So You Want to Be a Hunter…What Now?

So You Want to Be a Hunter
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Hunting with dogs is an especially cool experience. But, not every dog is cut out for it. Specially trained bird dogs are raised specifically for hunting, from early puppyhood. You’ll need to find a guide or outfitter who has bird dogs you can use, and who knows how to handle them in the field. Photo: Mr. Outdoor Guy

Hunting has an image problem. Something that contributes huge amounts of money to animal conservation is seen as a blood sport. The most humane way to put meat on your table is seen as cruel. The healthiest source of protein is seen as gross. But just because other people aren’t prepared to apply critical thinking to their food sources doesn’t mean you can’t.

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This is the easy way to start harvesting your own wild protein.

#1. Get Your Hunting License

Hunting licenses are affordable and easy to obtain. Individual states issue them, and you’ll need one both for where you live and where you plan to hunt. License requirements and fees vary by state.

In most places, you’ll first need to take a hunter’s ed course. This is typically a one-day class taught by volunteers. It’s equivalent to the driver’s ed course you took in high school—a basic introduction. Even if you’re already familiar with firearms and the outdoors, hunter’s ed is a fantastic refresher in all the nitty-gritty details of remaining legal and safe in the field. The class covers important things like how not to hold your gun backwards and what kind of ammunition will bring you the most success.

Hunter’s ed classes tend to be hosted at gun ranges and take place infrequently. Consult your state’s fish and game department website for a list of classes and dates, and sign up for one now. Trying to get into one at the last minute can be a real hassle and often impossible. You’ll also need proof of completing a hunter’s ed course to buy out-of-state licenses, so keep your certification card in a safe place.

Once you’ve completed the class, you can buy a license online or at pretty much any gun store or big-box store that caters to hunters. You’ll also need a specific tag for the kind of animal you want to shoot, but again, that varies by state. Here in California, my yearly hunting license is $47, and an upland bird tag, which covers the doves, pheasants, quail, and turkeys we’ll discuss later, is just $8.

#2. Get a Gun

Rifles net you big game at a distance. Bows maximize the challenge and expand the seasons and areas in which you can hunt. For birds, you use a shotgun. A shotgun is the most affordable of the three, which is one reason I’m suggesting you start with that.

What you’re looking for is a 12-gauge shotgun with a 28-inch barrel. All other factors are just icing on the cake. (I explain all the ins and outs of shotguns in this article.)

You can get a basic Remington 870 for about $350 at any gun store in the country. It’ll work, and it’ll last a lifetime. I shoot a Weatherby Element, which is a little more expensive at $750 but handles quicker and, unlike the Remington’s pump action, allows me to stay on target as a new round is cycled into the chamber, thanks to its inertia-driven, semiauto action. I also find it also shoots a little quieter, a boon for sports like bird hunting and clay shooting, where you’re firing often.

Just like people debate cars, they’ll argue the merits of different types of shotguns until the cows come home. Get caught up in all that if you like nerding out on stuff, but there’s no need to. Any 12-gauge shotgun with a 28-inch barrel is all you need for any bird or clay pigeon.

Never bought a gun before? Don’t be intimidated. Most gun stores are friendly places staffed with knowledgeable people. Make sure you have a driver’s license…

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