Introducing New Hunters to the Sport

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Getting my girlfriend her first big game animal over the weekend brought up the need to set everything up properly for a newby’s first successful hunt.  While I do not have children, I have been taking a new person or two under my wing about every year for the past four or five years and do have some opinions on how to do it right.  I don’t want to focus just on children, as I believe inexperienced adults are even more important to the future of hunting.

For starters, I’m looking to create a pleasant experience for a new person.  A pleasant experience doesn’t mean a successful hunt.  It should be a low-anxiety, enjoyable day afield.  A new hunter will often fixate on an aspect of the hunt that you may not have expected, so the conditions surrounding that experience are important if they are to be able to relax and take in the situation. 

For instance, I went hunting with a friend a few years ago in Maine who really hadn’t spent much time outdoors.  We gave him a GPS and said meet us at the point it is leading you toward in 3 hours.  While we all wanted to know what kind of game he saw, he wanted to know what animals were making what sounds. It was a beautiful fall day and he would just sit down and listen (which is what we told him to do, but he was getting lost in the moment instead of hunting). So my point is, if the weather conditions are going to be miserable, your new hunter will just focus on getting comfortable instead of enjoying the outdoor experience.  Try to set up the hunt so that you will be out in nice weather, even if that means seeing less game.   September and October hunts are generally going to be much more pleasant than November and December big game hunts.  Also, if you are day tripping from home or have the scheduling flexibility, keep an eye on the weather to avoid any major storms.

My buddy's first deer on that Maine hunt:

Another aspect of creating an enjoyable experience is to not make too much of a physical demand on the new hunter. Try to pick terrain or hunting methods that won’t wear them out physically. If you’re hunting big mountains, stick to a relatively confined area.  Don’t conduct a death march into some spectacular basin 5 miles in and 3,000 feet higher than the trailhead.  The new hunter may not share the same goals as you or understand the feeling of satisfaction or accomplishment yet that helps drive some of us to the furthest reaches.  To an untrained eye, you’re passing through huntable country that should be hunted, not hiked.

On the opposite spectrum, all day stand hunts can be incredibly boring and the hunter can get cold very easily.  Don’t be afraid to move around on occasion if you think it will help with the newby’s attention span and cold tolerance.  Call it quits early if need be.  We tend to get very gung-ho about getting that first animal for a new hunter, but don’t be afraid to pack it in if the game or weather aren’t cooperating or your hunter is bored to tears.

Newby hunts should not be filled with hardships.  Don’t take them on a backpack hunting trip, and don’t have them deal with horses if those are new to them.  Focus on comfortable truck based hunts in reasonably accessible country.  Of course you’ll likely see more hunters this way, but don’t complain about them in front of the newby.  Public land hunting pressure is a fact of life in many convenient hunting areas and the new hunter won’t know the difference.  Use hunting pressure to your advantage by sitting on escape routes.

When trying to create an enjoyable day afield, you need to stay calm and composed.  Your new hunter will have lots of questions and be filled with anxiety, don’t add to the stress of the situation by getting overly excited or emotional yourself.  Try to stay steady, they’ll take their cues from you.  Last weekend, when cruising around, looking for approachable antelope, I made a point of trying to stay even-keeled as I found an ideal herd to hunt. I was focused on making a successful stalk, so I forgot to tell Katie to do some of the basic last minute preparations. She asked if she should chamber a round while we were about to crest the hill, and it never occurred to me that she hadn’t already done so.  Likewise, as we were belly crawling to less than 100 yards from the herd, she then asked if she should extend the bipod legs.  Those aren’t things that I think about sometimes, but when your new hunter is taking every cue from you, you need to go through all the minute details with them.  If you or they forget to take the safety off or turn up or down the scope magnification, just stay steady, say, ”that’s ok," then correct the situation and continue. Don’t get all worked up if something doesn’t go right.

Along these lines, choosing an appropriate big game species helps to create an enjoyable situation.  Public land elk hunting is probably not the best way to introduce a new hunter due to the physical and mental stresses, low game density and few and marginal shot opportunities.  Instead, stick with antelope, mule deer or whitetails if you are going to big game hunt.  Small game hunting isn’t universally a great beginner animal either.  Rabbits and squirrels are great, but most bird hunting is not ideal for new hunters in my opinion.  The hunter often has to act too quickly for their own good, and much of the time birds hit by shot will require some sort of additional dispatching.  If waterfowl is your thing, decoyed geese over dry land can work well, as any potential cripples will be much easier to catch compared to ducks over water or pheasants in tall grass and geese generally take their time coming in giving you the chance to prepare your new hunter.  (This is reminding me, I think I probably need to do an “easy hunt” article with a little different twist than the meat hunt article.  Look for that next time.)

