THOUGH A FRIEND OF MINE has bought up to page 63, I think. My early gear worked just fine: a single-shot .410, army-navy camo, toe-freezing tube socks, ill-fitted steel-toed rubber boots my uncle had liberated from the paper mill — and a tree and a dad to lean against. I think that’s how lots of us get started.
Getting started and training
You’ll need camouflage (camo), a firearm (gun), ammunition (ammo), hunter’s orange, a license, and land.
If you’re new to hunting, getting geared-up can be costly and confusing. How do I hunt? Where? When? With what? What do I do with the game after I’ve killed it? A hunter education course will answer these questions and more by covering hunting ethics and safety, firearms maintenance and safety, basic shooting skills, hunting techniques, state-specific regulations, and other topics.
All states require such courses. They are a must for any aspiring hunter. (Note: Texas and other states offer course segments online.)
No amount of gear can guarantee a successful hunt. But the hunter education certificate represents knowledge, one of the two most important pieces of gear.
License and regulations
You will get your hunting license from your respective state wildlife agency. They’re also the best source of information on all hunting regulations, such as seasons, bag limits, hunting areas, and special license requirements.
Regulations are usually available online and wherever licenses are sold. (Note: It’s important to understand and abide by these regulations, both to protect the state’s game and to keep yourself out of trouble. Study hunting regulations each year in your home state and before every hunting trip across state lines.)
Gear to match the game
Before buying any gear, take the hunter education course and decide what, how, and where you’ll hunt.
Some hunters use dogs to retrieve ducks, point and retrieve quail, chase rabbits, spot squirrels, and so on. Some folks hunt alone for the solitude, others in groups for the camaraderie.
Pee is key for some who drip doe or fox urine as cover scents or attractants. Many use calls or decoys. Then there are ATVs, GPS, game cameras with night vision, and a thousand other toys — not to mention an endless array of firearms and ammunition.
A .270 and insulated coveralls are great for hunting the white tail rut. This set up will do nothing good for you on a dove hunt. If your single projectile happened to hit the fist-sized bird flying 45 mph (which is beyond unlikely), there’d be nothing left. You’d be far more likely to shoot someone. You’d also sweat a pool. Instead, you’d be better equipped with a 20-gauge shotgun and a tee shirt.
The hunter education course will give you the knowledge needed to hunt safely and match the gear to local game.
Guns and ammo
If you walk into Gary’s Guns-n-Groceries and ask for the ammunition, Gary may well call the law. You might get away with saying bullets, but play it safe. Ask for ammo, shotgun shells, or rifle cartridges. Likewise, don’t ask for the firearms. You can ask for the guns, but shotguns or rifles is better.
After your hunter safety course, you’ll be better prepared to navigate the maze of rifles (measured in caliber), shotguns (measured in gauges), and rifle cartridges or shotgun shells for the hunt you have in mind. Guns and ammo are tools, some better suited for some jobs.
And as with tools, once you’ve determined you need a flat head screw driver, there’s plenty variety: length, color, type of metal or finish, weight, old or new, manual or automatic, and so on. You have similar choices in guns. It’s a matter of personal preference and comfort.
Gun cleaning kit
Take care of your guns and they’ll take of you. We’ve cleaned my father and grandfather’s guns regularly so they’ve been reliable tools for three generations. Gun cleaning kits are available where guns are sold.
When I was a kid, Dad and I could step out of my aunt’s back door with a shotgun after breakfast, kick up a rabbit on the fence row, pick off a couple of passing dove in the back pasture, get several squirrels in the swamp, and clean them all by lunch.
Private land makes for ideal hunting. You have it all to yourself. It’s a rare luxury; so many hunters look elsewhere. Some folks lease hunting rights from farmers and ranchers. Others join hunting clubs for access to land, a club house, dogs, tree stands, or other such benefits.
State and federal lands are also available. Texas alone offers nearly one million acres of public land for hunters. Special regulations may apply on public lands, so check with the state wildlife agency. Consider starting your search with Your Guide to Hunting National Wildlife Refuges.
Camo is meant to conceal you. There are patterns for most every scenario, and every year new and improved camo hits the market. I’m pretty sure the game aren’t evolving as quickly as the camo lines; so, 20-year-old camo probably works just fine. Whether you buy your camo at the army-navy store or Cabela’s, match the pattern to the landscape.
The walks from my aunt’s door to the swamp often started before dawn. Through briar patches, around wood piles and ponds, down wood-lines and fence rows, across creeks, and through mud we’d go, to lean dead-still against a Providence Creek poplar for three hours.
Good boots are important. I prefer waterproof lug-soled boots that are light and rise well above the ankle. Be sure to wear your hunting socks when trying them on. These too should match your hunting conditions.
Knife and honing stone
There’s no catch-and-release in hunting, so you’ll need to clean what you kill. My fixed-blade Gerber is strong, easy to maintain, and great for cleaning game. Keep a honing stone handy for sharpening.
(Note: Local meat processors often butcher deer and, for example, blend it with pork for sausage. Ask them how to donate a portion of the meat to local food assistance programs.)
A few pieces of versatile gear will allow you to hunt a variety of game species. Get clothing to match the weather and put a layer of camo over top.
Many rifles will work for deer hunting: A 30-06 is a popular caliber; but I like a .270. A .22 is perfect for learning to shoot and shoot well. A 12-gauge is a great all around shotgun. With the right shells you can hunt deer, turkeys, rabbits, squirrel, quail, dove, ducks, and so on. If you want a bargain, guns can be found second-hand or in single-shot models.
My dad hunted with jeans, a faded plaid shirt, and a 12-gauge. He did better than most folks. Why? Patience — it’s the second most essential piece of gear. And it’s not for sale. If you take up hunting, please be a steward to our natural resources and a safe participant in our sport.