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Beginner's Guide

A Step-by-Step Guide for the First-Time Hunter & Shooters

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Welcome to Boyds Hardwood Gunstocks and thank you for visiting our online hunting tutorial! 

Hunting is a popular outdoor activity, with millions of new sportsmen joining its ranks every year. Some people hunt for sustenance, while others pursue game for sport. Either way, many aspiring hunters sometimes find it difficult to break into the pastime, especially if there’s no one to point them in the right direction.

Everyone on the Boyds team believes in giving new hunters a fair shot. With that in mind, we crafted the following compilation of tips and advice for novice outdoorsmen or those otherwise new to the sport. Want to know how to get a hunting license? It’s here. Curious about selecting the right firearm? We got you covered. A bit confused about hunting seasons and where to find a good guide? No problem.

Again, thank you for visiting our site. Feel free to kick back and browse for a while. Or, if you’re pressed for time, go ahead and download our informative PDF for convenient reading on the go. Regardless of your path, we’re confident our guide will prove both entertaining and informative along the way.

Have fun and safe hunting!


The Boyds Team



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Start with a Hunter Safety Course


Laptop on desk with pad of paper and pen and coffee for person taking a hunter safety course


It might sound like an overused phrase, or even a bit cliché, but “safety first” is an important expression within the hunting community. Millions of properly licensed hunters safely conduct hunts across all parts of the country every year. Unfortunately, accidents do happen and not just to novice or unlicensed hunters. The good news is that virtually all hunting accidents are preventable. With just a small investment of time and effort, even the most inexperienced of hunters can reap the benefits of proper safety training.


The most fundamental aspect of a hunter’s education concerns safety basics involving the appropriate handling of firearms. Whether simply performing routine maintenance, target shooting, or stalking prey, any hunter worth their salt knows that safety is always of paramount concern. Specific guidelines vary firearm-by-firearm and season-by-season, so it’s always a good idea to consult with an experienced professional prior to handling an unfamiliar type of firearm or bow—safely shooting a compound bow, for instance, is a little different than firing a high-powered hunting rifle. There are, however, four commonly accepted safety rules that apply to most if not all types of modern projectile firearms.



Father and son hunters in blaze orange walking on dirt road



The 4 Pillars of Firearms Safety


1. Never point your firearm at anything you do not intend to shoot. This goes for any type of firearm under any conditions, regardless of circumstances. Even if you’re certain that your firearm is not loaded, never point it in an unsafe direction; doing so promotes good firearms etiquette and firearms safety.

Silhouette duck hunter at dusk aiming shotgun at ducks flying overhead


2. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded. This is probably one of the most overlooked safety rules and, unfortunately, the root cause of many firearms-related accidents. Novice and experienced hunters alike are guilty of violating this rule, which sometimes results in the negligent discharge of a firearm. This can prove especially deadly if said firearm is pointed in an unsafe direction, such as at a fellow hunter.


Hunter loading a magazine clip into a scoped hunting rifle


3. Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you intend to fire. Tracking wild animals over uneven ground is demanding work and it’s not uncommon to trip or stumble when on the hunt. It’s therefore tremendously important to keep one’s finger off their trigger until absolutely prepared to take a clear shot at the intended target.


Hand holding shotgun with finger on the trigger

4. Keep your firearm on safe until you intend to fire. While not all firearms feature mechanical safety mechanisms, most modern rifles and pistols incorporate features that prevent accidental firing. These devices usually consist of levers or pins that interrupt the firing action of the firearm. Put simply, if your firearm has a safety, use it. That said, safeties are not foolproof, nor should they be an excuse to ignore the other three rules listed above.


Trigger mechanism on rifle shows safety


Safety Education Options


With the four fundamental safety rules out of the way, is it time to race off to your first hunt? Well, the answer to that question depends on many factors, including everything from personal experience to state and local laws. Learning safety procedures while actively hunting is certainly an option, provided you have access to an experienced guide or hunting buddy that’s willing to show you the ropes. Most novices, however, would be better served by pursuing some form of formalized hunter safety classes. Most states recognize the benefits of sound instruction and incorporate safety training into the licensure process. In other words, attending a hunter safety course is normally a mandatory requirement to legally hunt in most parts of the United States.


While trying to meet all these new safety and licensing requirements might seem a bit intimidating at first, don’t fret. There’s been no better time in history for novices to start hunting than today. There are multiple resources that can help you along the right path. Not sure where to find an approved hunter education course? Check out our blog on Hunter Safety Courses by State.


Hunter in camo walking to woods with shotgun


Understanding fundamental hunting safety is only the first step of your journey. Next is seeking out, understanding, and observing all the laws of the land. With few exceptions, all 50 states require hunters to obtain some form of licensing and permits, prior to harvesting wild game.

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Get the Hunting License and Permit You Need


Hunting License and Permit

Novice hunters might be surprised to discover that harvesting prey is a highly regulated activity, and one overseen by a variety of agencies for good reasons. Requiring hunters to obtain hunting licenses safeguards public safety, while the issuing of permits regulates and conserves valuable natural resources (the “supply” and “demand” of hunting). What follows is a brief introduction to the general credentialing process required to hunt in nearly every corner of the United States.


Hunting Licenses


A hunting license is the minimum certification, required by law, to harvest wild animals across all 50 states. Hunting licenses and regulations are mostly handled and enforced at the state level, although a few federal and local entities play a part in monitoring hunters as well. A federal certification is required, for example, to hunt migratory birds, while seasonal hunting restrictions are often enforced at the county level. Government agencies, such as wildlife and conservation departments, are usually responsible for safety training, the issuing of hunting licenses, and the policing of hunters. Point of sales transactions and the actual purchasing of licenses, however, are handled by authorized vendors. More information on how to get a hunting license is provided below.


Hunting License tag


Hunting Permits


Hunting permits, unlike hunting licenses, are optional certifications required when hunting certain game during specific seasons. So, while licenses confer upon the hunter the basic privilege of harvesting game, permits address exactly when, where, and how the hunter can go about their business. National and state forests stamps (regional permits), for instance, are needed to hunt within the confines of protected woodlands. A few states also refer to permits as licenses, which sometimes makes obtaining permits a bit confusing. One example is the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which requires certified hunters to obtain additional archery licenses (firearm permits) to hunt game with bows or crossbows. More information on how to get a hunting permit is provided below.

Hunting Tags


Hunting tags are specific types of permits used to limit the type and amount of game harvested during each hunting season. Some tags are attached to permit cards (like a license), while others are literally individual labels that must be affixed to the harvested prey. In Virginia, for example, five deer tags are attached to a standard deer hunting license. The tags are a permanent part of the license and must be notched at the time of the kill. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, on the other hand, requires hunters to document information on both harvest and transportation tags, with the latter needing to be physically attached to the kill.


Tags are usually obtained for a nominal fee and, while they might at first seem a bit confusing, are a necessary feature of hunting and wildlife conservation efforts. Unregulated hunting has, in the past, led to the depletion of local game and the near-extinction of certain species of animals. It’s primarily for this reason that nearly every state requires hunters to tag and report their harvests.


Where to Buy Hunting Licenses, Tags, and Other Permit


With the ins and outs of licensure and permitting addressed, the next big hurdle for most novice hunters is figuring out where to buy a hunting license, specific permit, or tags. As mentioned above, federal, state, and local authorities are responsible for administering licenses and enforcing laws, but often leave the actual point of sales transactions up to certified merchants or other approved entities. Vendors can include businesses such as sporting good stores, gun shops, and (in a few states) the local department of motor vehicles.


Man on laptop with credit card making a transaction


In addition to paying for credentials in person, most states offer options for purchasing a hunting license online. Many different types of permits can also be obtained by visiting state websites. Keep in mind, however, that the various agencies issuing these credentials typically require hunters to establish an online account, render proof of safety training, and occasionally provide other certifications. South Dakota’s Department of Game, Fish, and Parks, for example, allows online users to purchase hunting and fishing licenses, buy accessibility permits, and research draw statistics (historical records detailing the issuing of specific tags and permits during past hunting seasons). Online registration, however, requires prospective hunters to submit proof of state residency, such as a driver’s license, state identification card, of hunter safety identification number.


Several states offer nonresident hunters the option of purchasing an out of state hunting license, albeit usually at increased cost. Out of state hunters place a greater demand on limited local resources that, in the view of many state agencies, justifies a price hike for licenses, permits, and tags. Some hunters routinely harvest game out of state, while others might make a huge investment to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime hunt.


You can always learn more about how to get a hunting license and permit by reading our corresponding blog. With all that out of the way, however, the next step is selecting the right firearm and ammunition for your hunt. There are literally thousands of options available and the choices can be daunting, especially for novice hunters who might be confounded by the sheer number of decisions. Those seeking clarification should find out more by reading about how to choose the right firearm.

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Choose the Right Firearm


Assortment of hunting rifles stood up on end in a row


Types of Hunting Firearms



Modern hunters employ a wide variety of firearms across all parts of the country. Some specialists and enthusiasts prefer to use antiquated firearms, such as spears, but most of America’s mainstream hunters tend to opt for conventional options, such as bows and guns. Regardless of preference, today’s hunters are taking part in a tradition dating back thousands of years.


