Learning to hunt solo as an adult is a big challenge, but you can do it and have a blast too! I started hunting from a standing start at about age 30 and learned from scratch without hardly any support, help, or mentors. I learned through trial and error, much research and reading, lots of failure and eventually great success.
Everything I learned about how to start hunting as an adult I instilled into The New Hunters Guide podcast. Here are 15 steps to help you get started.
1) New Hunter Safety and Education
The first thing you need is to get new hunters safety training so you can get your first hunting license. Nothing is more important than safety! A little searching online should reveal the process and system in your state. Usually this amounts to something like a one day class, onsite or online, where you can learn about hunting and firearms safety. There is usually a test and once you pass you are able to buy your first license. Unfortunately these programs do little to teach you about how to really hunt and be successful. So I cover that in detail in my podcast.
2) Hunting Seasons and Licenses
Next you need to decide what you would like to hunt. Most beginners start hunting with deer, and that is a great place to jump in. But it may be easier to start hunting small game, crows, doves, or woodchucks. If you are going solo then waterfowl hunting, uplands birds, and turkeys are going to be harder places to start that take more work, skills, gear, and know how to be successful, but you can do it!
Once you have identified the game you want to pursue, you need to find out when the hunting season is and buy the licenses and tags you need to hunt and take that game. Be sure to thoroughly read through your hunting manual to learn all of the local rules and regulations of what you can and cannot do. If you are hunting deer, and it is possible for you to buy a doe tag then DO IT! You will want the flexibility to have options when you are hunting.
3) How To Find A Place To Hunt On Private Land
It is possible that you know someone who has some land who will give you permission to hunt there. But you likely will not know who those people are because you never paid much attention to who has land before. I recommend exploring this route, hunting on private land has a lot of advantages over public land, even if it is only a handful of acres.
As few as 5-10 acres can be enough to hunt some game, like deer. If it is an option for you, then consider it. Ask around, talk to family and friends, and pay close attention. You can hunt very effectively on small properties, check out this article I did on the subject: How To Hunt Deer On Small Properties.
Unfortunately, it will be much harder to get permission to hunt on someone’s property if you do not have a relationship with that person. So, explore your network first.
4) How To Find A Place To Hunt On Public Land
Most people in the U.S. have good public land options within 1-2 hours of their home. Finding these can be tough though. I recommend paying the $30 a year for the OnX Hunt app that lets you see every public and private land parcel in your state and where the boarders are. This makes it easy to find almost every acre of public land and figure out access points as well as make notes, leave waypoints and A LOT more.
OnX Hunt is the only hunting app that I pay for, and year after year I happily renew my subscription. These days it also shows things like wind direction and weather. I did a full review on that app along with another leading map app here: onX Hunt vs. HuntWise Review | Which Hunting Map App Is The Best.
5) Scouting 101
Once you have found a potential property to hunt on, public or private, you must scout it. Scouting answers two big questions.
- Are there deer or whatever game you are searching for on this property?
- Where could you setup and hunt from on the land?
Almost never can you just walk onto a brand new piece of property in the dark and find a good place to hunt from. You need to go there in advance. If you are scouting deer then the #1 thing you are looking for as a new hunter are deer tracks. After that you are looking for droppings, rubs, and scrapes. Check out these 10-ish podcast episodes on scouting for deer hunting.
Once you have found signs of deer or whatever you are hunting then you can look for a place to hunt from. This is where you will stealthily walk to during the season to hunt from. This could be a tree stand, a ground blind, or just a bucket against a tree. Check out the podcast episodes for way more info on what to do. The bottom line is this, find where the animals are likely to walk, and find a good place to hide where you can see them but it’s tough for them to see you.
6) You First Set of Hunting Gear
The best gear to start with is likely the gear you already have. Inventory everything you have that could possibly work for hunting. Do not worry about camouflage right now. Anything black, brown or dark green is fine to start with. Focus on the 2 big things that are needed to keep you warm, layers and barriers.
