Hunting for the first time can be frightening, intimidating, and overwhelming. My first time out, I was certain I would never learn the ins and outs of the hunting process. With persistence, I developed a set of rules for myself that makes my hunts more successful every time I venture out. These rules, these steps I take when preparing for a hunt are simple yet extremely beneficial.
1) Know the Laws and Regulations Wherever You're Hunting
Yes, we harp on this quite a bit. For good reason. Violation of the laws, especially not having the correct licenses, can result in thousands of dollars in fines and jail time. In some rare cases, the charges can even result in felony convictions. You can quite easily lose your ability to hunt before you even start hunting if you don’t learn to follow the appropriate laws.
Get an idea for how easy it will be to keep your hunting permissions in tact.
To get you started we’ve compiled a list of fish and game agencies for each state. Their websites will lead you in the right direction to finding what laws, regulations, and licenses you’ll need for your chosen hunting areas.
2) Permissions, Scouting, & Mapping
Permissions can be as simple as a public hunting lands permit or a lake-specific Corp of Engineers hunting permit. When you stray away from the public hunting lands is when your need for permission becomes more convoluted. First, remember, that even when you’re hunting on public land the deer does not care about boundary lines. Once you’ve shot your target and it runs, you will face the potential that it has crossed the boundary lines and entered the property of a landowner that surrounds your public land location. Under most circumstances, there will be ways to obtain permission to access the private property to retrieve your harvest. A great deal of courtesy and forethought, however, will make this process much faster.
An app, like onX, will come in handy for these types of circumstances. Their maps will plot out your location, the boundaries of the public land you are hunting on, and the surrounding property owners. This map isn’t foolproof, but it will give you a solid foundation from which to start.
From there, your responsibility will be to contact the property owner and get permission to enter their land to look for your harvest. I’ll forewarn you now, not every owner will be willing to let you on to the property. Some, however, will compromise. They may be willing to locate your harvest and bring it to you, they may be willing to let the game warden enter the property to retrieve it for you, or they may be willing to escort you to the harvest’s location. This is where all the niceties of life can help your case. And the more willing you are to compromise and work with the property owner, the more successful you will be at obtaining the necessary permission.
Or, perhaps, you’re taking a different route. If you’ve decided to avoid the common headaches and challenges of hunting public lands, there are ample locations to choose from that exist on privately owned land. Be forewarned, however, this is going to come with different costs.
First, you’ll need to scout potential areas.
Since you can’t go onto private property to hunt, you’re going to need to become very good at identifying game trails, beds, and potential feeding fields from roadways. Big hint, get comfortable with using your binoculars.
Second, you’re going to need to get permission from the landowner.
This can, and frequently does, come at a significant cost. There are private lands that are baited and set up for hunters. These lands have proven track records for completed hunts. Some are referred to as high fence ranches while others are referred to as low fence hunting. These two options are going to (usually) be the most costly hunts you attempt, but most of the work will be done for you. Should you choose to do the entire hunt yourself, you’re going to be looking for a property that is not “on the beaten path” of the hunting world. Seek One is a channel on YouTube that details these types of hunts for anyone interested in learning the process.
Third, I highly --let me repeat this: I highly-- recommend having something in writing that tells anyone who may question your presence that you’ve been granted permission.
If a game warden or other law enforcement sees you on property they know you don’t belong to, they’re likely to question you. If a neighbor sees you, they may call law enforcement or try to stop you themselves. That little piece of paper can save you massive headaches and a lost day of hunting. Is it a guaranteed cure-all? No. But it will significantly reduce the prolonged investigations and inquisitions.
No matter if you’re looking for private land, have already acquired access to private land, or will be using public lands; you’re maps, satellite images, and surveillance will make or break you potential for success. Like we discussed in “5 Traits New Hunters Need Deer Hunting,” you need to know where your game will be likely to frequent (sleeping, walking, drinking, eating). Effective scouting, thorough research, and dedicated practice will make this process easier for you. It truly does, however, require practice.
3) Gear & Preparation
Are you bow, crossbow, or riffle hunting? Do you need to be wearing orange? Will you be in a tree stand, a platform blind, a ground blind, a boat blind, hiking through coverage? Can you remove your orange once you reach your intended position or does it have to stay on as long as you’re in the field? Can you bait the area with feed or scent attractants? Are you allowed to use electric calls?
All of these questions are things you need to know to properly prepare your gear. Bow and crossbow hunters may want to take lighted knocks. They may have restrictions on the types of arrowheads they are allowed to use. A bowhunter may need a bow release, replacement strings, Allen wrenches, or string wax for in the field quick repairs. A crossbow hunter may want some of the same, but will also need to remember the cocking tool and a sling. No matter what kind of hunting you’ll be doing you’ll need to consider replacement batteries for scopes; ropes, straps, or bags to haul out the harvest; and proper knife(s) for breaking down the harvest.
We’ve put together a basic checklist for Bow, Crossbow, and Riffle hunting. Depending on the quest we are setting out on, we pack according to what is on our list. You will only need a couple hunts under your belt to have a working list for yourself.
4) Setup & Access to Your Chosen Spot
If you’ve got health or physical limitations access will be of paramount concern for you. AJ and I are limited on the distance we can hike into a hunting spot due to our physical limitations. As a result, we’ve worked to develop alternative methods for accomplishing our goals. Some things you may want to consider:
a bass boat, Jon boat, paddle boat, or kayak can serve as a transport vessel to get you into a hunting location or (at the very least, close). Watercraft can be modified or adapted to accommodate a wide variety of limitations and mobility concerns. We are currently building a duck blind for our kayaks that will accommodate not only our mobility issues, but could provide accessibility to amputees, paraplegics, and more.
Hunting areas not accessible by water may be an option if your local authorities allow the use of ATVs. You can even get or make trailers to haul your catch.
Many others have found the electric hunting bikes to be sufficient. There are several models available these days.
No matter the limitations or means chosen, there are ways to access your local hunting areas. All you need to do is get creative.
No matter what method you choose to access your hunting site, you’re going to have to set up once you arrive. Remember to always be quiet! Tree stands may need to be put up the day before your hunt (if your local regulations allow) so the animals have time to forget you were making noise. Personal blinds will have to be set up. A way to avoid this is to locate local hunting land that provides an established blind, but these are rather rare. If you’re going to bait the area, you’re going to need it there a few days before you arrive, if not weeks. Again, you’re rarely going to be allowed to do this on public hunting land, but it is something to consider if you get permission from a private landowner.
Just like in fishing, hunting is a game of patience and experimentation. Try new things. Change up your position, your terrain, your time of day. And, most importantly, be prepared to wait. Deer, hogs, Turkeys…They have all day, every day to watch for you and avoid you. Make the most of your day and expect that your entire day will be consumed with looking for that one target.