Camouflage crossbow


Modern archery firearms are available in two forms: bows and crossbows. Traditional bows require the hunter to “knock” (load) and “loose” (fire) an arrow at their prey. Bows come in a few different varieties, such as the traditional recurve bow or the more sophisticated compound bow. Crossbows, on the other hand, are held like rifles, fired with a trigger, and mounted on stocks that shoot projectiles called bolts.


Firearms are the most popular method used to fall game today. They are incredibly varied, with size, power, weight, and range differing per individual application. Hunting firearms are generally divided between the two broad categories of long guns and handguns (pistols). Long guns are usually fired from the shoulder and require the use of two hands, while pistols may be fired single-handed. Long guns are generally more powerful and accurate than handguns, which are primarily used as sidearms (although some people opt to hunt exclusively with pistols).





Generally speaking, handgun hunting is less popular than long gun hunting, with most hunters using handguns as back-up firearms for safety and security purposes. It’s much easier for a surprised hunter to draw and fire a pistol than a bulky rifle if forced to ward off an aggressive predator. The three varieties of modern pistols are revolvers, autoloaders, and muzzleloaders.


Ruger Redhawk Revolver Model 5004



Revolvers typically hold six bullets in a rotating cylinder that aligns with the firing mechanism as the firearm is cocked or discharged, including everything from old school “six-shooters” to double-action magnums.



Springfield Armory 1911 Mil-Spec Model

Springfield Armory 1911


Autoloaders are semi-automatic pistols that feed ammunition from an ejectable magazine with each subsequent pull of the trigger. Many soldiers and police officers usually carry autoloading pistols while on duty.



Optima V2 Muzzleloader Pistol

Optima V2 Muzzleloader


Muzzleloaders were the earliest types of handguns and are a favorite among pistol-hunting enthusiasts.  These firearms are loaded by ramming and packing projectiles and gunpowder down the very front of the barrel.


Long Guns



The three broad categories of long guns include shotguns, rifles, and muzzleloaders. Each are used for differing reasons, at varying times of the year, to pursue many types of game.



Winchester SX4 Field Shotgun

Winchester SX4 Shotgun


Shotguns are smoothbore firearms (so called because their barrels lack any sort of internal grooves or rifling) that fire a spray of small pellets called shot. The ability to project a wide cone of fire makes shotguns ideal for taking down flying or fast-moving targets, such as game birds or rabbits.


Mauser M98 Magnum Rifle

Mauser M98 Rifle

Rifles only fire a single projectile, instead of a cone of shot, but feature internally-grooved (rifled) barrels that cause their bullets to spin in flight. Rifling ultimately provides superior range and accuracy, making these firearms the top choice for  most hunters.



Thompson Center 5800 Pro Hunter FX WS Muzzleloader Rifle

Thompson Center Pro Hunter FX Muzzleloader

Muzzleloaders are the oldest type of long gun and, like their handgun counterparts, are loaded with gunpowder and projectiles from the very front of the barrel. Muzzleloaders are available in both smoothbore and rifled versions. These firearms are popular among skilled enthusiasts seeking a challenge.


More about Shotguns and Hunting Rifles



Man discharging shotgun shells from firearm after shots


Shotguns and rifles are the most common types of firearms used by today’s hunter. Besides major differences in ammunition used, shotguns and rifles are distinguishable from one another based upon their action (method of operation), the inner diameter of their barrels (referred to as gauge, bore, or caliber), and the type of ammunition they fire (shells for shotguns and cartridges for rifles).


Bolt action rifle bullet loading and firing



The key difference between actions is the mechanical method in which the ammunition is introduced to the firing chamber of the firearm. Break-action shotguns come in single or double-barreled varieties but require the shooter to manually load shells with each shot expended. Pump-action shotguns chamber shells, from an integral magazine, with each pump or stroke of an articulated forend. Semi-automatic shotguns, on the other hand, automatically chamber subsequent shells with each shot fired.


Barring a few exceptions, today’s most common types of shotguns are pump, semi-automatic, and break-action firearms. Popular hunting rifles primarily consist of bolt and lever-action firearms, although some hunters use pump, semi-automatic, and break-action rifles as well. Except for semi-automatic and a few break-action firearms, all these firearms discharge a single mass of shot or bullet with each pull of the trigger.


Pump, and break-action rifles are exceedingly rare but principally operate the same as their shotgun counterparts. Semi-automatic rifles are a bit more common and are capable of accommodating many needs. Most rifle hunters, however, prefer single-shot, bolt-action firearms that come in variety of powerful calibers. Lever-action rifles are popular as well and chamber rounds using a lever mounted to the bottom of the firing mechanism (receiver).


Bores, Gauges, and Calibers



Assortment of a variety of caliber bullets and gauge shotgun shells


Another important feature of firearms is the relative size of their barrels. Diameter and length are both of critical importance in selecting the right firearm for your hunt. Bigger bores, or larger inner-diameters, generally translate to greater power. Length impacts range and accuracy, with longer barrels usually improving both.


The bore of a shotgun is referred to as its gauge, while the bore of a rifle is referred to as its caliber. Gauge is calculated relative to the spherical size or mass of shot that is discharged from a shotgun barrel. Today’s most popular gauges (from smallest to largest) include .410 (“four-ten-gauge”), 28ga, 20ga, 12ga, and 10ga. Gauge are inversely labeled, with physically larger bores represented by decreasingly smaller numbers (a 12ga shotgun, for example, fires a larger mass of shot than a 28ga).


Rifle calibers come in a variety of sizes but are labeled a bit more conventionally. Calibers are expressed in either standard and metric measurements, with both referring to the inner-diameter of barrels. A typical thirty-caliber rifle, for example, is built around a barrel with an inner-diameters of .30 inch, while a 7mm rifle has an inner-barrel diameter of seven millimeters. Larger calibers are typically used for larger game. A .22 rifle, for instance, would be great for taking care of vermin or pests but completely underpowered and inappropriate if, for example, hunting elk or moose.


Rifles and Ammunition



Assortment of various rifle cartridges


The identification and choosing of ammunition is unquestionably linked to firearm selection, with modern rifle ammunition being the most popular of choices. Ammunition is not interchangeable, meaning that the caliber of the cartridges loaded into a firearm must match its bore size. Bigger is not always better, with some smaller caliber bullets sometimes delivering a greater wallop than larger ammunition. Sound confusing? Read on.


The best place to start when discussing ammunition is the basic parts of a rifle cartridge. The four major components of a cartridge are the case, powder, primer, and projectile.


Most of today’s cases are made of brass and contain a measure of combustible powder or propellent. Black powder is loud, messy, and used in muzzleloaders. Smokeless powder, on the other hand, is used in most modern rifles and shotguns.


A primer is an ignition device located on the back of the case (centerfire and rimfire cartridges derive their names from the specific locations of their primers—located in the dead center or around the rear rim of the cartridges, respectfully).


At the opposite end of the cartridge is the projectile (or bullet). The action of pulling the trigger drops a hammer, which pushes a firing pin into the primer that ignites the propellent, which explodes and projects the bullet down the length of the barrel.


How a bullet Works



Bullets are typically made of lead—a soft but dense metal that “mushrooms” upon impact, transferring a great deal of kinetic energy to the intended target. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, which are designated by various acronyms and units of measure (FMJ stands for “Full Metal Jacket” for example). The jacketing, or covering, of bullets in a thin layer of durable metal increases ballistic performance and penetration. The mass of projectiles is expressed in grains, with 437.5 grains equaling one ounce.


Cartridges are measured by their diameter, or caliber, but other conventions are important as well. Length and manufacturer are sometimes used to denote key differences. The .303 British, for example, is roughly the same diameter as the 7.62×39mm Soviet but used in two very different firearms. Another common labeling practice is to include the year in which certain ammunition was invented or adopted for popular use. The .30-06 (“thirty-ought-six”) Springfield, for example, is a popular thirty-caliber hunting cartridge first introduced as service ammunition by the U.S. Army in 1906.


Bullet flying through ballistics gel



Stopping power and range are dictated by many performance variables, including projectile mass, muzzle velocity, and bullet trajectory. Even the most experienced hunters ceaselessly debate the merits of specific cartridges for certain applications. Most, however, find a favorite and tend to stick with it. Suggestions concerning the selection of popular rifle calibers are located near the end of this article.


Shotgun Ammunition



Shotgun cartridges


A standard shotgun cartridge houses pellets and packing material inside of self-contained plastic shell (sometimes called a hull) that’s attached to a brass casing with an integral primer. In addition to diameter, or gauge, shells are also measured in length, which corresponds to the length of the chamber of the shotgun from which they are fired (usually anywhere from 2 3/4” – 3 1/2”). Some specialized types of shotgun ammunition house solid projectiles, rather than pellets, for taking down larger game. Individual pellets are referred to as shot, while large projectiles are called slugs. Both come in a variety of types and sizes to satisfy different requirements.


Shot is primarily available in both lead and steel varieties, with the former facing dwindling use due to environmental concerns and waterfowl hunting regulations. A recent rise in many upland bird hunting regulations has further limited the use of lead shot. While it’s decidedly of lesser impact on the environment, steel is lighter than lead and thus retains less energy, resulting in decreased performance. Regardless, hunters must conform to local laws so be sure to consult yours prior to making a purchase.


