The Tell All Hunting Guide to Go from City-Slicker to Woodsman

Your First Steps into the Woods

So you've decided to take up hunting? Or are considering it? Maybe your inner woodsman has tunneled its way to the surface, and you're ready to put meat on the table! Or perhaps you're convinced of the impending apocalypse and want to learn how to live off the grit of the land! Unlike your neighbor Steve! We both know Steve isn't in touch with his inner manhood and he certainly isn't going to outlast you and your newfound interest in nature's meat department when the bombs drop.

Regardless of what brought you here, by the end of this article, you will know everything you need to know to hit the woods and fill the freezer. This comprehensive hunting guide will have you a fearful reputation amongst any and all critters of the forest.

Before you pack up a picnic, load the rifle, hide the kids, and hit the trail; there are a few important first steps to take to prepare yourself for your first hunt.

Getting All the Right Learnin'

What Makes Us Step Into The Trees

Now the first step to most anything in life is learning about it, and hunting is no exception. There are several things on your scholarly checklist to get out of the way before you're ready for your next step, but the first one is to understand why we hunt. There aren't any essays to write or all that much homework to do, and I promise this hunting guide doesn't come with a nagging teacher to keep you on the straight and narrow. Although there are several things, you need to learn and possibly a class that has to be taken.

Hunting Without Flashlights

There are some things that are as old as humanity itself. I'm not talking about things that just feel old like dial-up internet or that story Steve keeps telling you every time you get the newspaper at the same time, but I'm talking about things we humans have done since the dawn of time and hunting falls into that category.

Since the early days of the cavemen, tribes of people have relied on hunting animals to provide themselves with enough food to survive.
Now, this isn't important because I'm going to suggest you start at the beginning and try killing something thrice your size with a sharp stick. While it might be fun, I don't want to have your injuries on my conscience. If you have a wild desire to poke and prod a large animal, I suggest running with the bulls.

The reason it is important is to illustrate one of the primary reasons we hunt, both then and now; for food. While it is not always the case, frequently what lures people into the woods is the prospect of a little fun and a lot of tasty meat. Whatever the reason you're in it for, a juicy meal is a pot at the end of this camouflage rainbow.

Medium rare sliced meat on bread

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I don't mean to get ahead of myself; there is a lot of work between now and taking a picture with your first furry victim, but it is important to be mindful of what will happen with the meat afterward. If your tongue is slapping your brain for a taste of a little fresh game, then there is no shame in having a pocketful of recipes locked and loaded. However, if you're not at all interested in a taste of your victories, then a little research about programs in your area where you can donate the meat to help the hungry is a very thoughtful thing to do.

Which leads us into why else we take to the woods. If not to stock our freezers and prep for zombies then why else?

Bangin' The Chest of Our Inner Caveman

We're all drawn to a sport of some sorts. Some of us take to the basketball courts at the gym every weekend, some of us hit the links when the price is right, and then there are those of us who find sport in expressing mankind's superiority over the rest of Earth's creatures (in the appropriate season of course.)

If you're not reading this article to test out that new primitive cookbook then odds are you're in the market for a new and exciting hobby. Does a whiff of danger and a nose full of burned gunpowder sound like your ideal weekend morning?
Maybe that empty space on the wall above the guest bed is begging for some decor that'll scare away the in-laws? Whatever the reason might be, you're about to join great company in the world of sport hunting.

Although no matter what might be your inspiration for discovering the world of hunting, it is imperative that you research what hunting education that your state might require and take the appropriate classes.

'Your Formal Book Learnin'

I still promise you don't have to protect your hands from an overzealous teacher with a ruler, but you might have to take a hunter safety class to certify yourself.

Hunting is regulated at the state level, so this Tell All Hunting Guide can't do all of your research for you, but it will certainly guide you through all the necessary things to consider.

