hunt. The answer largely depends, of course, on the species you’ll be hunting. 

For beginners, it’s also wise to choose a place that’s easy to get to from your home, with a sizable population of your target species. If possible, go at an off-peak time when fewer hunters are present. The less competition, the greater your chances of first-time success!

Hunting is available on public and private lands throughout the United States. Check your state conservation website for public areas where hunting is allowed. As for private land, you may already have a friend or relative who owns property where you can hunt. Another great option is to join HUUNT and get easy access to land available for rent. A free Starter membership lets you browse and purchase listings, read customer reviews and access Google maps of your selected location.

Start Your Adventure Today

We make it simple to list and lease land, book guided hunts and more. Find your next hunting spot or guided trip. Earn extra income by letting others enjoy your land. HUUNT helps you make the most of every opportunity. Become a member today!