This year is the year. Your friends have done it for a while now. You’ve seen enough pictures of others’ trophies. Maybe you even grew up with a member of the family who participates, but you just weren’t ever interested until now. You want to feel the anticipation and the passion that your grandpa talks about in his stories. You want to understand that feeling of “home” your friend talks about while sitting in a tree stand. You want to live in that moment of adrenaline, of a make-it-or-break-it shot.
You want to hunt.
So you’ll just go grab a bow or a gun and make your way out into the woods, right? I mean you know what days hunting season starts; you can just trek on out and join the other hundreds of hunters in the area. All hunting is, is pointing, aiming, and pulling a trigger.
Darling, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Hunting can be traced back as one of the most primitive activities humans do, going back to our “caveman” years where we hunted animals to simply survive. A lot has changed since those days, including the process of going about it. Hunting is a love that is learned: a practice of patience, excitement and disappointment. The woods become a place that hold more heartbreak than a middle school hallway during homecoming week, and more intense feelings than two newlyweds in their honeymoon suite.
But how do you even begin the process of experiencing these feelings?
1. Get a License
It’s free! New York State offers the courses for anyone and everyone to take. The course I took was a mix of eighty people from eleven to fifty years old, guys and girls. Don’t be hesitant in taking it for fear of being the “odd person out.” Everyone is there for the same reason you are.
Since it’s illegal to be in the woods almost at all without a license, you might as well just take the course since it’s free. The lists are divided by what courses you want to take and by what county. Majority of the classes are offered in August and September, but there are a few courses offered after the season already starts.
During the course you’ll learn the proper safety precautions to take and get an overview of the different techniques and tricks of hunting different animals. The total time will be ten hours. At the end of your ten hours there will be an exam, so make sure you pay attention. Most instructors, mine included will make the crucial stuff you need to know super obvious.
The hunting safety courses mainly focus on hunting with firearms. You’ll even be able to shoot a rifle at a target during it. The course touches on the other different types of hunting like archery season and trapping which you will also need a license for if you decide to do those.
2. Join a Friend
Before you start to buy any equipment or even your tags, ask some friends if you can join them in the woods. Tags can only be bought until the day before hunting season starts, so if you miss the first hunting season where you have a license that’s okay! You want to understand how it all works through actual experience before you spend the big money on necessities; it gets expensive quick. I was out in the woods with someone for two seasons before I finally bought my tags and gear. When it comes time to buy what you need, ask a friend to help you know what to get and where to go.
Pay attention to what your friends do. They’re more experienced than you are, so should know what they’re doing. If you’re lucky like I was, mine had been hunting since he was old enough to get a license and carry a gun. He knew every single trick in the book and had actually mastered calls just using his own voice and not some plastic tube.
Be prepared to be scolded from time to time too about what you’re doing. Just know they aren’t doing it out of meanness, sometime they’ll just forget how new you are at it. Take walking through the woods for example. It took me probably a total of seven hikes to finally understand how to place my feet.
Once you’re in the spot you’ll be for the remainder of the hunt, relax. Look at the world around you. Listen to what the woods turn into when the animals think there aren’t any people around. This is where you’ll start to love hunting. It isn’t just about shooting anything. It’s about appreciating the natural world.
3. Practicing Ethical Hunting:
What every ethical hunter lives by is having respect for the actual act of hunting. This means being respectful of the land around us when we’re in the woods. It also means only taking shots you know you can make. Taking a shot that we aren’t confident in will most likely result in wounding the animal causing it to suffer.
Part of ethical hunting is understanding the necessity of practicing consistently throughout the year. Don’t expect to pick up a bow or gun a week before season and think you’ll be ready to make a kill shot on an animal. I’ve been shooting bow for almost two years now and finally took a bow hunter safety course to hunt with my bow. I know what my limits are. There’s a huge difference between shooting a still target and a moving one, not to mention when the adrenaline will be pumping. It’s important to be 100% confident in the shot you can make on an animal.
This is where patience comes into play as well. If the buck of a lifetime just walked into sight forty yards away, but you’ve only ever been able to shoot thirty yards consistently, an ethical hunter would not take the shot. Sure, the hunter would be disappointed –the heartbreak aspect of hunting—but will be able to hold his/her head up high knowing the decision was the correct one to make.
Falling in love with hunting will be inevitable once you get a taste of it though. It could take a couple times out in a stand, or it could happen on your first day out there. I fell in love with it within hours of my first day, and I didn’t so much as see an animal except a lone squirrel digging holes for some nuts. It was the feeling of peace that sitting in that stand brought. How it was to see the sun beam its way through branches and fall leaves, how it looked as it glowed behind a silhouette of pines.
When the world around you has no clue you’re there. When it’s so quiet that deer grunts and turkeys gobbling can be heard from almost a mile away. When you do finally see an animal you’re after and have to decide if it’s the animal you want to harvest.
Yes, hunting truly is a love that is learned, but it’s completely worth the journey until you get there. I promise.