Empty classroom with black chairs attached to brown surface desks

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35 States currently require a form of hunter education before you can legally purchase your license and head to the woods. This varies from a short and sweet online course to an in-person class day.

You can review your states Hunter education requirements here ( and determine what actions you need to take before you delve deeper into your inner survivalist.

Now you might celebrate because you happen to be "lucky" and live in one of the 15 states that require no formal hunter education, but unless you want to be the only fatality of your hunting trip, then you still need to familiarize yourself with hunter safety.

Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke teaching gun safety to children in orange safety vests

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Hunting is a fun pastime enjoyed by millions, and if you follow this hunting guide to the end, it might be the start of a hobby that will last you a lifetime.

With that being said, it is imperative to understand that you will handle devices capable of killing yourself or anyone else in the matter of a second. It is your responsibility to ensure that the only thing in danger when you're hunting is whatever animal you're out to kill.

I can promise you that the only person who can make a dangerous hunting trip fun is Elmer Fudd and unless you're mortal enemies with a talking rabbit then I suggest you read the following section closely.

Keeping the Right Things Alive

It would be irresponsible of me to provide you with a hunting guide and not stress the importance of safety like a sassy flight attendant. To hammer at the point a little more, it needs to be understood that the weapons you use to hunt can bring serious bodily harm or even death to whoever doesn't take safety seriously. Unlike Elmer Fudd, people aren't going to laugh when you shoot yourself, and you certainly won't be in the next episode.

So where should we start?

Hunter with a shotgun, eye, and ear protection and camouflage jacket

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The Golden Rules of Safety

Depending on who you ask, everyone will give you a different “safety talk” ranging in length and content. Elmer Fudd, for example, might leave out one or two details that a seasoned firearms instructor might not but regardless, there are several golden rules you should know.

  • Always treat a firearm like it is loaded
    • It doesn't matter if you are 99.98% sure that it isn't, that .02% is enough to potentially take a life and so is enough to be taken seriously.
  • Always point a firearm in a safe direction
    • Guns have built-in safety mechanisms, but you should always assume that they won't work and the firearm will fire at any given time. To maximize your safety, until you're ready to shoot your weapon, it should be pointed into the sky or at the ground.
  • Be certain of your target and what is behind it
    • Countless incidents happen annually because of hunters getting too excited and shooting at a target without taking note of what is behind it or even validating what it is. Unless you want a hefty fine or to shoot out a window of the nice couple renting a cabin in the woods, take a moment to examine everything in a scene before you touch the trigger
  • Dress in the appropriate visible clothing and make sure whoever accompanies you does the same
    • This will vary depending on what kind of animal you are hunting and when/where you are hunting. As a good rule of thumb, most states require you wear some amount of blaze orange to make yourself visible to other hunters. Those who neglected to read this hunting guide might have missed out on the golden rule above, and a little blaze orange will give you a better chance of not being their trophy
  • Dress for the weather
    • This one might sound self-explanatory but do not overlook it. Hunting typically takes place during the colder hours of the day and the colder months of the year. Not dressing appropriately is the difference between having a fun time in the woods and being escorted to the hospital by a rescue team
  • Alert others of your plans for the day
    • Whether that be Steve or his parents or your golf buddy, be sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to be back. It's impossible to know what will happen in the woods and having someone who can be mindful of your safety is never a bad idea

If you take anything away from this hunting guide, then those 6 golden rules should be it. As fun as hunting can be, the most important part of it is being safe to yourself and others when you are out in the woods.

Your Next Big Learnin'

Hunting safety and firearm safety go almost hand in hand. To know one it is essential to know the other but aside from the golden rules; it is important to take a moment to familiarize yourself with firearm safety tips.

Here is a general list of tips to keep in the back of your mind whenever you are around a gun.

