I spend most of my spare time in the field hunting. I learned to love hunting and the outdoors because my father and grandfather introduced it to me at a very early age.
As Americans and sportsmen, we need to think about introducing more people to the sport of hunting, to help preserve our 2nd Amendment right, number one, and to endear to our youth the love of hunting.
Since ten years old, I dreamed of being a hunting guide, flying in and out the wilderness in a DeHavilland Beaver. I thought surely all young men had the same dream as me, and possibly some young women, but many had never been introduced to the real joy of hunting. I have enjoyed watching my daughters and my wife begin to grasp this joy and excitement. I continue to learn new ways to keep and increase their interest in hunting.
New hunters must feel competent shooting as well as comfortable and confident in the field. First and foremost, safe firearm handling must be taught and practiced at all times. The very young can be taught about gun safety and most states require a hunter’s safety course for a hunting license, but gun safety must be taught and practiced any time a firearm is being handled. At work, our craftsmen are required to complete a safe work checklist before they ever start a job. The same should occur anytime a person is carrying or handling a firearm, so my top four safety rules include: One, treat all weapons as if they are loaded and cocked. Two, never allow the muzzle to cover anything you are not willing to kill or destroy. Number three, keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are aligned on the target. And four, always know what is behind your target. These are very basic safety rules, but I go over them anytime I am handling firearms. Many good articles and books have been written on gun safety, and I will not expound on that subject for this article.
A new hunter must practice shooting -- the more the better. Brand new shooters should begin with small calibers. They are quieter (don’t ever forget hearing protection) and they have less recoil, making them less taxing on the nerves. I started my young girls with a .22 rifle and pistol. As their confidence increases, I start working towards the caliber I expect them to hunt with. For example, my daughters and wife use a .243 for deer hunting, and before they begin practicing with the .243 they have already become proficient with a .22 long rifle and the .223. I patiently watch their skills progress over a period of time, which will be different for each new hunter. I let them help me sight the rifles in, while I teach them about their scope. I always draw pictures on a tablet of paper showing how to line their target with the scope’s reticule. Never expect a new hunter to know what you are talking about. Draw a picture for them. A new hunter should have enough practice shooting until they are proficient and they exhibit all the safety skills needed to hunt in the field.
The next step is a hunting license for the state you are hunting, and of course, the tag for the game. Some tags must be applied for well in advance of the hunting season, so beware, most hunting trips should be planned for a year or more. The excitement of planning the hunt is almost as much fun as the hunt itself! Always study the hunting regulations for the state you are hunting. Some states have special requirements and seasons for youth hunting (generally from 12 to 17 years of age). Many states offer discounts for youth hunting as well as other incentives, so do your homework. All states have different requirements for tagging your downed game. Make sure you and your new hunter knows the laws. Receiving a ticket for a violation of the law would not be a good start for the young hunter.
Correct clothing should be addressed. New hunters may have no experience outdoors in the cold. Teach a new hunter about layering their clothing and always being prepared for wet weather. There are many new high tech fabrics out there. I have tried some and my daughters like some of them, but I still prefer wool. It is heavy, but still warm even when wet. A good rain suit, wool, and silk underwear, will ward off even the worst of storms. Two pairs of gloves are important, with one of them being heavily insulated. The same is true for a cap and ear covering, one for the extreme cold and another for wearing when the temperature rises some. But keep in mind, clothing is a personal preference, it must fit well and be comfortable.
Good foot gear is equally important. Boots must be fitted properly and broken in before hunting. Take into account the type of terrain you are hunting for the type of hunting boot your new hunter will need. If you are hunting in the snow, you must have good insulation as well. My daughters like to layer their socks as well. They prefer a sock liner much like Under Armour and then good padded wool socks. Do not scrimp on socks or boots; blisters will ruin a hunt. Keep in mind that friction causes blisters, so their socks and boots must fit perfectly. Make sure they wear them several times before hunting. In fact, make sure they wear their boots and hunting clothes on a few short hiking trips to assure comfort.
With my younger girls, there were things I did not give much thought to until I got them in the field. Like how to tell them to use the restroom while wearing enough clothes to make them look like a miniature Michelin man. Boys can have the same problem. So, think ahead. Make sure your young hunter knows how to use the restroom outside. A few discussions beforehand could save both embarrassment and time.
Now, we have the correct hunting license, the correct clothing and footgear for the season, and a tag for the game. Let’s dive deeper into the weapons and shooting. Make sure the weapon fits the shooter. The stock needs to be the correct length, and then the barrel needs to be the correct length to cause the weapon to balance easily. It should come to the shoulder quickly, and the sights or scope should align with the shooter’s eye. Too long of a butt stock seems to be the main culprit here. Verify that when they have their hunting clothes on that it still fits, as well as in all the different shooting positions. Make sure the safety can be operated quickly as well as positively, even with gloves on. Make sure the trigger is adjusted to break cleanly, and without too much weight, say at about 3˝ to 4 pounds. This will need to be looked at for each shooter, because some may need it a little heavier. If it is crisp, without any creep, most people seem to do OK at the start. It can be adjusted as needed as when the new hunter becomes more proficient. Show them how to correctly grip the rifle, being firm and holding snugly against the shoulder, but not so tightly that they begin to shake.
The new hunter needs to be able to make clean shots on game under field conditions. We need to teach new hunters that as sportsmen, we owe the game animal a clean, swift demise. I have encountered many hunters who only practice shooting from the bench rest at the local range, but we need to test ourselves in field positions. If the hunter is going to be in a stand, which has a rest they can steady their weapon on, shooting from the bench may be OK. We need to be able to deliver a first round hit to the vitals on the game animal at an unverified distance from a field position set forth by the terrain. We need to have them shoot several groups from the different positions. This will need to be done over several trips to the range. Many times, too much shooting at any single time causes a new shooter to develop a flinch. By breaking the shooting up into several sessions and keeping it enjoyable, the new shooter’s enthusiasm will stay high.