How to Hunt: A Step-By-Step Guide
For many, hunting is about stepping away from the normal day-to-day and becoming one with nature while providing food and opportunity for their family.
As you get into the hobby, you may find yourself asking a series of questions: What should I hunt? What gear do I need? What should I expect when I get out there for real?
Following this step-by-step guide, you can chase your passions and try out hunting various game and terrains to find what fits you best.
When deciding to take the plunge into hunting, it’s wise to start with one target game at a time. Each style of hunting requires different gear, different approaches, and in some cases, different guns.
You will first be limited to your location and what game is local to you.
Before you can take on the hunt, you need to search and decide what game is local to you.
Grasslands often have great small game hunting, such as rabbit, dove, and pheasant.
Wooded areas provide a great environment for deer, squirrels, bear, boar, moose, and other big game.
Wetlands and marshes promote waterfowl migration for ducks and geese.
Prize game can be found all over the world (you may have seen many an Instagram photo of someone in an exotic locale grinning with their latest trophy), but it can also be found in your own backyard. While many hunters travel throughout the year for certain hunts, hunting locally also allows for exciting new hunts to try. Understanding your local terrain will allow you to buy and build camouflage for your needs.
How would you like to hunt?
Sitting in a blind or stand? Walking or hunting over a dog? Sitting in a boat or duck blind?
If you have issues sitting still for long periods, consider first hunting for something that keeps you moving and on your feet. If you like the idea of sitting in a blind or stand, big game and waterfowl may be a great fit.
You may be limited by the availability of huntable land. It’s important to have written permission from landowners when on private lands. For your protection and to avoid any legal drama, it’s best to carry written consent and, in some cases, a map showing property lines. This way, if you run into another hunter who is off track, you have the resources to explain the terrain.
Public lands are sometimes available to hunt. For some of these lands, a lottery system will ensure only one hunter is permitted within an area at a given time and will need to be entered prior to the season. On open public lands, you may find yourself hunting around other hunters.
In these cases, it’s helpful to note how many cars are within the parking area; this will give you an idea of how many other hunters you could run into. Take the opportunity to stop and check the land around you before advancing as you go--you don’t want to be the hunter that walks through someone else’s area, scaring off game as you go.
So, you’re considering hunting waterfowl such as ducks and geese. Excellent waterfowl hunting can be found across the U.S. Waterfowl may involve specialized gear, and while you could hunt without some gear, you may be missing out on the needed advantage.
When there’s no intent to land during normal migration, ducks and geese can fly at heights of up to 4,000 feet.
Typically, waterfowl are hunted on open water, marshes, or fields, with or without decoys.
Duck and geese use the marshlands as shelter and eat the plant matter from the still water. During migration, large flocks will land and group within marshes. During this descent and takeoff, waterfowl will fly at much lower heights, making it a great time for a hunt.
In most cases, you’ll need a shallow or flat bottom boat to navigate the shallow waterways. Most hunters build pop-up blinds on these boats, and some have found success in hunting from kayaks and other low-profile boats.
You’ll tie your boat against the shoreline tucked into the grass or lilies your camo matches.
As waterfowl fly between marshes, they stay low to the water. Flyby hunting involves setting up your blind or boat along a shoreline or dike and bagging the waterfowl as they fly through these gaps. You can encourage ducks and geese to lift from one marsh and fly to the next through your gap by calling.
If you’re hunting over decoys, you’ll want to place your display in an open patch of water that’s easily visible to birds flying by.
Quality calls and calling techniques are key to a good waterfowl hunt. Birds communicate in patterns such as feeder chuckles and distance calls. Making the incorrect calls could be alerting flocks to “threats” and pushing the game away.
Open water hunting is similar to marsh hunting--but with the need more incentive for prey to land.
Open water does not provide the safety or food source found in marshes, but ducks and geese often use these waterways as a place to land and congregate, sometimes tucking against the shores.
You’ll want to tuck into the shore with your boat and place your decoys in a visible yet natural manner.
Public waterways used for transportation such as rivers may have regulations and restrictions on decoys. Check with your local regulations before hunting public lands.
Fields such as corn and wheat provide a food source for waterfowl and natural protection away from waterways during storms.
Lay down blinds or patches of planned standing crops can create hunting blinds to keep you out of sight. Goose decoys should be spread in a larger area, to grab passing flocks’ attention. Even when duck hunting, a few goose decoys can help grab attention from a distance.
Field hunting removes the initial need for a hunting boat, making it a great choice for new waterfowl hunting.
Waterfowl hunting requires a different angle than other types of hunting. Here are just a few of the items you can add to your pack list to ensure an extra successful waterfowl hunt:
Shotguns are needed to hunt waterfowl. A 20 gauge will do, with many hunters using a 12 gauge.
Steel shot shotgun shells are required when hunting waterfowl due to the shot's exposure to waterways and reducing the risk of lead contamination.
Calls are a great addition to the hunt. Goose flutes and double reed duck calls are a great starting point, with each call having a different tone and method.
Boats allow you to access the riverways and wetlands. Small flat-bottom boats are key.
Camouflage should match your terrain and be water-resistant. It’s important to camo all your gear–especially your firearm–if you want to maximize your chances of nabbing a bag.
Decoys can grab attention and bring game to the waterline.
- Dogs, specifically retrievers, are a great addition for finding and tracking game but require a high level of training.
Small game such as rabbit, squirrel, dove, pheasant, and much more can be hunted with minimal gear, making it a great starting point for new hunters.
Small game can be found in woods, grass, fields, and even your yard.
To reduce the price further and because you aren’t sitting still and trying to blend in, the need for camouflage is eliminated with small game hunting.