  • Keep your firearm unloaded when not in use
  • Use only the proper ammunition in your firearm
  • Be sure your firearm is in working condition, and the barrel is free of obstruction before use
  • Do not use a firearm while under the influence of substances or alcohol
  • Do not touch the trigger or trigger guard until ready to shoot
  • Always treat a firearm like it could fire at any moment
  • Never assert yourself or climb with a loaded firearm
  • Know the effective range of the caliber you are using
  • Make sure the caliber is appropriate for the occasion you're using it for
  • Treat a misfire with extreme precaution and know it could fire at any moment
  • Store ammunition and weapons separately
  • Always unload your firearm after use

These are just several rules to keep in the back of your mind. Before you go running through the hills and shooting at every fluffy tail you see, I suggest you familiarize yourself with whatever weapon you will be hunting with along with how to keep safe with it.

This is as close as this hunting guide will come to a teacher slapping your knuckles with a ruler. Now that you're aware of the importance of safety, what now?

Putting the Books Down and Onto the Next Step

At this point in the process, you should know the ins and outs of staying safe while you're hunting and have some idea of what is drawing you to the woods. You might have even taken a class, but regardless, I would bet you're itching to get in on a little action huh? Well, you're almost there.

You should have the steps necessary to legally purchase a license out of the way. The cost and type of license required will vary from state to state, and it would take a month of Sundays to include them all in this hunting guide.

Red, green, and black graphic of rifles, deer, and a target

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Now would be a good time to take a moment and acquaint yourself with the department that handles hunting regulations and licensing in your state.

Whichever state you reside in, one decision you will have to make at this point is what kind of hunting you want to do. What kind of animal do you want to pursue and what kind of weapon would you like to use? Also, it is a good time to consider where you will hunt, and as easy as it would be, you can't hunt in your backyard or the frozen section at the local super Walmart… trust me

Before this hunting guide covers buying your license, let's take a moment to review the different types of hunting and where you can hunt so you won't look like a deer in the headlights when you do buy your license.

Big Game Hunting

Big buck lying in a field of green grass

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Big game hunting is perhaps the most popular form of hunting and usually requires purchasing “tags” in addition to a hunting license.

Big game includes everything from your simple white-tail deer to the elusive cougar to the massive moose. Big game animals can be quite difficult to hunt and require precision and patience to harvest but offer what most consider to be the most exciting experience. A successful big game hunt is a story you can tell your bandmates or grandkids over and over until they pretend they don't know you.

If you decide that the big game hunt is what is calling your name, then you want to be sure to purchase whatever licensing is necessary on top of your basic hunting license.

Small Game Hunting

Big game hunting might get most of the attention and babes, but small game hunting is a treasured pastime to many and for good reason. Whether it be the more lighthearted nature of hunting something smaller than a person or the simplicity of the harvest, small game hunting isn't something you should look over just yet.

It can be a great way to build your wits and confidence while you work your way up to bigger animals and is typically more affordable. In most states, most small game can be taken with a basic hunting license. It also doesn't require the early mornings and late nights big game hunters spend stalking their prey.

Bird Hunting

Bird hunting is in a similar vein to small game hunting in that it is seen as more lighthearted and enjoyable by many compared to big game hunting. It can also require a special license of its own depending on where you hunt or which bird you want to blast out of the sky like a kite on a windy day.

Many bird hunters also use dogs to “flush” birds out of their hiding spots to make them easier to shoot. This isn't necessary but can decrease the time and effort on your part to bring your first feathered friend back to permanently back to Earth.

Hunting with Dogs

Hunter beside a blue lake with hunting dog and ducks

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Many hunters also make use of mans best friend to make their jobs significantly easier. Dogs have been used for thousands of years to hunt everything from woodland grouse to the likes of a bear. With their exceptional noses and tracking ability, they can make locating game a breeze and aid in the killing of said animals.

Many states require hunters to purchase a license to hunt with dogs and proper marking to keep them safe in the field. For the sake of this hunting guide, we will not go too in-depth in this field. While hunting with a canine pal might make those frosty mornings a bit warmer, and a lick on the cheek can lift the spirits of any mountain man, hunting dogs are a huge financial and time investment.

