Beyond Hunter Education: Learning More and Honing Your Skills

Cropped image of hunter going with a gun in a field

So, you’ve taken hunter education and now you’re ready to go out into the world and hunt, right? In some ways yes. In others not so much. You now have the basic knowledge to get started, but you lack the skills and gear to go out and hunt on your own. After you finish your hunter’s safety course, take some time to get a little experience and learn more before you hunt alone. Here are some ways to do that.

Take Another Course

A man in the process of taking a hunter education course

The basic hunter education course is just the start. Most state organizations that run the basic hunter education certification courses also offer advanced courses for people wanting to learn more.

After the completion of the basic hunter education, consider signing up for another course that focuses on a specific practice, like shooting, stalking, bow hunting, and much more. This is a great way to learn from experts. The only downside to taking these courses is that you’ll have to pay for them.

Connect with Other Hunters

a group of hunters

Learning from other hunters is one of the best ways to improve your skills. While it can be fun to connect with hunters at the same experience level as you, try to find someone who has significantly more experience. Those are the people who can teach you the things you need to know.

Not sure where to start? Look to your friends and family. Do you have anyone in your family who hunts or has hunted in the past? How about friends? If so, ask them to help you get started.

If your immediate friends and family aren’t an option, and you’re unsure of how to connect and meet other hunters, don’t worry. There are plenty of options out there.

Start with your local gun range. While there may be some shooters at the gun range that don’t hunt, many people there will. You should be going to the gun range regularly anyway to improve your shooting skills, so it’s only natural to make new connections there.

Another great option is to join hunting and shooting clubs. Look to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, Quality Deer Management Association, or the National Rifle Association. All these organizations work to build communities of gun enthusiasts and hunters, and their events can be an excellent way of meeting new people.

Volunteer at Your Local Fish and Game Department

Game rangers at a feeding spot, watching roe deer

Is connecting with hunters more difficult than you thought? Volunteer at your state’s fish and wildlife department to connect with the community and learn more than you ever expected.

Not only will you make new friends in the community, but you’ll also learn to appreciate your state’s valuable natural resources. Every state has some type of volunteer program, and your service doesn’t have to take up a huge portion of your time.

While many departments would love it if you could volunteer on a regular basis, you can always sign up for a single volunteer session to see how you like it. When you do volunteer, discuss your aspirations with someone at the organization so you get to work on the projects that interest you most.

Tag Along on a Hunt

Two hunters walk along the forest road on a Sunny evening in late autumn

Once you find a friend, family member, or acquaintance in the hunting community, see if you can go with them on their next hunt to observe. Most hunters, especially people you know reasonably well, will be happy to show you the ropes.

If you don’t own a weapon, don’t worry. When you tag along with another hunter, you don’t need one.

Before the hunt begins, talk to the person you’re with. Find out where you need to be and if there’s anything you can do to help. You want to learn as much as possible, but you don’t want to be in the way. During the hunt, watch their movements and actions and ask questions quietly when and if it feels appropriate.

The nice thing about coming along to observe a hunt is that you don’t have to worry about getting a kill. It’s more or less stress-free. You’re out there to enjoy the outdoors and watch an experienced hunter at work.

It can be smart to bring a small notebook and jot down some notes or questions along the way.  That way, you can make sure to get the info you need after the hunt concludes.

Get Your Gear and Gun and Practice

A man practicing shooting

In order to be a safe and successful hunter, you’ll need the right gear and weapon. You’ll also need plenty of practice once you own the necessary equipment. If you haven’t already purchased gear, buying some after observing a hunt and talking with an experienced hunter is a smart way to go.

With the knowledge you’ve gleaned from an experienced hunter, you should be able to make the right purchases, and if you have questions, you have someone to ask. Take the time to decide what you really need for the type of hunting you want to do, and then search for the best equipment at a price that fits your budget.

Practice is the key to success for many aspects of hunting. Once you have the equipment, go to your local gun range often. If the type of hunting you want to do requires a game call, make sure you know how to use that call and practice regularly. If you plan to spot-and-stalk hunt, do a lot of hiking and get used to spotting animals in the wild, understanding their tracks, and taking note of the wind and other conditions.

There are tons of ways to practice, depending on the type of hunting you plan to do. Before you go out on your actual hunt, make sure you take the necessary steps to hone your skills. When you practice often, you greatly increase your chances of success.

Hunt With Seasoned Veterans at First

Group of men in a row going away through rural field at sunset during hunting season in countryside

I don’t recommend going off by yourself on your first official hunt. If you have someone to shadow and observe, you have someone to hunt with. Hunting with a seasoned pro can even help increase your chances of success. Some types of hunting works better in groups, and an experienced hunter can give you suggestions on the fly that will help you get a kill.

My first hunts were small game—rabbit and squirrel. I went out with my dad, uncle, and brother. Before that, I’d spent time observing my dad and uncle. I didn’t carry a gun and just watched and learned. Because of this, I knew where to be and what to do when I finally did start hunting, and my first time out I managed to get a couple of kills.

The main difference between hunting with someone and observing is that you’re well-equipped and actively participating. This distinction might not seem all that different, but you’d be surprised how much different you feel. Hunting with others facilitates learning by doing, and you can learn some of your best lessons out in a field with someone who has more experience than you.

Before you head out on your hunt with a seasoned veteran, discuss strategy at least a little. It doesn’t need to be a big planning session. Just have a short conversation with your hunting partner or partners. If you have any questions, ask them before you get out there.

While you’re on the hunt, don’t be shy about asking questions. Your first time hunting will be a learning process, and it should be treated as such. After the hunt is over—successful or not—consider going on a few more with a veteran. The more practice you get with a seasoned pro, the more likely you are to stay safe and experience success when you’re on your own.

What do you think is the best way to hone your hunting skills? Leave a comment below!


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