Talk with your hunter about shot placement and shot selection.  Let them know what kind of reactions to expect from different impact locations.  You don’t want them thinking they just crippled a perfectly lung or heart shot deer as it runs over the hill.  Be prepared to tell them to quickly follow up the shot, but only if truly necessary.  Hopefully you’ve seen enough big game shot reactions to be able to call the shots well enough.  And don’t let them shoot, or pressure them into a shot if it’s a marginal opportunity.  At this point in my life, I’d rather risk spooking the game by stalking closer than risk wounding it.  This is a just a maturity thing that comes with experience.  If you didn’t think your hunter could make a 300 yard shot before you went out, don’t ask them to do it in the heat of the moment.  Even if the target animal is starting to get nervous about to change the shot from “go” to “no go”, don’t rush your hunter.  Screaming “Shoot it!, Shoot it!  Shoot it!”  isn’t going to help the situation.  Calmly explain that the deer or antelope is going to move and then tell them they’ll have to shoot soon or hold off.  Most western big game animals will offer another shot if only mildly spooked from what they perceive as a safe distance, so tell your hunter to stay with it if possible as their shot opportunity may not be totally blown once the animal is alerted.

Make your hunter do the work too.  Show them how to gut or debone, but don’t do it all for them.  Carrying their rifle, especially if you don’t have a tag is a big no-no.  Bring gloves and peroxide wipes to help with the mess. Your hunter will expect to get dirty during the gutting or quartering efforts, but minimizing the smell or blood on their bare skin will make dinner more pleasant for them later. 

Introducing a youngster to hunting should ideally start long before the summer before hunting season.  Taking the kid along on hunts to build up the excitement and get them used to the conditions can happen 5 to 10 years before they are legally ready to hunt big game.  I’ve known parents on both sides of the spectrum here.  Those that have been taking their kids to hunting camps since they were knee high to a grasshopper tend to have more emotionally and physically ready to hunt kids.  Those that have waited to bring their kids along until they were of legal hunting age tended to have kids that were far less interested and capable in the outdoors. 

Lastly, realize that hunting isn’t for everyone.  Football, beer, guns, and other stuff I love doesn’t turn everyone’s crank.  Some people would rather just enjoy the camaraderie and environment back at camp, others may not be cut out for the emotional aspects of the hunt.  This is ok too.  Of course we will be disappointed if our child/spouse/buddy/whatever doesn’t take to hunting the way we were hoping, but if you keep the experience as enjoyable as possible, your hunter may still ask to come back out again.  Try to get input from them regarding how to make it more enjoyable next time instead of saying, "it’s always like this," or "this is just the way it is," or "this is how I do it, so take it or leave it." 

I’m sure there are lots of other scenarios that haven’t come up yet in my hunting, but keep some of these tips in mind if you’re trying to introduce someone to our sport.


BikerRN's picture

Great Story

I could see some of myself as the beginning hunter in that article.

You hit that article out of the park, as it's baseball and not football, that turns my crank.


COMeatHunter's picture

You nailed it

Yet another great article and read.  Thanks again!

I would agree with Hunter25, antelope are just about the perfect beginner hunt whether for an adult or youth.  Lots of game is one of the best ways to avoid boredom and make the trip exciting, and antelope are numerous--usually can be seen in almost any direction.

The other point I'd include is focusing your hunting efforts on the beginner.  For me, this means not necessarily having a tag in my pocket for the hunt or leaving my rifle in the truck.  When you are hunting exclusively for the beginner, you make the extra effort to get them in range and on target.  All of the little details also seem to come to mind easier because you are now thinking about your beginner, not just unconsciously "doing" the details yourself and expecting them to learn from your actions.

I also wholeheartedly agree on the taking your new hunter with you to just tag along.  For youth, this makes for realistic expectations and much more self confidence when in the outdoors.  Higher comfort levels in the outdoors usually translates into much more relaxed hunters who are much better prepared for the nervous moments and anticipation before shooting opportunities.

You nailed it with this article!

hunter25's picture

Great article and especially

Great article and especially pointing out the smaller details. I have only actually taken a couple people besides my kids so far but agree that I need to make a greatrer effort to recruit more friends. They all enjoy the meat I bring them but not many actually get out there. My favorite for new or young hunters in antelope. First there is  high chance of getting one but even if you don't you will probably see lots of animals. Like you said avoiding boredom is important inmaking the trip something they will want to do again. Plus with the goats you can usually get out of the weather quickly if you need to and there is no really strenuos work involved.