Shotgun shell diagram showing interior components of three types of shells


Shot is measured by the spherical diameter of individual pellets, the weight of total pellets in an individual shell, and is separated into two general categories. Birdshot is small and intended for small game and birds. Buckshot, meanwhile, is meant for larger game, such as deer and elk. Like gauge measurements, shot numbers are inversely proportional to size.


Number 4 lead buckshot, for example, consist of .24" diameter pellets. Double-ought-buck (#00 shot), on the other hand consist of .33” diameter pellets. Since shells come in varying lengths and gauges, the number of individual pellets loaded into different hulls varies. A 1 oz. shotshell load of #9 shot, for example contains 585 pellets, while 1 oz. of larger #2 shot consists of only 87 pellets. Larger shells can accommodate greater loads, so a 2 1/4 oz. load will contain more pellets than a 1 1/2 oz. load of identical-sized shot.


Assortment of shotgun shells


Slugs fill a needed niche, when certain safety regulations or seasonal restrictions otherwise prohibit the use of long-range rifles. A bit less complicated than shot, they are offered in three different varieties:


Standard slugs are essentially large hunks of lead designed to be discharged from smoothbore shotguns. They are intended for taking medium-sized game at relatively short distances.


Rifled slugs are designed for use in standard, smoothbore shotguns but sport their own rifled grooves, essentially making them spin like bullets fired from a rifle. This helps in improving range and accuracy.


Saboted slugs consist of a specialized projectile, called a sabot (pronounced “say-bo”) that’s designed to be fired out of rifled shotguns. A recent development, saboted slugs (and the special shotguns that fire them) are comparatively expensive and therefore somewhat cost prohibitive. The additional expense translates to superior range and accuracy. Slug diameter generally corresponds to gauge size (a standard 12ga slug, for example, is about 3/4” in diameter).



Putting it All Together

Still not sure about what type of firearm is right for you? Not to worry. Experienced hunters expend a great deal of time and effort preparing for their hunts and countless pages of numerous outdoors periodicals are filled with opinions regarding the appropriate selection of firearms and equipment. All that said, the below guidelines, along with your new knowledge of firearms, should get you pointed in the right direction.


1. Rifles are great for taking down nearly any type of land animal but limited on when and where they can be used throughout the year. Smaller calibers are appropriate for small game, while larger calibers are generally more appropriate for larger game. Bolt-action rifles, with powerful scopes, are generally preferred for long-range shooting, whereas lever-action rifles are better suited for medium-range brush hunting. Presented below are three of the best hunting rifles offered today. The first two made Game and Fish Magazine’s list of most popular hunting rifles of 2017, while the third is a budget-friendly favorite.


Remington Model 700 American Wilderness Rifle


Remington Model 700 American Wilderness: A durable bolt-action rifle and seminal favorite available in .270 Win. (Winchester), .30-06, 7mm Rem. (Remington) Mag. (Magnum) or .300 Win. Mag.


Savage 11 111 DOA Hunter XP Rifle


Savage 11/111 DOA Hunter XP: A newer-model rifle ready to “shoot straight out of the box.” Includes a lot of great features, like a factory mounted scope, box magazine, and adjustable trigger pull. Available in a variety of calibers, from .243 to .338 Win. Mag.


Ruger American Rifle Standard


Ruger American Rifle Standard: A easy-on-the-pocketbook-rifle ideal for novice hunters or those new to shooting in general. Despite its low price tag, the Ruger still comes packed with a assortment of awesome extras, like an adjustable trigger pull, complementary magazine, and soft rubber (recoil reducing) buttpad. Ruger produces the American in a variety of calibers, ranging from .22-250 Rem. to .308 Win.


2. If hunting medium to large-size game, shotguns are generally preferred only as a matter of observing safety regulations or obeying local laws. Seasonal restrictions, for instance, sometimes limit when rifles can be used, leaving shorter range shotguns a viable alternative. Shotguns are ideal, however, for bird hunting and, in some cases, small game hunting. According to a recent Field & Stream article, some of 2017’s best shotguns included:


Mossberg International SA 28 All Purpose Field Shotgun


Mossberg International SA-28: This 28-gauge autoloader is a perfect example of why Mossberg has such an outstanding reputation for making great entry-level shotguns. From its light weight to low recoil, the SA-28 is an excellent choice for novice shotgunners interested in target or wing-shooting alike.


Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 Shotgun


Benelli Super Black Eagle 3: At three to four times the cost of the Mossberg SA-28, this 12-gauge Benelli is intended for serious waterfowl hunters only. Another autoloader, the Benelli received accolades in nearly every category and features a patented feeding mechanism that makes loading shells a snap.


Caesar Guerini Tempio Light


Caesar Guerini Tempio Light: The most expensive of the three shotguns presented here, the Tempio Light is a high-end, over-under, break-action shotgun built with the true collector in mind. It’s considered a fine-looking specialty firearm, ideal for upland bird hunting, and a prime example of how cosmetics are an important element of some shotgun designs.


3. A great deal of myths and untruths surround muzzleloader hunting but a few things do hold true. On the one hand, muzzleloaders can be a little more difficult to store and operate than modern hunting rifles. They rely upon black powder, a propellent particularly susceptible to condensation and moisture, which is unreliable when damp. On the other hand, they are generally accurate and powerful enough to takedown common game. Outdoor Life published a 2014 article that discusses the ups and downs of muzzleloaders in detail.



Final Thoughts


Regardless of the many options and opinions surrounding the proper selection of a hunting firearm, the ultimate choice largely comes down to preference. Some hunters prefer taking long-range shots at large game, while others are thrilled at the challenge of hunting fast-moving waterfowl. Many hunters enjoy tracking their prey across miles of wilderness, whereas an equal number prefer the stationary practice of baiting game and occupying a pre-staged blind. For more suggestions on selecting a great firearm, be sure to check out our blog about the top hunting rifles of 2018.


There’s a right and wrong firearm for each job; it’s up to the individual hunter to choose the best fit, while also observing the letter of the law. That said, even the best firearm is ineffective in untrained hands. It’s therefore important to spend some time handling and shooting the firearm in a safe and approved location. To learn more, it’s best to start with target shooting or possibly considering the services of a hunting guide.

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Start with Target Practice


Target practice bulls-eye sheet with bullet holes


Target shooting and target practice involves firing, shooting, or throwing firearms at inanimate targets for training, leisure, or sport. The activity dates to the dawn of prehistory, with ancient hunters hurling spears or shooting arrows at trees or other lifeless objects. Today, many hunters and enthusiasts engage in target shooting and target practice for a variety of reasons. Some enjoy the thrill of firing high-powered or antique firearms, while others simply enjoy the challenging sport of target shooting. Most hunters perform routine target practice to become better shots or verify their firearm sights, thereby increasing their chances of harvesting game while on a hunt.


Differences Between Target Practice and Target Shooting


While target practice and target shooting essentially involve the same features, there are some nuanced differences between the two activities. Target practice is generally what it sounds like, practice. Most everyone that handles firearms, from public servants to private citizens, routinely perform some sort of target practice. This can be something as simple as a bowhunter shooting arrows at a block target in his or her backyard, to dozens of patrons using firearms at a public or private range. Most people engage in target practice to become better shooters through valuable hands-on experience with their firearms.



Target shooting normally refers to the practice of shooting at targets for sport, competition, or certification. Shooting clubs, for example, sanction official rifle matches involving millions of competitors annually. Law enforcement officials, on the other hand, must usually meet minimum proficiency requirements to carry their service firearms in the line of duty. Target shooting can be informal, too, with a few buddies competing against one another simply for bragging rights. At the end of the day, the key differences between target practice and target shooting are rules and keeping score. Practice doesn’t require any sort of scorekeeping, while organized shoots are usually structured to promote competition and good sportsmanship.

Targets, Ranges, Firearms , and Ammunition



Targets are available in a variety of shape, sizes, and configurations. Selection and application depend on the individual shooter’s needs and are really a matter of preference. Most stationary rifle and pistol targets are printed on paper, attached to a frame, and feature images, such as bullseyes, silhouettes, or illustrations. Archery targets consist of objects that approximate the appearance of real game. Some deer targets, for example, look close to the real thing. Shotgunners can shoot at  

Ranges are varied and designed to meet the many needs of different shooters. Indoor ranges are mostly intended for pistol marksmen, but some cater to rifle shooters as well. They usually feature numerous stalls and lanes, for shooters to position themselves in, with a corresponding target positioned downrange. Outdoor ranges typically host a larger number of shooters, as they are usually able to accommodate a greater variety of firearms. Archery and shotgun ranges are normally located outside, for instance, and feature special accommodations for their patrons. Ranges can be either public or private, free or requiring a fee, and staffed with safety personnel or completely vacant during shooting hours.


In addition to your preferred firearm and ammo, many companies produce firearms and ammunition specifically for target practice and target shooting. While most novice hunters probably won’t be compelled to invest in a match-grade rifle, researching target loads and ammunition might be a good idea. Target ammo generally lacks the power and performance of sporting loads but is a cost-effective alternative for practicing at the range. Full loads and sporting loads are best used to sight and adjust firearms prior to a hunt.