Until you are as sure of your desire for a hunting dog as a dog is it wants to lick itself, I encourage you to look for other hunting methods. Although if you have a friend who is invested in the hunting dog game and wouldn't mind a tag-along, it can be an excellent way of learning the ropes.

Firearm Hunting

Brown hunting rifle with a black scope

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Guns and hunting go together as well as peanut butter and jelly and for very good reason. If I asked you to imagine someone hunting in your mind right now, they would have a gun of some sort, wouldn't they?

Firearm season is usually the most popular hunting season there is and is by far the most beginner friendly. It typically doesn't require any additional licensing and firearms are the easiest weapon to learn to use. Although, that doesn't mean you should forget your safety.

Firearms can be used to take down all sizes of game. Low-caliber rifles such as a .22lr can humanely kill anything from squirrels to rabbits while large calibers can be enough to kill… well, anything. After all, they ARE guns—which is why you should be extra safe!

Muzzleloader Hunting

While modern firearms might go with hunting like peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter goes great with other things like bananas and marshmallow cream right? Hunting with a muzzleloader isn't as popular as hunting with a rifle or shotgun, but that doesn't go as far to say that it's not as fun or as possible.

Muzzleloaders use a more primitive system of black powder and a sabot. While they look similar to a modern rifle, they operate quite differently. As the name suggests, they must be loaded through the muzzle and typically use a higher caliber projectile.

They offer an exciting challenge and require you to be a more precise shot and be much closer to your target, but they are not for the faint of heart. If you have little experience with firearms, I suggest you start there and work your way up to the muzzleloader if you wish. Both yourself and your shoulder will thank me later.

Although if you are interested in taking a muzzleloader out to the woods and killing an animal as your ancestors would, it is important to do the proper research before you make a purchase and buy the proper licensing.

There are several different types of muzzleloaders, but the In-line percussion muzzleloaders are the easiest to load and most reliable to fire. You want to be 110% certain that you know the correct way to load your weapon are using the appropriate type and amount of powder and the correct projectile. If you do this, a lot more than just you and your shoulder will be thanking me later.

Bow Hunting

As mentioned earlier in the hunting guide, hunting has been around almost as long as people have and bows have been around for nearly as long. Of course, the bows we use today are a little more advanced than the ones early humans used to hunt, thankfully. In spite of that, it can still offer a hunting experience that has a primal feel to it.

Melissa Bachman bow hunting in camouflage

CC by-SA 3.0 GRuban Melissa Bachman Image via Wikimedia

Bow hunting isn't for the light-hearted. It takes a lot of practice to learn to use a bow with consistent accuracy and an equal amount of patience to wait for an animal to come close enough to shoot with a bow.

Although as with most things in life, the extra work it takes makes the pot at the end of the camouflage rainbow all the more savory. Again, I recommend starting out with a firearm if you're new to the whole hunting thing, but if bow hunting has peaked your interests, it's important to know what you're looking for before you make any purchases.

There are three basic types of bows that are used amongst hunters today, but before we cover those, it is important to understand what draw weight means. Draw weight is how much force is required to pull the bow back into its position of full strength. Most states have a minimum draw weight, and it is your responsibility to know what kind of draw weight is required to kill the game you are chasing

  • Recurve Bow
    • The recurve bow is named for the shape of the limbs. It most closely resembles what kind of bow was used to hunt historically but is also the most difficult. The draw weight increases the further you pull the string back, with the full draw weight in effect when you are ready to fire. Using a recurve bow requires a lot of practice and strength
  • Compound Bow
    • Most bowhunters today use compound bows. Compound bows increase the effective range at which you can safely shoot at an animal and are less physically demanding than the other choices. Due to their mechanism, you pull the draw weight of your bow closer to the beginning of your draw and are only holding a percentage of it when you are ready to fire
  • Crossbow
    • Crossbows are typically the easiest to use in terms of practice but can be dangerous. A crossbow requires one to pull the string back and lock it, storing the potential energy until you are ready to fire. You fire it in a similar sense to a rifle but need to be capable of handling a 150-175 lb draw weight.

