Dear new hunter,
From the time humans looked to the horizon where heaven meets earth and wondered what lay beyond that thin line, there were hunters. Each new mountain, fjord, canyon, and meadow was first trodden on by a hunter. Before the colonies, cities, countries, and empires were erected there was a hunter’s camp. Before agriculture, trade, borders, and government there was hunting.
Pursued by few and misunderstood by many it is an activity that has shaped our history and informed our thought and ethics on the natural world and our role within it. You are about to embark on a journey that no words I write here will do justice. It will break your back, blister your feet, fill your heart, and revive your soul all in a day. The highs will humble you, the lows will break you, and its nuance will teach you.
Learn your Quarry
Learn your quarry. What do they eat? Where do they sleep? What are their needs in what time of year? You will see the woods differently when you learn these things. People tend to go to the woods and not really see what is right in front of them. Hunters, good ones, absorb much more of their surroundings by understanding the animal’s relationship to the habitat. They learn how it affects them. In turn you will have a more fulfilling and successful time in the woods.
Hunt for you and you alone. Do not pursue anything for someone else. Not for friends, family, money, or Instagram. Hunting is a deeply personal endeavor, even when shared with others. When successful, be proud of your kill. Whether it’s a yearling fork horn or the biggest bull on the mountain, as long as it was ethically and legally harvested, do not let anyone else’s prejudices or opinions sour you success. Cherish it.
Respect the animals you hunt. Utilize its meat, hide, horns, and bones to your fullest ability and skill. In the end nature wastes nothing but that does not warrant careless field care or flippant treatment of the death of any animal.
Hunters as Conservationists
You will hear hunters are conservationists. It’s a badge many claim, few understand, and fewer deserve. However there is truth to this concept. Conservation, especially the North American model of conservation, was in fact pioneered by hunters.
Concepts like bag limits, closed seasons, and the banning of market hunting were all conceived by sportsmen in the name of conservation, And the recovery of a whole suite of species whose population were on the verge of collapse. When you look at conservation by numbers, and in this sense, dollars, hunters are by far the leader.
The tags, permits, and licenses hunters purchase pays for the state fish and game management of wildlife resources and their habitat. In addition to this, acts like The Pittman- Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration act tax hunting and shooting equipment to fund conservation efforts. Learn the tenants of conservation and your role within it. Don’t take the privilege of hunting or that its future is certain for granted.
A Diverse and Nuanced Tradition
Hunting is a diverse and nuanced tradition. What is legal in one state may not be in another. What is socially acceptable in one place is not the social norm in another. Try having a debate on “baiting” with someone who grew up in the west or hunting with hounds with someone who grew up in the north east. It can be a confusing minefield with traps at every corner.
Furthermore the overwhelming majority of people do not hunt. You will be the window in which your non-hunting family, friends, and social circle views hunting. Be conscience of this and set a good example of ethics, sustainability, and respect. When posting on social media be mindful that people that do not understand or support hunting will likely see it. Be respectful to the animal as well as those who will see your posts.
This does not mean hide your joy for the outdoors or hunting by abstaining from posting about it. It simply means, be mindful, respectful, and be prepared to articulately defend your position.
Know your Weapon
Know your weapon. Practice. Practice. And then practice some more. You will be a more confident hunter when you have a deep understanding of your weapon. Bow, rifle, shotgun, it does not matter. You owe your prey the most ethical and lethal shot you can deliver.
No matter the range, a shot should not be taken if you are uncertain you can execute that shot perfectly to the best of your abilities. If you have doubt in your weapon, your abilities, or the distance is beyond your experienced range you should not take the shot.
Tags, not gear
Buy tags not gear. Do not stress about having the latest and greatest equipment. People were climbing mountains and killing sheep in flannel and denim just a few decades ago. Sure, when safety and survival is concerned get the proper equipment but don’t let being on a budget keep you home since you didn’t get the 2019 bow or that new $600 set of boots.
My bow is a twenty years old and works great, my optics are even older. My point is if the choice is an elk tag or a new spotting scope, chose the tag. You only get so many Septembers and last I checked those spotters will still be on the shelve next year when you can afford both.
Finally, have fun! Above all other things hunting should be enjoyable. Yes the meat we gather from it is healthy and delicious and it’s hard to argue against the magic of a fine set of antlers, but in the end those are just a by-product of the activity.
We hunt because there is nothing else like it and it fulfills us like nothing else can. It can be hard, grueling, cold, wet, and downright miserable. But in the end, you look back on it fondly. It imbeds memories deep within us that last a lifetime and connects us to our past and our natural world more deeply than any other thing can. I wish you the best of luck in your future as a hunter. Welcome to the fold! May your boots always be dry, your shots always true, and may your pack in be light, and pack out be heavy.
Just another hunter