Getting Started at the Range



A young girl with a gun for trap shooting and shooting glasses aiming at a target


The easiest way to locate a range in your local area is by conducting a quick internet search or consulting a trusty old phone book. It’s always a good idea to call or visit a range prior to showing up with your firearm in hand. A lot of ranges have firearm restrictions and safety regulations in place that can potentially limit a shooters’ options. Some ranges also require membership dues or onetime fees for using their facilities. Many also require first-time shooters to attend initial safety classes prior to taking their first shots downrange. Bottom line, a little research can go a long way in preventing headaches prior to heading out for a day of shooting.


Speaking of safety, be prepared to learn a whole new set of rules and terms prior to shooting on most target ranges, even if you’re already a licensed hunter. Staffed ranges normally require shooters to wear hearing and eye protection—a good idea even when it’s not required—and sometimes expect shooters to follow orders from range safety officers (RSOs). So, knowing the difference between a “hot” and “cold” range can be of vital importance (neither of which, coincidentally, have anything to do with temperature).


Shooters also practice their own etiquette, that covers everything from when to shoot, what to shoot with, and cleaning-up after one’s self. Most private ranges, for example, have age restrictions or don’t allow food and beverages in shooting lanes. Some feature staff that will clean up after shooters, while others expect individuals to police themselves. Want to know more? Feel free to visit our blog about how to get better at target shooting.


With some practice rounds under your belt, a few new friends made at the local range, and a properly-sighted firearm, the next step is to get out on your first hunt, right? Well, unless you’re fortunate enough to have a trusted hunting buddy, it’s going to prove difficult finding a good hunting location or tracking game. For these reasons, we suggest that novice hunters consider the use of a hunting guide.

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Consider Using a Hunting Guide


Three hunters and a dog


While we encourage novice hunters and those new to outdoors sports to do their homework, there’s truly no replacement for experience when it comes to tracking, bagging, and harvesting game. Some young hunters are fortunate enough to be introduced to the lifestyle by their parents or mentors. Others learn the skill later in life, perhaps from a close friend or trusted hunting buddy. For those not falling into either of these categories, a viable alternative is to hire a credible guide or participate in a guided hunt.


Outfitters vs. Hunting Guides



Two hunters cooking dinner over a campfire


First and foremost, it’s worth noting that outfitted hunts and guided hunts are not the same thing, nor do outfitters and guides offer the same services. Outfitters are typically used by experienced hunters, who require nothing more than a drop camp, a means of reaching their hunting location, and a reliable way to get back to civilization. Most outfitters usually only deal with groups of hunters interested in tracking exotic or large game, such as a trip to the Rockies to hunt elk.


Hunting guides, on the other hand, provide their clients with a greater variety of services. In addition to all the above amenities usually provided by a reputable outfitter, guided hunts include such conveniences as cooking staff, stocked tents, campsite assistance, and game-cleaning services. For these reasons, success rates are generally higher on guided hunts, especially for novice hunters who can take advantage of the help and mentorship.


When comparing the two services side by side, it’s fair to say that outfitted tours are a better fit for seasoned hunters, while guided hunts are ideal for novices or those completely unfamiliar with a new location or type of game. Please bear in mind that these are generalizations, however, and some novice hunters might be perfectly fine participating in an outfitted hunt (especially if in the company of some experienced friends).


Establish a Hunting-Trip Budget



Top view of notepad with word Budget, mobile phone, cup of coffee, pouch on wooden background


All the great services provided on a guided hunt don’t come without a price, so it’s best to establish a budget prior to committing to anything. Costs can vary greatly, across a wide range of guided hunts, based upon a variety of factors. Some guides offer group discounts, for instance, while guides that operate in particularly remote areas of the country might charge a premium for their services. Support staff and supplies all cost money, which is passed on to the client.


Another factor to consider is your ultimate destination. If you’re fortunate enough to live next to a great hunting area, you might only be out the cost of a tank of gas. If traveling cross-country, or possibly internationally, airfare will obviously be a concern. Upon arriving, will you immediately proceed in the wilderness or spend a night in a nearby hotel and lodge? Some guided hunts offer transportation and lodging options as package features, but it’s always best to research your options.


Invite Friends to the Hunt



Friends standing together in front of dramatic sky on an overcast day during hunting season embracing each other


With the exorbitant cost of some more remote or exotic guided hunts, you may want to consider inviting along a group of friends. First-time hunters would do well to join up with a group of more experienced outdoorsmen, who can provide some useful advice and companionship along the way. Meeting hunters has never been easier than in today’s world, where numerous online sites and agencies are dedicated to bringing enthusiasts together from across the nation. Alternatively, you could always go the old-fashioned route and ask around at work, a local sporting goods store, or your local shooting range.


Perform Research on Guides or Outfitters



After figuring out how much you can spend, and if any of your potential partners can throw some money in the pot, it’s time to select a guide. If you live in a popular hunting area, word of mouth is a good place to start but always be sure to do independent research. The internet is a valuable tool, with common search engines providing a wealth of information. Many hunting sites and forums additionally provide links to some of the more popular guides in the country. Also, be sure to read online reviews, where available, especially those by established professionals within the industry.


Check Their References



Two hunters and a dog


Once you’ve narrowed your choice down to a handful of potential guides, try reaching out to former clients if available. Choosing an agency that family, friends, or coworkers used in the past is generally a safe bet. If using a more distant service, don’t be afraid to reach out to fellow hunters on social media. Just make sure you’re consulting with a reputable source and that the source understands your background. A seasoned hunter might find one guide helpful, for example, while a novice hunter might need additional guidance and assistance.


Understand There are No Guarantees



Bear lies on the shore of the lake


Some evidence supports the general idea that guided tours usually result in greater success than outfitted or drop camp tours. Keep in mind, however, that every hunter is different just as every experience is unique. In other words, don’t expect to bag that sought-after trophy just because you paid more for the trip. Good guides will advertise this harsh fact up-front but do their best to satisfy their clientele.


As previously stated, finding a decent adviser requires doing a little homework up front. Feel free to visit our blog for more details about hiring a guide or outfitter who will suit your specific needs. At the end of the day, however, the best way to improve your chances of success is through dedication, research, and hard work. Learn more by reading about knowing and practicing with your equipment.

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Know and Practice with Your Equipment


Deer hunter aiming rifle in woods


With all the choices of gear available to today’s modern hunter, getting outfitted for your first trip might initially seem a bit intimidating. Moreover, selecting accessories and equipment is only half the equation. Practicing with your gear is also critical, improving both individual safety and the likelihood of success on your next hunt. Presented below are a few tips and recommendations to get novice hunters on the right path when selecting and practicing with new equipment.


Hunting Boots and Gloves



Boots can literally make or break a hunting trip, with a poor choice in footwear resulting in all sorts of uncomfortable predicaments. Incorrect fitting boots, for example, can lead to nasty blisters. Incompatible styles may also cause misery, such as sporting cold weather boots in the summer or tromping through a swamp without waders.


Generally, lightweight and breathable boots are best for warm seasons, while insulated boots are great for the cold. Waterproof boots or waders are advisable if hunting in wetlands and tall, knee-high boots are great for fending off snakes.


Gloves, on the other hand, aren’t a necessity but certainly make life a lot easier in certain situations. First and foremost, they’re great at warming cold hands on winter days. Durable gloves are also great for preventing cuts and scratches that come along with stalking game through the woods.


Regardless of style or fit, it’s vitally important to break-in gloves and boots prior to going on a hunt. Some boots are super comfortable off the shelf, but most usually require a few miles of wear to avoid hot spots and blisters. Those unfamiliar with wearing gloves might additionally benefit with a bit of practice while wearing their new accessories. It’s better to find out, for example, that a brand-new pair of gloves makes cocking your shotgun impossible at home rather than in the middle of a hunt.


Hunting Packs




Packs, while optional, are usually a must-have on extended hunts. In addition to holding all that wonderful gear you’ll need during your trip, the additional space is great for storing food, water, and harvested game. Many of today’s packs sport tons of great features, such as lightweight frames and mesh pockets that make accessing gear a snap. Most commercial packs are made of durable nylon, which holds up well to wear and tear.


In addition to holding stuff, a pack can also double as a shooting rest, making long-range shots a bit easier on novice hunters. If this sounds interesting, consider purchasing a pack that advertises this feature and practice with it on a local range prior to your next hunt. Again, it’s better to work out all the kinks at home or on the range, instead of running into problems with an animal already in your sights.


Hunting Knives



A good knife is truly a hunter’s best friend and, beyond the obvious, are indispensable tools in the outdoors. Knives primarily come in two varieties: fixed and folded. Fixed blades are usually larger and of greater dependability, while folding knives offer flexibility. Many fixed blades are designed for specific tasks, such as skinning game. Other general-purpose hunting blades are great for a variety of tasks. Folding knives are more or less utility items, used for general purpose cutting and trimming.


