Three easy steps for a beginner to master hunting

With the rise of popularity in archery as a sport, probably due to recent blockbusters such as The Hunger Games and Disney's Brave, hunting is sure to experience an influx of interest as well.  Hitting the bull's eye is only the first level of a sport as exciting as hunting.  As a beginner there is no greater rush than the first time you hit the exact place you were aiming at, whether it be the center of the bull's eye or a bottle cap sitting atop an old stump behind the barn.  Accuracy is a key element, but remember while you are practicing that you should always strive for precision.

Step one: Achieve precision with your weapon.  If you are hunting with a gun, bow or crossbow does not make any difference at all.  Each weapon holds its own advantages and disadvantages.  Think of a new weapon as a new challenge and or a different means to the same end.   The goal here is that you hit your mark within an acceptable range of accuracy.  To determine the acceptable range of accuracy is very easy in competition shooting or at practice, you can simply purchase targets that are measured out for you and know that all your shots landed within a 3" circle, or whatever size you choose.  However, when you are practicing for a hunt you need to consider the game you choose to pursue.  Each animal will have a unique size and shape of target based on the vital regions that will offer a humane and ethical kill.  For a large animal like a deer, your target could be as large as a paper plate. For small game, like rabbit, the target is smaller than the top of a can of coke.

If you are unable to consistantly shoot within an acceptable range of accuracy for an ethical kill of the game you intend to shoot, then practice until you can.  As hunters and sportsmen alike we should have enough respect for the sport and our natural resources to do so.


Step two: Scouting; PAY ATTENTION.  Scouting is the difference between hunting and going to the woods hoping to shoot something.  If you own your own land, scouting is likely a byproduct of your daily life.  While out for a walk or doing farm chores, you may see deer crossing a fence in a certain place or a particular corner of a field where you see turkeys.  However for those of us that do not enjoy the luxuries of owning our own land we need to visit the places we intend to hunt before we are actually hunting there.  There are many ways to do this, and equally many ways to make scouting as enjoyable as the hunt it's self.  Hunting public lands is tricky because it's often a place you have never been before plus, public lands are not always a nice and tidy square block of land with well define boundaries.  As a hunter, you are responsable for knowing where you are and where you are not allowed to hunt, the governing agency managing the land (National Forest Service or State parks and Wildlife) are a great resource for the basics of what you need to know before entering a property with intent to harvest.  Maps will give you the boundaries but mind the hunting regulations specific to public lands, as they often have added or different rules pertaining to hunting.  Some regulations may not allow you to harvest both sexes of the species you are hunting or have a different bag limit.  Lets focus on deer, if you can only harvest a buck then you need to scout for buck sign.  It's clear now how scouting is what sets a skilled hunter apart, just as the cheetah selects only one target from a heard of gazelle we can begin to select our desired target before ever catching sight of it.  A great way to pre-scout areas of public land that are very large or split into many smaller sections is to use Google Earth or maps to help determine natural funnels, food and water sources as these are great areas to focus your efforts.  

Now, with a particular target and a place selected to explore further, you need to go.  Get your feet on the ground and look for sign.  Deer sign is any evidence of deer activity.  Tracks, scat, rubs and scrapes are all great deer sign to look for. Tracks and scat may be difficult at first to determine how helpful it is, because does and bucks both produce tracks and scat. In contrast, rubs and scrapes are clear evidence of buck activity.  A rub is typically found on saplings and young trees, you will identify a rub by the bark being removed from a section of the tree.  Bucks create rubs by rubbing their antlers against the trees to remove the velvet that forms on the outside of their antlers while they are still growing.  Bucks shed and regrow their antlers annually.  A scrape is a great sign of buck activity because it is an indicator that a buck thought there was enough doe activity in the area to invest his time there.  Bucks create scrapes by pawing away the leaves, grass and debree from an area usually 1.5 to 2 feet across making a triangular shape.  Next, the buck will scent mark the scrape to let other bucks know he owns it, don't mess around here.  When a doe is ready to mate, she will identify that a buck is in the area. She will pee in the scrape so that when the buck comes back to check it he can pick up her trail and follow her scent. Scrapes are a favorite sign to hunt near because it nearly ensures you will have a lot of deer activity in the area.

After determining good sign, find the direction of the prevailing winds and pick a location to set up that the wind will be in your face. This will keep you down wind of the game, on most days.  If the rules of the land allow, you can place a stand ahead of time. This is a great advantage because you won't have the head ache of carrying extra gear when you go hunting. However most of the time you will not be able to do so.  An alternative may be a small ground blind or perhaps a lightweight climbing stand.  Pick a tree or spot that will provide a clear shooting lane to the areas you expect deer to be and make sure you are within range for your weapon as well as your comfort zone.  If you are bow hunting, make sure you are within the range you typically practice at.  A helpful idea is to take florescent ribbon to mark different yardage around the place you intend to hunt from.  Be sure to dispose of the ribbon at the end of the season or the last time you intend to hunt from that location. 


Step 3: Know what you want.  When you intend to harvest game be aware of your goal, if it's to experience the adrenaline of a kill, then you have the luxury of not being picky any deer will do.  Always respect the resource.  If you don't want the meat, there are lots of meat processors that will accept a whole deer and donate the meat to charity free of cost to you.  Have a plan in place before you have a deer on the ground.  If you want a trophy buck to hang on the wall you have much more of a challenge, but don't despair hunting is not easy, it's a game of patience and wit.  If you're able to get close, but not close enough to make a shot, find out why and make changes accordingly.  Talk to the people who have hunted the area before, find out what caliber buck is typical for the area and be realistic.  If the ten point buck isn't there, take the eight point buck when you see it.  This is a critical lesson to learn hunting on public land.  You will not have the farm raised artificially insimenated genetics to choose from on public land that makes watching hunting on tv appear to be 24-7 extreme rutty buck action.  In some locations if the deer are scarce, taking any deer may be a great trophy.  If this is the case, let the trophy rest on the skills you developed and the hard work that it took to be in the right place at the right time instead of a measuring tape.


These three simple steps have allowed me to experience more excitement from an already thrilling sport and take deer with pride in places that other hunters have long forgotten and given up on.  The key is to remember all the work before you see a deer is the what makes this sport great.  Enjoy the anticipation and happy hunting.