Finding a Place to Hunt

Locating a place to hunt is another topic that vastly varies from state to state. However, no matter which state you live in, please do not take your weapon to the local grocery store and blow a hole in a frozen turkey. It simply isn't worth it.

A more-responsible use of time would be to research what lands are available to hunters in your state. You would be surprised at how much area of land is set aside for the outdoorsman to utilize, but some of these areas require a proper license to access.

Below is a resource that will aid you in your search for a place to hunt and also in any research you might have had trouble locating up to this point.

It is still your responsibility to make sure you have the proper licensing to hunt wherever you might go, but most vendors will happily aid you in making sure you are legally prepared to take the next step and get out in the woods.

Private property is also always an option. An abundance of wildlife can be a nuisance for landowners and hunters are a good solution to the problem. Be sure to have written permission if you choose to take this path.

You now should be prepared to get your first license.

Getting Your First License

Now you're ready to proudly head to the store and pick out your first license! If you ask nicely, they might even give you an extra copy to hang on the fridge to remind your in-laws you're now a licensed killer! They actually probably won't do that, but it never hurts to ask.

Also, many states now offer a way to purchase your license online. You can locate whether or not this is the case where you live through the website of the department that handles hunting in your state. Regardless, the information about where to purchase a license should be easily locatable.

Although let me offer you a little shortcut, Walmart typically sells any license you might need. Along with… well, literally everything.

Am I Ready to Let Bullets Fly?

In a sense, yes you are but perhaps not in the manner that you thought. This hunting guide has covered safety to yourself and others to a degree that almost makes me feel guilty but safety to the animals you are hunting still needs to be stressed.

Yes, I know it sounds weird that you need to take into account the safety of something you're about to blow a hole through, but remember that it is still a living and breathing thing. It would be cruel to go to the woods without ample practice and make an animal suffer horribly in its last day, or even worse, to wound an animal and leave it to a lifetime of misery.

As the hunter, it is your responsibility to be able to consistently hit your target with your weapon and be capable of killing animals in a quick and human manner. This requires you to practice with your weapon.

Most areas have a number of firing ranges for this purpose that will allow you to build your confidence and abilities at a fair price. So before you head to the woods, it might be worth a couple of weekends to swing by the firing range and get in a little practice.

The Kill Zone

Not only do you need to practice your aim but you need to know where on the animal to shoot. This isn't like Call of Duty where you can aim for the head and watch them go down with a thud. For one, the head is a hard target to hit, and there are better areas to which you can aim.

You should familiarize yourself with the vital organs and their location in the animal you are hunting. For example, most people would say that a shot through the heart is the best choice for hunting big game. Others might say you should aim to penetrate both lungs and drop it in its steps.

Whichever line of thought you choose to believe, you need to know where on the animal's body you should aim. This is typically right behind the shoulder of larger game.

Deciding How You're Going to Hunt

By this point, Steve should be very aware of your new change in attitude and appearance. You've got a lot more flannel than you ever had before, you're sporting a large beard… Well, this might not be the case, but at this point, you should be licensed, comfortable with your weapon of choice and have a location to hunt in mind.

All that is left now is to decide how you want to go about hunting your prey. There are two basic philosophies when it comes to hunting.

Still Hunting

This is the exact opposite of what the name implies, still hunting is moving silently through the trees and tracking your target until you can take a shot. This is most popular in small game hunting or bird hunting but can also be effective in big game hunting as well.

Still hunting starts with identifying a location where your game of choice resides. Once you know where to look, it's time to head to the area and look around for tracks or fresh sign. Now, this might sound like you're shaping up to be some backwoods sleuth, but that's not the case, not at first anyway.