Blades can also be serrated or smooth. Serrated blades act as saws and are good for cutting through tough material, while smooth blades are ideal for more delicate work. Some knives and multitools feature multiple blades, of both types, along with a host of other handy instruments, such as tweezers, screwdrivers, and hand saws. Regardless of your pick, get to know your knife, and any of its limitations, before taking it in the field.


Looking through a rifle scope at the cross-hairs focused on a group of forest trees


Hunting Scopes and Optics



Scopes and optics are an entire topic upon themselves, with experts debating the pros and cons of each across countless blogs and articles. Fundamentally speaking, however, the term scope refers to a dedicated sight usually mounted on top of a rifle. Scopes typically display a magnified image of a target through sights called crosshairs, thus making it possible to bag game at extreme distances. Sophisticated models can be made of military-grade alloys and are quite durable. Almost all modern scopes feature adjustable sights, which are used to compensate for windage and elevation.


Optics refers to a broader category of equipment that may or may not be mounted to a firearm. Binoculars, for example, are considered optics and used to scout out locations at distance. Some hunters, however, mount dedicated optics to their firearms, such as reticles and red dot sights.


Reticles essentially function like scopes, offering hunters improved sight picture and accuracy, albeit not at extreme distances. Red dot sights don’t offer magnification but do provide the shooter with a holographic image that makes aiming near foolproof.


Unlike scopes, some hunters mount reticles and red dot sights to firearms other than rifles, like shotguns. Bear in mind, however, that scopes and optics can get quite pricey so it’s worth your time to do a bit of research and practice beforehand.


Hunting Stands



Hunting stand in middle of woods


Stands are essentially trees or harnesses that allow hunters to prey upon game from an elevated position. Tree stands are the most popular and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Tree stand selection should be based upon the hunter’s height, weight, safety, and comfort. Some simply consist of straps, that a hunter can dangle from, while others are basically chairs mounted to a harness. Selection and practice are very important because the improper use of a stand could have potentially fatal results. Stands are incredibly popular with bow hunters, who value the advantages of a heightened perspective.


Hunting Blinds



Blinds, as the name suggest, are enclosures that conceal hunters from their prey. Blinds come in a seemingly endless variety of shapes and sizes. Portable one-person blinds can be comfortably carried and set-up in minutes, while larger semi-portable models accommodate more people at the cost of size and weight. Some hunters even opt for permanent stands that are built from traditional wood and nails. Blinds are also sport patterns that blend in with their surroundings, so be sure to purchase the correct blind for the right location and season.


Geared-Up and Good to Go!


Picking out the right gear, knowing your equipment, and practicing with it are all important factors to consider before departing on your first hunt. Be sure to visit our blog about the best hunting gear of 2018, for more ideas about purchasing the right equipment. Once that’s done, you’ll need to figure out what to wear. Learn more by reading about clothes that help, not hinder.

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Wear Clothing that Helps, Not Hinders


Woman in camo looking through binoculars


With all the choices on today’s hunting-apparel market, it’s easy for even the most experienced outdoorsperson to become overwhelmed. In all reality, however, there are only a few factors that are truly important when picking out the right hunting clothes. Appearance, comfort, durability and warmth head the list, with each covered in greater detail below.




Hunting clothing is available in a variety of colors and patterns, the selection of which is a matter of preference, location, and (in some cases) regulations.


Woman in camo standing and sitting with rifle in field


Camouflage, or the use of patterns and fabrics to purposely disguise one’s self from their prey, is probably the most identifiable “look” associated with hunting and outdoors activities today. Camouflage comes in a variety of patterns, which should be selected to match your hunting locale. Realtree is a recognized name within the industry and makes a product, called Xtra Camo, for example, which uses a patented 3D-pattern to help hunters blend in with their surrounding environment.


Personal preferences aside, location sometimes dictates the type of outwear a hunter must wear while stalking his or her prey. Wearing “busy” camouflage that would blend in well with dense forests down South, wouldn’t be great to wear if hunting somewhere on the rolling plains of the Midwest.


Hunter Orange, a color specifically designed to make hunters standout to one another, while remaining somewhat obscure to most game. Also called “Blaze Orange,” properly treated Hunter Orange outer garments appear dull to animals but stand out brightly to humans. Some states mandate the wear of Hunter Orange clothing, with specific details varying per locality.


Breathability and Insulation



Breathable water-resistant fabric



Two other factors to consider when selecting the proper clothing are breathability and insulation. Both have to do with heat and perspiration; breathable clothing helps keep hunters cool and dry, while insulation retains vital body heat. Breathability usually comes into play when considering the purchase of waterproof overgarments, such as jackets, boots, or waders. Insulation is a factor to consider alongside the layering of undergarments, like thermal undershirts and long underwear. In either case, it’s important to select clothing appropriate to your hunting environment.


Waterproofing and Moisture Wicking Properties



Hunter wading through swamp


If you hunt during a season that is consistently rainy or wet, waterproof clothing might prove invaluable. Waterfowl hunters that stalk duck or geese, for example, would be miserable without a good set of waterproof waders. Many hunters, from the swampy South to the rainy Northwest, also benefit from specially designed gloves, boots, and jackets to stay dry during wet times of the year.


Waterproofing comes at a price, however, in that the same properties that keep water out also have a nasty habit of keeping perspiration in. It’s therefore important to do your research when looking for waterproof garments. Spending a few extra dollars for properly vented clothing can make the difference between a miserable and enjoyable hunt. Some garments sport zippered or mesh vents to improve breathability, while others employ the use of special fabrics or breathable membranes to accomplish the task.


Moisture wicking properties are important for undergarments and clothing that will be in direct contact with your skin. Moisture wicking socks, for example, help to keep hunters’ feet dry during long treks through the woods. Many thermal undergarments are also designed to help wick moisture away from the body, thereby keeping hunters warm and dry while out in the woods.




Hunter crouched in white camo attire in winter


Layering is the practice of wearing multiple levels of clothing to conserve body heat. The practice also allows a hunter to better regulate his or her body temperature on the move. A hunter stalking Pronghorns in the arid Southwest, for example, might have to deal with cold, dark mornings and blazing hot afternoons all in the same day. While it might be a little more complicated than just throwing on your favorite old coat, it’s worth the time to layer your hunting apparel.


Mobility and Durability



Benefits rarely come without drawbacks, however, and layering is no exception to the rule. Wearing anything more than three layers of garments is generally impractical due to encumbrance and mobility considerations. Even if overall weight isn’t an issue, too many layers can make for a tough hunt. Wearing a thick t-shirt under a down jacket and insulated vest might keep you warm, for instance, but make it nearly impossible to properly aim a rifle.


Mobility and durability are especially important when looking to purchase gloves or boots, both of which take a lot of wear and tear on a regular basis. There’s certainly other factors to consider, such as support, comfort, and, warmth, but gloves and boots must be durable and able to hold-up to a variety of conditions. Gloves must also permit a certain level of mobility, else a hunter will always find him or herself needing to remove them to perform routine tasks.





A whitetail deer buck doing a lip curl during the rutting season smelling for a female doe


While the laundering of garments might almost seem like an afterthought, laundering your clothing is a critical part of the hunt. Looking great and feeling good are important, but nobody likes hunting in sweaty, dirty clothes and most game have an incredible sense of smell. Most experienced hunters will also tell you that the laundering of their gear is an important step in preparing for upcoming hunts. Special detergents and solutions, for example, are specifically formulated to mask human scent, thus allowing hunters to better sneak up on their prey.


Hunter in camo and blaze orange walking in forest with rifle on his back


In addition to all the details discussed above, there’s tons of other features to consider when purchasing the right clothing for you next hunt. Some manufactures produce scent control undergarments, for example, while others focus on noise-reducing apparel. The options, as you’ll soon discover, are virtually limitless.


For more great advice, be sure to check out our blog concerning clothing tips for hunters who want better results. The bottom line is to simply do your research or, better yet, talk to an experienced friend or guide. Preparation is truly key and, as any seasoned hunter will tell you, a little planning can go a long way in making for a satisfying hunt and being prepared for the unexpected.

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Prepare for the Unexpected


Very few things in life go as planned and hunting is no exception. Even the most seasoned outdoorsmen occasionally run into trouble, which is why it’s important to plan for the unexpected. No single article could possibly address every possible contingency or emergency that might arise during a hunting trip. The following are instead some general tips and guidelines to get novice hunters pointed in the right direction.


Weather and the Environment



Ask any experienced hunter or outdoorsperson what the number one challenge of spending extended time in the wilderness is and the response you’ll likely receive is weather. Some seasons and locales are generally mild and forgiving. Other locations, however, are subject to rapidly fluctuating weather patterns. Plains and deserts can be brutally hot in the afternoon, for example, but chillingly cold during the late evening and early morning hours. Summer thunderstorms can appear and vanish with alarming frequency, while unpredictable snow flurries are seasonally commonplace in some parts of the country.


The key to avoiding a potentially disastrous hunt is to simply know your environment. Checking the local weather forecast is a good start but doing some extra homework goes a long way. Consulting with local hunters, spending a bit of extra time online, or even heading to your local library can pay dividends down the road.