A great game for hunters of all ages is rabbit, with one slight issue: Rabbits have a tendency to hunker down when they are afraid, meaning you may not be able to jump a rabbit just by walking by.
Rabbits are typically found in high grass and heavy brush areas, making fields, trails, and woods a great place to hunt.
When hunting rabbit, it’s important to follow your local guidelines on wearing safety gear and distances from roads and railroad tracks.
Small game bird hunting is a great way to walk a trail while shooting a fun, quick-moving target. The mourning dove is a small, tasteful bird that feeds on grains and sunflowers and can often be watched and noted year-round.
Mourning doves can be found in all lower 48 states and thrive best in open woodlands or land with trees where they can nest and grains where they can feast.
If you find yourself in a heavily wooded area, you may want to consider hunting for squirrels.
Depending on your location will determine your local squirrel breed and how they will look. Some squirrels, such as the Red Fox Squirrel, are large and bright-colored, allowing them to be easily spotted in the trees, while Grey Squirrels are much smaller and tend to blend in, being more difficult to spy.
You can also hunt squirrels with a small-caliber rifle, such as a .22, requiring you to be quick and accurate with each shot, adding to the fun and excitement of the hunt.
Spaniels and other ground hunting dogs are used to find and jump game such as rabbits, pheasants, and doves.
Gun dogs are taught to respond to whistles or hand commands, encouraging them to check brush and grass, pushing game back towards the hunter. They are fast-moving and ready to go.
When hunting over a gun dog, always be cautious before taking your shot. The dog is likely on the tail of the game, and mistakes happen.
Because small game is, well, small, hunters don’t have to spend a ton of money on fancy gear to get started. A few necessities will be enough to get you started:
- Orange safety gear is required when hunting small game, such as a vest and hat. Always check with your local gear guidelines.
- Shotguns are a standard, while .22 long rifles and other rifles can be used.
- Lead shot or game loads can be used.
- Gun dogs can be a great addition.
Depending where you live, big game such as deer, elk, bear, boar can become a major draw.
When hunting big game, expect to spend your time sitting quietly in a hunting blind or stand for extended periods while you wait patiently for your target to walk within range.
Hunting big game is an exhilarating and rewarding experience.
Where to Set Up
Before setting up your blind, you’ll want to look for signs that your game has been there or set up in a spot ideal for your game. This means searching for game trails, tracks, rubs, or scat. You’ll want to keep wind direction and overall visibility in mind.
Keep in mind, if you do bag a big buck, how will you get him out?
Blinds and Stands
Prior to hunting an area, you’ll want to set up your blind or stand, giving the local animal population a chance to normalize with your equipment. With a deer able to pick up a scent more than a quarter of a mile away, avoid using normal soaps and cleaners on your gear.
Big game hunting requires more bright orange safety equipment such as vests and hats. Deer are colorblind, so you may be asking yourself: Why?
Although they may not see the color, deer quickly notice changes in patterns and smells. Even though your gear is orange, use clothing with natural patterns.
GunSkins has patterns for your firearm that match many of the popular clothing camouflages, thanks to our multiple licensing agreements. You can see all of our partners on our patterns page. People should try to match the camo pattern on their clothing, gear, and firearm.
Using calls for your target game will attract nearby game to focus on your area. Depending on the time of year and location, you may want to use a breeding call or even an aggressive call to challenge dominant men in the area.
Customizing your calls will allow them to blend in and match the rest of your gear.
If you’re planning to hunt a specific area, especially from a blind, you need to be cautious with your smells and maybe use smell to your advantage.
Using the smell of a doe in heat could attract a large male looking to get lucky. These oils are available at your local hunting store. Keep in mind just how strong they smell as you put them around the area (not at your blind).
Always stray far away from your blind to use the restroom, avoid tainting your hunting area.
Big game hunters can spend tens of thousands of dollars on gear every year. But with these basics in mind, you can compete with the most expensive setups.
Shotguns, Rifles, Muzzleloaders, or Bows are used for big game. Understand your local seasons and find what method works best. Shotguns will use specialized rounds known as slugs or buckshot.
Blinds are used to keep you out of sight. Choose a spot that gives you the advantage.
Camo is crucial for staying hidden from your target game. The value of matching your camo pattern across your clothing, gear, and firearm can’t be understated. GunSkins has dozens of patterns to choose from.
Safety orange is often required, with orange camo being ideal due to patterns. Check with your local hunting guidelines.
Calls will help you attract nearby game.
Scent will distract game and draw big bucks. Remember, your goal isn’t to bring the game to you--it’s to bring it in front of you and within your vantage point.
- Game collection can be a struggle. Consider bringing a wagon and keep the terrain in mind.
Get Out There
With the right knowledge, hunting can be a rewarding pastime. Despite long gear lists and high prices, hunting is one of the greatest ways to experience nature and practice self-sustainability, like so many before us.
Starting off, you may not have every piece of fancy gear you want. Sure, you may have a slight disadvantage without head-to-toe camouflage and top-of-the-line guns. For decades, hunters have thrown on an old flannel and boots to hit the trail. You’re no different.
Want to take your gear to the next level at a reasonable price?
GunSkins protective vinyl allows you to achieve a clean, professional, high-end finish designed to protect your gun. GunSkins can be applied at home, letting you match your camouflage and bringing new life to old and worn gear.
What is a Game Trail? | OutdoorCommand.com
Office of Law Enforcement - Waterfowl Hunting and Baiting | FWS.gov
Can Deer Tell How Far Away a Source of an Odor Is? | BowHuntingMag.com