Still hunting is an art that takes years to perfect but you shouldn't be afraid to start. The more you do it, the better you will become at identifying tracks and following them silently to a tasty trophy. This is much easier with small game and birds so I wouldn't suggest trying this your first big game hunt.

Stand Hunting

This is the most common form of hunting when it comes to big game but can also be used for small game and birds. It involves locating a location where your prey often moves through and sitting someplace out of sight and waiting to ambush them.

Your mind might be thinking ahead and that bag of apples your wife forgot about in the pantry would attract a deer or two but stop, that is very illegal.

The preparation of stand hunting and still hunting is very similar. You should start by going out to where you plan to hunt and looking around for a fresh sign. This can be anything from tracks to feces to oddly broken twigs.

Once you have identified how you want to go about hunting your prey and where you want to do it, it's time for the big day.

The Day of the Hunt

Before you head out into the woods to bag your first fluffy tail, you need to make sure you have everything you need. There is nothing more embarrassing than getting out into the woods and realizing you forgot something important.

The night before, check off everything on this list and make sure it is ready to go.

  • Enough clothing to stay warm
  • Your weapon
  • Your ammunition
  • All of your Licensing
  • A note explaining where you went and how long you'll be there
  • A GPS
  • Plenty of water and enough snacks to last (take your trash out with you, don't leave it in the woods)
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Blaze Orange

The Hunt

You're ready to get to your spot and finally do some hunting! By this point in the hunting guide, you should know where to find your game, and where to shoot it. Now we need to cover what to do after you pull the trigger.

Odds are, the animal won't go down right away and will take off running—which you can't blame it considering you just shot it. The important thing to remember is to not go running after it. If you've done your practicing like you should have and understand the right place to shoot, you've done everything right.

Usually, a burst of adrenaline will propel the animal to make it some distance before it falls over. If you leave it alone, it will lay there and die peacefully. If you pursue it, adrenaline will take it for perhaps miles further than it would have gotten otherwise.

Once the shot is fired, you should remain where you are and wait several minutes, especially if it is a big game animal. Smaller animals typically die much quicker and won't run as far, but anything the size of a deer or larger should be left alone at least 20 minutes.

In this time you should gather your nerves, take a few deep breaths and relax. Once the time passes, the work has begun.

The Work Begins

As mentioned earlier in the hunting guide, you should know what you're doing with the carcass by this point. If you're keeping it, then you need to know how to field dress the animals and harvest the meat. Even if you're not keeping it, you should know how to field dress the animal to deliver it to wherever it is being taken.

Before we get that far, you have to find the body. In a perfect world, the animal will not have run far and will be easy to find. However this often is not the case; a good starting point is to go to the spot where you shot it.

Most animals will leave behind a lot of hair and blood when they are shot. You should know the general direction the animal ran off too, and if not, a trail of blood or hair should lead you there. Follow the trail however long it goes until you locate your trophy, but be aware at all times. It is possible it is not quite dead yet and will require another shot to finish it off.

Hunter in an orange cap field cleaning a deer

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Once the animal is located and has passed, it is time to move on to field dressing and preparing to transport it but first, if it is a big game animal you might have to mark a tag off on your license.

The instructions for this should be readily available when you purchase the license, but typically, this is done by cutting along the perforated line on your animal tag. This has to be done before any action is taken on the carcass to validate that you used your tag by killing an animal.

What Now?

Congratulations! You have followed this hunting guide from beginning to end and have harvested your first animal! You're well on your way of being the mountain man of the block and the talk of the family. You can cook the food you got yourself from the woods, contact a taxidermist and have a trophy made, or make a wholesome donation to the hungry.

Regardless, you should be proud of yourself and your commitment to learning how to hunt. It is not an easy hobby to learn, but this could be the start of a lifetime of adventure.

Hunter and his game with dog walking through a fall colored valley

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