Scout Look Weather is a great example of an online resource that, in addition to extreme weather alerts, provides other environmental information important to hunters, such as rainfall, wind speed and direction, and sunrise and sunset times. Combined, these factors can help in selecting the best dress and supplies for an upcoming trip. Expecting rain? Pack and extra pair of socks. Going to be a cold night? Maybe it’s best to go with the insulated sleeping bag. Hunting during the long, hot summer? Best to bring some extra water and sunblock. You get the idea.


Finally, just have a general idea of your surroundings to avoid getting lost. In other words, consider your proximity to local landmarks, ranger stations, or major roads. Better yet, carry a map and compass; they’re both valuable tools in the right hands.


Dangerous Predators and Pests



North american grizzly bear growling


Many animals are generally harmless and, when spooked or confronted, flee from humans. Some larger mammals, however, can be hazardous if approached unexpectedly or stalked incorrectly. Think being attacked by a skittish deer sounds unbelievable? Consider the 2017 case of a Troy, New York man who was viciously stabbed by a burly 10-point buck in his own backyard! The victim luckily survived the assault, which was likely the result of his confronting the animal during rutting season, when many male mammals compete for mates.


Unpredictable prey aside, hunters must also consider the very real danger of natural predators. Wild boars have razor sharp tusks that can inflict life-threatening injuries, for instance, while the single swipe of a  massive grizzly bear’s paw can nearly cut a man in half. Some hunters make it a point to track these dangerous animals, while others accidently encounter them in the wilderness. Either case has the potential of developing into a life-threatening situation.


Insects and pests present their own dangers as well. Everything from venomous rattlesnakes, to poisonous spiders, and disease-carrying rodents are potential hazards. Lyme disease is a particularly devastating bacterial infection, primarily carried by ticks, that’s seen a rise in cases over the past several years. The illness is deceivingly deadly because its initial symptoms mimic the common flu.


The best way to avoid dangerous scrapes with animals and pests is, again, to do a little bit of homework prior to embarking on your hunt. Carrying a can of bear repellent or a trusty sidearm can avert a mauling, for example, while simply wearing the right boots can prevent a nasty snake bite. It’s easiest to avoid insect bites and stings by wearing appropriate clothing or using repellent. All of this, of course, varies by region so it’s best to consult with a local hunter.


General First Aid



Hunter packing first aid kit


First aid is a sizable topic and really can’t be done comprehensive justice within the confines of this article. That said, below are two general guidelines that will get you started along the right path.


First, bring a first aid kid on your next hunt. Even the most unskilled or untrained hunters can benefit from a fully stocked first aid kit, which typically contains a variety of bandages and antiseptics for everyday bumps, cuts, sprains, and bruises. Some companies even manufacture special first aid kits specifically made for hunters.


Second, consider getting qualified as a basic lifesaver. The American Red Cross, in addition to a few other national organizations, offers all sorts of certifications, including CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) classes and general first aid courses. Local institutions, such as community colleges and non-profit groups, usually offer similar options. Also note that some states even include first aid essentials as part of their mandatory hunter safety training.


Keep a Schedule and Communicate



If all else fails, make sure to keep a schedule and communicate with others before departing on a hunting trip. Informing family, close friends, or even the local game warden about where and when you plan to hunt can make the difference between life and death. Seasoned hunters refer to this as “hoping for the best while planning for the worst.” Put another way, it’s always comforting to know that someone has your back, especially if lost or injured.


Two hunters in field looking at smart phone


Planning and doing your homework are great ways to avoid problems down the road. Learn more by reading our blog about how to avoid hunting trip disasters. Keep in mind, however, that the best laid plans mean little if improperly implemented. Another important thing to consider, before departing on your hunt, is bringing along the right gear. Find out more by reading about what to pack on a hunting trip.

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What to Pack on a Hunting Trip


Hunters with heavy packs walking


Whether departing off on a once in a lifetime week-long dream hunt or simply spending a Saturday morning in your favorite blind, it’s important to pack the right stuff. The following is a brief list of what most hunters consider the basic tools of the trade.


Hunting Trip Necessities

Necessities are essentials that no hunter should ever be without, regardless of the time of year or duration of trip. Rations top the list and can be something as simple as a bag of jerky and a bottle of water. More elaborate provisions, include military-grade CamelBak hydration packs and MRE (meal ready to eat). Either way, plan accordingly as food and water as most definitely necessities.


Appropriate clothing is also a necessity. Selecting the right garments can be a bit challenging, but common sense goes a long way as well. Dress in layers if spending time in the chilly outdoors, for example. Wear something light and breathable if you’re going to be hunting in a sunny and hot location. Also consider bringing along some key accessories, such as a hat or gloves.


The last hunting essential is a good knife. While some might argue this point, the value of a dependable knife simply can’t be overstated. In addition to being helpful with important hunting tasks, such as cleaning game, a sharp knife is an indispensable tool. Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need an elaborate survival knife or monstrous hunting blade—a simple pocket knife will often do in a pinch.


Hunting Kits



Hunting gear on wood table


“Hunting kit” is a somewhat general term but basically refers to all the tools you’ll need to successfully conduct a hunt; the real nuts and bolts of a good pack-up. The top priority in this category is choosing the right firearm and ammunition, which can be anything from a bow and quiver of errors, to a 12-gauge shotgun and some extra shells. Bear in mind that seasonal regulations often dictate the type of firearms and ammunition that hunters use throughout the year.


With the right firearm in hand, the next thing to remember is your license, including optional tags or permits as needed. Not sure where to start? Do a bit of research about getting the correct hunting license and permits for your season and locality.


Next is a good first aid kit. If you plan on going off into the woods with a loaded firearm in pursuit of potentially dangerous game, it’s always a good idea to plan for the unexpected. Even the most seasoned hunter can take a nasty fall or scrape a knee from time to time.


Navigation aids are also an important part of the hunting kit. After all, what good is it to go out on a hunt if you can’t get back to where you started? Rudimentary items include a map and compass. Technology offers a host of different choices, from smartphones to handheld GPS (global positioning system).


Scoped view of deer in rifle cross hairs



Optics and range-finding devices can be of help to hunters and, depending on certain variables, optional or required pieces of equipment. Some modern hunting rifles, for example, are manufactured without traditional “iron” sights, meaning that shooters must use mounted scopes. Other equipment, such as binoculars, electronic rangefinders, and wind checkers can certainly facilitate a great hunt but aren’t necessarily required.


Decoys, calls, and bait, depending on hunting style and local regulations, can also be part of a hunting kit. Decoys are lifelike replicas of game animals used to attract prey. Waterfowl hunters will sometimes place fake ducks in the water to attract real ones, for example. Calls are devices that mimic animal noises. Deer hunters sometimes rub antlers together, for instance, while turkey hunters use a variety of special “shakers” and “strike boxes.”  Bait is primarily used to attract game with a keen sense of smell, such as wild hogs. Baiting is illegal under certain circumstances, however, so it’s best to review your local regulations.


Harvesting Gear



Assortment of wood handle hunting knives laying on table


Items in this category includes everything you’ll need to clean, harvest, and bag game. Most of the popular stuff includes paracord, game bags, specialized cutlery, sharpening stones, and tarps. Paracord, or 550-cord, is a lightweight but incredibly strong rope useful for binding heavy items. Game bags are special sacks used to store harvested animal bits, but also come in handy for other uses when on the go. Sharpening stones are useful for keeping those trusty knives in tiptop shape. Tarps, meanwhile, make for convenient working surfaces when cleaning game and are just handy to have around in the field.


All the Extras



There are thousands of other factors to consider when packing for a hunt, all of which unfortunately can’t be done justice in a single article. Nonetheless, here are a few other items to consider:


If planning to spend a night out in the wilderness make sure to pack some extra clothes, toilet paper, scent wipes, possibly a tent, and most likely a sleeping bag. There’s a whole gambit of accessories that go along with camping, so be sure to spend some time doing your homework. Since it’s going to get dark, also be sure to bring a dependable flashlight.


Chances are, you’re probably not walking out your front door straight to the hunting grounds. If so, lucky you! If not, be sure to make appropriate transportation arrangements. Topping-off the gas tank, checking spare tire pressure, and making sure that old jack still works are all good ideas.


Don’t forget the small stuff. Supplements, medication, repellent, and bug spray are a few things frequently overlooked on the way out the door. Also remember the orange flagging that might be a legal requirement in your state. For a more comprehensive list, please review our ultimate packing guide for your next hunting trip.


Packed and Ready to Go!


Group of eight hunters standing together against sunrise sky in rural field during hunting season


With everything packed, the truck loaded, and your destination set, are you ready to take-off on that long-awaited trip? Probably so, if you’re hunting solo. What about your hunting buddy or, even better, how about the kids? Taking children along on a hunt adds an entire new dimension to the trip. Learn more by reading about how to keep the kids happy during downtime.

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How to Take Kids Hunting


Young boy in camo taking aim with bow and arrow


Hunting, like many other sports, is a great way to spend time with kids. For some, it’s also a family tradition enjoyed by multiple generations of family members. This article is written with these thoughts in mind but primarily aimed at the novice hunter who might be considering taking a son, daughter, or special young person out on their first hunting trip.