swisheroutdoors's picture

Outstanding Article

I have had the pressure to ensure a good experience to adult men and women when it came to camping in the North Maine Woods.  That took lots of preparation and attention to details to make the trips enjoyable regardless of weather conditions.  Folks that had never been camping and that were really timid of the idea now annually go if not more than just once.  I love introducing people to the outdoors.  Hunting however offers even more challenges.  I have taken some very useful ideas from your article.  I appreciate your input.  I can remember taking my brother hunting (we are 18 yrs apart)  and I made it a bit more difficult than it should have been for sure.  One such hunt he got lost and I was extremely concerned.  When darkness set in and I drove 5 miles to the other side of the area we were in I heard a faint cry of "HELLO".  It was a scary moment and difficult lesson to learn.  The hunt should have been about my brother and not me walking off on a tract leaving him to hunt alone.  Lesson learned and the following year we were successful together.  I have three adults I plan to take to our club this year and use some of our two man stands.  Thank you again for the article.  One of the best I've read so far. 

numbnutz's picture

Great atricle Mark!! You make

Great atricle Mark!! You make some great points in it. I have introduced a total of 7 people to the world of hunting. Four of which still hunt today. The other 3 I'm not too sure about since I haven't seen or talked to them in years. I have also been getting my kids more involved in the outdoors every year and now that there just about to the age where they can hunt I'm putting them through hunters safety classes. The biggest thing i find teaching new hunters is patience. I wasn't always the most patient person in the world but with the older i get the better I become at it. Teaching my kids to sit still waiting and glassing for game has been a challenge but it seems to be working out. My 4 year old is actually the best at it, My 11 and 10 year olds get bored after about 30 minutes so we make games out of glassing to keep them in tune to whats going on. Like you say Mark is don't get over emotional and keep a cool head when things aren't going right. Thats for the great article and advice. It's important to keep our huntimh heritage alive and recuit new hunters.

Ca_Vermonster's picture

Wonderful article, full

Wonderful article, full of great points!  The most important thing is to not scare them away from the sport of hunting, before they even have a chance to like it.  Your very first point is one that I find most often turns people away, the weather conditions and being miserable.  People who have never been out there, probably are not the best ones to take out at 3:30 in the morning, in a driving rain, headed for a duck blind (great weather for that), only to be wet and cold before the sun even comes up.

I don't believe in setting them up in the Taj Majal, but still, some comforst would be okay.  Also, i am not a favor of fenced areas, or big game "ranches", but in some instances, it could be a good thing.  Just to get the kids, or new adults, used to sitting on stand for a couple of hours at a time, being able to actually spot an animal, and hopefully taking that animal, will add to a positive experience.

I personally think small game is the way to start.  It's easier in most cases, can be more "social", i.e. groups of people hunting dove together, or sitting on a hardwood ridgeline with dad hutning suirrels, etc., and they also are the first seasons to open, in most states.  The weather is warmer, and it's a more comfortable situation.

Anyway, if we want to keep our heeritage alive, we all need to take advice like yours and introduce someone to hunting.  Thanks for the article!

Retired2hunt's picture

Absolutely Agree!


I Absolutely Agree with introducing new people to the sport of hunting!  Not only have I introduced a 38 year old newby this year but I am also right now working on my nearest adult neighbor and another neighborhood boy who is currently without a father figure in his life.  Both are in works for a 2012 hunt with each - one for big game and the other for small game.  There is nothing greater than seeing the smile on a newby's face when they have successfully harvested their first animal.  In my opinion getting your children involved is a must.  Getting others involved outside of the immediate family is just as important here.

I have to also agree with ensuring the newby does all of the work needed -  from initial preparations to putting the meat in the freezer.  Assisting where necessary but as an aid and not taking over.  My newby this year had to field dress their muley doe.  They started to become frustrated due to the diminishing daylight and the length in time it was taking.  I assisted instead of just sitting back.  Afterwards at the campfire we then discussed what went right and what we could do better in the next hunt. 

It was not stated but must be expected - don't allow your newby to take any shortcuts in their education and preparation towards being involved in hunting.  If you are going to take on the responsibility of introducing a person or child to the sport of hunting then it is your responsibility to ensure it is done correctly and completely.  Okay - I step down from my soap box now!

Another great article!



SGM's picture

Very good atricle and agree with you 100%.

Very good atricle and agree with you 100%. Need to get all the folks we can out in the field enjoying the sport. Kids are great as they will have a lifetime to enjoy but nothing wrong with taking a 30, 40, 50 etc year old peopson out for their first hunt. Also agree with the part about letting the new hunter do the work as you supervise them. They need to learn how to do all the dirty work to. To me the best way to learn is to do it. Also your point about teaching a new hunter about hunting starts way before you get into the field is very true. A successful hunt starts months or years before you draw a tag or step foot in the field. Great article using common sense and practicle ideas.

GooseHunter Jr's picture

I agree the more people we

I agree the more people we get into hunting the better.  Young or old it does not matter they will all help the sport grow more and more every year.  Great articile and kudos to you in getting new people out there in the woods.  Congrats on on girlfriends first kill.