A Word on Child Safety



Before heading out on your first trip with that great kid in your life, take a minute to reflect on safety. Keeping children entertained and engaged while on a hunt is undoubtedly important but certainly not at the expense of their physical and emotional well-being. Even if your child is merely observing the process, parents or guardians should provide them some fundamental instruction in firearm safety. A trip to the shooting range might be advisable, especially if a child is unfamiliar with firearms. Many states offer youth safety courses or junior hunter days, specifically geared towards mentoring children.


Protective equipment is another consideration. Hearing plugs come in youth sizes, for example, which are better at shielding young eardrums than the adult-sized versions. Many companies additionally manufacture special garments, such as rain gear and thermal underwear, specifically designed for kids. Finally, if you have any concerns about being physically separated from  your child while on the hunt, consider the use of a GPS tracker—several manufacturers currently offer a variety of products.


Keep Kids Happy During Downtime



Boy hunting with binoculars


With all the rudimentary safety issues addressed, the next thing to keep in mind when hunting with children is to keep the activity enjoyable. Also bear in mind that enjoyable is a subjective term, with various hunters and outdoorsmen enjoying their sport for different reasons. Some hunters enjoy tracking, while others prefer to spend an entire day in a tree stand. In either case, new hunters—especially young kids—might not be up to the task.


One of the best strategies to follow when hunting with novice children is to use a gradual approach. Starting with a public, junior hunter day, for example, might be a great place to start. Afterwards, consider spending a little more time in the woods, possibly working your way towards an ideal location or a personal benchmark.


A Little Patience Goes a Long Way



One would assume that hunters, by way of their sport, are patient people. As any parent will tell you, however, patience is a virtue—meaning that the tolerance it takes to wait out that elusive 10-point buck isn’t necessarily going to help with a frustrated and impatient child.


There’s tons of material available on how to be more patient with children and this article can’t possibly do them justice. That said, one of the biggest pieces of advice is for a parent or mentor to put themselves in the shoes of the kids their trying to teach. For some, this is easier said than done but almost always worth the effort.


Dealing with the Elements



Fog over the swamp at sunrise


Although it’s already been indirectly mentioned, discussing children, weather, and the elements requires a bit more emphasis. First, a kid that’s too hot or too cold is apt to be miserable and will most likely not enjoy your otherwise well-planned outing. Second, children are more susceptible to the ill-effects of harsh weather and exposure than adults, which presents a potentially serious safety issue if not taken earnestly.


Two weather factors to consider beyond the base temperature are wind chill and the heat index. Wind chill is an effective lowering of the surrounding air temperature caused by strong gusts. A brisk 40°F morning, for example, can feel like 28°F in unobstructed 30 mph wind. Heat index, on the other hand, is a means of expressing discomfort from heat and humidity combined. Thus, an already warm 84°F day can feel like 103°F at 100% relative humidity. In short, be sure to consider the harmful effects of weather prior to taking a child along on your next hunt; especially the more subtle factors, such as wind chill and relative humidity.


Effective Communication with Kids



Father and son hunting while son looks through binoculars


Adult coaches and adult relationship experts frequently talk about the importance of communication between adults. But communication is also key with kids! Ironically, one of the most often overlooked aspects of dealing with children is the not so subtle art of communication. Experienced mentors or parents will also be the first to tell you that communicating with a grade-schooler and talking with a teenager involve two completely different approaches.


Positive, two-way communication should start long before taking the first step on the trail. It’s your job, as an adult, role model, and experienced hunter, to set clear goals and expectations of what’s to come during the hunt. Noise discipline, firearms safety, harvesting, etc. should all be discussed in detail. It’s important to paint a clear picture of what to expect, while also allowing children to voice their own opinions and ask questions.


If All Else Fails



The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership released a 2017 article calling for outdoors enthusiasts to involve more kids in hunting due to an alarming decline in young people in the sport. While an admirable cause, please don’t feel the burden rests exclusively on your shoulders. There’s always a chance that your child might not appreciate the sport, especially on the first outing. Compromise is key in this area. If they’re too attached to their tablets then let them bring one along on the first outing. Cards or board games might also be a good way to pass the time during a stale hunt. Use your imagination to keep theirs busy!


Remember that the most exciting hunt will be one in which kids get to lay their eyes on wild game, regardless if they take home their first trophy. It’s up to the adult hunter, however, to increase the likelihood of such a chance meeting. That said, be sure to visit our blog for some more pro tips for taking kids hunting. To better the odds of a great first outing, on the other hand, read more about the importance of timing and knowing your game—chances are you’ll be thanked for it.

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Timing is Everything, Know Your Game


As is the case with many things in life, timing can truly be “everything” in hunting. Game animals are, by their very nature, wild creatures that don’t necessarily rise with the sun or maintain a regular schedule throughout the year. Hunters must also consider seasonal regulations and restrictions created and enforced by local authorities that are designed to conserve resources and ensure public safety. Finally, everyone has their own schedule, filled with obligations and commitments, that must be managed around time spent outdoors. In short, a little planning can go a long way in making for a successful hunt.


Game Habits and Characteristics



The first thing to consider prior to going on a hunt is your prey. In addition to peculiar sleep habits, most animals feed at regular times and in specific patterns. Some mammals, such as bears, even hibernate during various parts of the year, which means they won’t be available for harvest during certain seasons. Knowing a little about each of these factors can help in planning a trip and increase the likelihood of encountering game while on the hunt. A sampling of game animals, along with some of their important habits and quirks, is provided below.


Pronghorn antelope buck walking in grass field during antelope season


Antelope: One of the most elusive animals in North America; best time to hunt is late summer/early fall during “rutting” (mating) season; popular hunting locations are normally close to watering holes (especially in the arid Southwest).


Black bear walking in grass during bear season


Bear: A dual-season animal that’s primarily active in the spring and fall; preferred time to hunt is in the fall when they’re foraging for food prior to a long winter’s nap; busy all times of day but most active during low-light periods (dawn and dusk).


White-tailed deer buck in autumn fog


Deer: Not entirely nocturnal but most active at dawn and dusk; finely attuned sense of hearing and smell; like antelope, bucks rut during the fall.


Elk deer walking by forest during hunting season


Elk: Like deer, elk are primarily creatures of the night and most active at dusk and dawn; afternoon feeding times are the best opportunity to bag this game; larger and more elusive than deer.


Wild boar walking during boar season


Wild Boar: Available for year-round hunting in most parts of the U.S.; remain active and constantly on the move during winter months; unlike other game, some regions allow nighttime hunting of feral hogs.


Be Considerate of Other Hunters



One often overlooked consideration, especially by novice hunters or those new to the sport, is the presence of competing sportsmen. Deer, for example are particularly sensitive to predators (including human hunters) and will often relocate to safer areas to avoid danger.


Hunters, in dealing with competition, are usually left with two options. The first is avoidance. Getting out in the field during periods of relative inactivity, usually midweek or early in the morning, is a good way to beat crowds. The second option is to use the presence of other hunters to your advantage by allowing the competition to drive game to your location. As you might expect, the second option demands a bit more experience and familiarity with one’s surroundings. Novice deer hunters should therefore try to time their trips for early morning hunts. Keep in mind, however, that various animals observe different patterns, so hunting at dawn might not always be the preferred option.


Regulations that Affect Hunting Times



No hunting or trespassing sign posted by field


Hunting laws and regulations are an additional pair of concerns that every hunter must keep in mind when researching game. Timing can be critically important in several areas of the country, where some animals hibernate or are otherwise off-limits to hunters. This advice proves especially true when hunting in an unfamiliar location, such as traveling out of state. Imagine, for example, booking a once in a lifetime (and likely expensive) hunt only to discover that you traveled across the country to arrive on the last day of the season.


Another consideration is the specific time of the day or week that you’ll be outdoors. As mentioned above, competition is usually highest on the weekends, when most hunters aren’t otherwise tied-up at work. Hunters are a dedicated bunch, however, so it’s not unusual to bump into others midweek.


Most animals can only be hunted during daylight hours, while some are fair game at night; although this varies significantly per local laws. Poaching, or illegally hunting in restricted locations, at the wrong time of the year, or during the wrong time of day, is a crime and punishable by fines, license revocation, or even jail time. The best idea is to consult with a local game warden, guide, or trusted hunting buddy prior to heading out on a trip.


Woman hunter with a gun in the woods in Autumn hunting season


With all said and done, there’s still tons to discuss when it comes to timing and game. Learn more by checking out our blog about the best times to hunt deer, elk, and other game. Also be sure to read up on the different types of hunting seasons, the subject of our next article.

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Hunting Seasons


Seasons are an integral element of hunting and something that every new hunter must be familiar with before heading out on his or her first trip. As one might expect, most hunting seasons correspond to various times of year when different game animals are particularly active. Other seasons, however, are designed to maintain public safety or protect game populations through the enforcement of special rules and restrictions that vary state-by-state. With all that said, please keep in mind that the information presented below are general guidelines and no substitute for regional and state laws. Always be sure to consult with a local game warden or certified guide prior to embarking on your hunt.


Game Restrictions



Brown mother bear protecting her cubs


Hunting seasons are generally organized into two categories, based upon game pursued and firearms used, that might overlap with one another or outwardly have no relation whatsoever. If you’re new to the sport, these sometimes complex regulations might initially seem a bit overwhelming or confusing but, don’t worry, a little research can go a long way in figuring things out.


Various game, from deer to turkey to mountain lions, typically adhere to seasonal patterns throughout the year. Bear, for example, forage for food in the fall, hibernate most of the winter, mate in the spring, and are generally mobile and raising young throughout the summer. Most states therefore don’t allow hunters to harvest bear during the winter because, in all honesty, how sporting would it be to prey upon a sleeping bear?


Seasonal age and gender restrictions are put in place to protect animals who might be particularly vulnerable during certain parts of the year. Although specific motivations vary, most seasonal mandates are really a matter of conservation. Local deer populations could quickly be depleted, for example, if hunters were permitted to harvest both genders of game on a year-round basis. Hunting young animals, that lack fully-developed senses and defenses, is additionally frowned upon because it could adversely impact local populations and is generally considered unsporting.


Firearm Restrictions



Hunter notification sign posted in at city limits


The second category of seasons is based around firearms and their allowed use during different periods of the year. Game and conservation agencies create these laws for two reasons. First, firearm use can be a matter of public safety. Using a high-powered rifle—which can easily shoot the length of several football fields—near a populated area, for example, could be dangerous.


The second reason agencies typically restrict the use of certain firearms comes down to sport and conservation. In most states, hunting seasons occur in sequential order with the shortest-range seasons opening first (in order, these include bows, crossbows, muzzleloaders, shotguns, and rifles). This has the combined effect of not spooking most of the game population too early in the season, while also preventing the overharvesting of game. All this explains why you might hear some hunters refer to “black powder” or “shotgun season,” for example, rather than referencing a particular type of game animal.


While most seasons are static, meaning that they generally occur around the same annual timeframe, requirements and specific dates can change from year to year. Some regions, for instance, sometimes suffer from a dramatic rise in predator populations that can be offset by a temporary loosening of hunting restrictions. This occasionally occurs in parts of the United States where non-endangered species of pack predators, like certain wolves, deplete other game populations. As always, be sure to consult with local authorities on the matter.


Licenses, Tags, and Permits



Training and the issuing of credentials are the primary means of enforcing hunting laws. Licenses provide hunters the basic privilege of harvesting animals within a locality or state, while tags and permits dictate when, how, and specifically where hunters conduct themselves. Tags are sometimes affixed to harvested animals, which hunters must then report to local authorities; this ranges from physical checks at nearby stations to reporting kills online or via traditional mail. Licensing and permitting is an entire subject upon itself. Find out more by reading about getting the right hunting license and permit.


Federal, State, and Regional Regulations



Park ranger overlooking valley


It’s important to remember that seasonal regulations are created and enforced on variety of levels. Migratory bird laws require the issuing of federal permits, for instance, while certain state laws are sometimes trumped by local requirements. The privilege of hunting in protected areas, like state forests for example, often comes with some additional regulations. Basic hunter training, which is often a requirement of general licensing, fortunately covers many aspects of this complex system. Ultimately, U.S. hunting seasons vary by state, so be sure to check out our blog.


Just Bag Your First Trophy?


Hunter with killed pheasant in his hand


Hooray, you’ve just had your first successful hunt! You diligently did all your homework, spent time getting licensed, performed valuable safety training, outfitted yourself with the best equipment, and you finally managed to bag your first kill. For most hunters, the next step is harvesting prey. Read about bringing home your catch to find out more.

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Cleaning and Dressing Game


Mounted stag head and wolf pelt on wooden log cabin wall


Congratulations! You managed to bag your first kill. All that practice, patience, and hard work finally proved worth it. Once the adrenaline wears off, you’ll likely want to harvest your prize and take home some hard-earned meat. Butchers, unfortunately, don’t run shops in the middle of the wilderness, so chance are you’re going to have to field dress your prey. After that, you’ll have to skin or defeather the carcass and finally butcher the remaining meat.


Don’t be alarmed if all the above sounds overwhelming. Part art and part science, harvesting is a valuable and necessary skill in the overall hunting experience. What follows are a few tips, tricks, and advice to get novice hunters started with harvesting their own game.


Tools of the Trade



Deer Antlers Against Rustic Wooden Background


Before getting your hands dirty, it’s a good idea to have the right tools available. Selection and use boils down to preference and a little bit of research. Listed below are the basics needed to field dress, skin, and butcher common game, along with a few optional recommendations that make life easier down the road.


Field Kit: The field kit is the basic collection of tools needed to field dress an animal, in the outdoors, immediately after a kill. Field kit essentials include a sharp and dependable hunting knife (preferably with a gut hook), latex gloves, paper towels (or wet wipes), a small bone saw, and paracord. Recommended items include the addition of a tarp and game bags, which make for a cleaner and bit less messy experience.


Cooler: A medium or larger cooler, packed with some ice, is great to keep back at the truck or campground. Field-dressed birds and other small game can be put on ice, which cuts down on bacteria and reduces the likelihood of your meat spoiling. This may not be an option for larger game, however, such as deer and elk.


Garden Hose and Fresh Water: This is recommended for hunters bringing large game home for skinning and butchering. Washing out the interior of a field-dressed carcass decreases bacterial growth.


Gamble and Hitch Hoist: These items are recommended for hunters skinning and butchering their harvests at home (although mobile versions are available). The gamble and hoist are used to suspend large game animals, like deer, in an inverted, vertical position for processing. Manufactures design most of these rigs for home use, such as being mounted in a shed or garage, but also make mobile versions that attach to truck hitches or portable stands. Alternatively, some hunters forgo this piece of equipment all together, opting instead for a simple rope and tree limb. Keep in mind, however, that a good gamble and hitch hoist make skinning game much easier.


Field dressing knives


Skinning Knife: Unlike standard hunting knives, skinning knives usually consist of incredibly thin and sharp blades, which make separating hides from underlying connecting tissue a bit less tedious.


Sturdy Table: Preferably one large enough to accommodate your skinned game and of suitable height for you to bend over and butcher the carcass.


White Vinegar or Chlorine Bleach: Both are good for disinfecting the surface of your butchering table, although the latter kills more bacteria and will need to be diluted with water.


Storage Device: Unless you plan to immediately consume your freshly-butchered catch, you’ll need somewhere to put it. Common options include a standard refrigerator or freezer. Some hunters even prefer to dehydrate, vacuum seal, salt, or smoke their game meat.


The Science of Harvesting



Bacteria multiplying



When considering the more clinical aspects of harvesting game, a hunter’s most immediate concern is bacteria. Rapidly reproducing bacteria, either located inside a carcass or on the skin and hide of an animal are what lead to possible disease and infection. Most dangerous bacteria thrive in warm, dark environments. Thus, it’s important to clean and cool your catch as quickly as possible.  


The Art of Harvesting



Harvesting is truly an art; one which is easy to grasp but difficult to perfect. Overall, it consists of three steps: field dressing, skinning, and butchering.


Field dressing is essentially the removing of an animal’s internal organs to reduce carcass weight and the growth of harmful bacteria. Like skinning and butchering, hands-on experience helps in mastering the process, which varies depending on the size and type of game harvested. In the absence of a guide or experienced hunting buddy, YouTube and some specially produced DVDs are excellent resources for getting started with field dressing.


Skinning, as the name implies, is the removing of an animal’s hide after it’s been appropriately field dressed. While there are a variety of techniques available, the preferred method for medium and large game animals is suspending the carcass upside down. This helps keep the body cavity (and all its harvestable meat) clean during the skinning process. Skinning can be performed in the field but is much easier in a controlled environment.


Butchering is the last step in the harvesting process and involves the quartering of the carcass into edible portions. The process varies depending on the game butchered, with many details available both in print and online. Alternatively, some hunters outsource the job to local butchers, who sometimes specialize in processing game. For important details concerning cleaning and butchering game, please visit our beginner’s guide to field dressing.


Female hunter posing near downed deer


One final thing to consider is the frequently overlooked fact that hunting and harvesting are not mutually exclusive terms. Put another way, not all hunters harvest and not all harvesters hunt. Some feral or diseased species are unsafe to harvest, for example, while meat processors don’t necessarily need to bag their own game. In any event, there’s a variety of laws associated with each process. For the novice or average hunter, most of these regulations will overlap one another. Regional and exceptional requirements do exist, however, so be sure to consult with a trusted source before your next trip.


Good luck and good hunting!

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The Start of a Greater Journey


Two hunters and dog walking to forest across field at dawn


Congratulations, you made it to the end of the hunting tutorial! We sincerely hope you enjoyed reading our guide and garnered some valuable information along the way.


Steeped in rich tradition, hunting is one of the most challenging and rewarding pastimes in America today. Whether pursuing game for sport of sustenance, it provides a means to leave behind the hustle and bustle of everyday life, while reconnecting with our past.


While we’re positive you’re eager to start stocking that deep freezer with some tasty game, please bear in mind that hunting is truly about the journey and not the destination. As we’ve repeatedly stated, this guide is only a launching point into the much larger world of the sport. Ask any seasoned hunter and they’re apt to tell you they learn something new with each and every trip outdoors. In other words, this is only the start of a lifelong education in hunting.


Keep safe, keep learning, and keep hunting!


All the best,



The Boyds Team






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