Layers trap warmth in, barriers keep wind and weather out. You will need some reasonable footwear to keep your feet warm and dry, I like getting a neoprene rubber hunting boot to keep you warm and dry, these Red Heads tend to go on sale for as low as $35 at times. But you will never regret investing in quality footwear whether it is this season or down the road.
You also need some base layers that are NOT COTTON. You can wear cotton layers if needed when you get started but it makes lousy base layers because it does not insulate when wet at all. They work great until you work up a sweat. You can get started with something like these Windchaser Base Layers which sell for around $20 for a full set. Can you get better stuff. YES. But for your first season, these or something equally cheap will get you in the woods.
I think First Lite has about the best merino wool base layers on the market but they are expensive. Cabela’s E.C.W.C.S. base layers are a great middle of the road layer with a balance between performance and cost. But for your first season, spend $20 and get in the woods already.
You need some warm wool socks, but you can get buy on whatever you find cheap. Gloves, boots and lots of other gear can be augmented with some disposable heat packs. Spend $7 on these and make up for hundreds of dollars in high end gear that you can buy down the road.
If you are buying gear, do not rule out discount stores, thrift stores, yard sales, and the like. I have gotten some amazing and pricey gear for pennies. I mean $400 coats and bibs for $20. You can find amazing deals sometimes. But you can also find cheap gear for cheap prices, and that can be just as good for a new hunter.
7) Firearms for New Hunters
I have long said that the best first gun for a new hunter is the one you already have, can easily borrow, or can cheaply buy used. Here is the idea, until you have done some hunting, you have no idea what guns, features, or specifications best complement your hunting style. You need to hunt first, before you invest money in firearms, or archery equipment. Whatever you can get that will do the job is the best thing to start with.
Hunt with a less than ideal gun, or a loner for the first season. And then once you have some experience and a little more budget, you’ll be better equipped to buy something better that will be a good fit for YOU. Check and see what is legal to use in your state, chances are if it is legal, it will do the job well enough. Additional info is available in this episode.
8) How to Pick Your Ammunition
When it comes to deer hunting, just about any expanding projectile ammo is going to do the job on a deer at regular ranges. If only it were that simple though, there are so many options that it can be confusing. I recommend you start with a box of the cheap stuff, get two boxes actually. One and a half boxes for target practice, and 5-10 rounds for hunting.
Practice at the range at different distances and different shooting positions. Learn how far you can comfortable shoot standing up, kneeling, and from a supported position while still hitting a 6” target consistently. Next season you can get the more expensive ammo. When trying to take a deer, the best shot is the double lung shot. The simplest way to describe that is to aim about midway up the deer, just an inch behind the front shoulder. If you get a pass through shot on both lungs, the deer will be unconscious and pain free in seconds. It is the most ethical shot and provides the most consistently humane results.
9) Your First Blaze Orange Gear
You likely will need an orange vest and hat to hunt deer and lots of other things. You can start with a super cheap hunting vest. And then perhaps down the road you can upgrade to something that is a nicer more functional vest. I do not recommend you buy a big or expensive blaze orange coat, because you will invariably end up hunting things that you do not want orange for. So an orange vest lets you use the same coat or outerwear to hunt anything you like, you just add the vest and you are ready.
You also likely need an orange hat. I am a big fan of a cheap orange camo beanie. You can wear this alone, or eventually wear it over top of a better hat you may acquire. I like orange camo because the little bit of pattern breaks up your outline. Make sure it’s legal in your area.
10) Game Calls
If you are new to hunting gear, the best call you can use is to just be quiet. Don’t bother buying anything, you are likely to do more to foil a hunt than help it by blowing calls. You need some experience, practice, and learning to get to a point where a call may help. After hunting for quite a while, I take a grunt call into the woods but I still do not think I could tell you that it ever the made a difference on a hunt yet.
Being still and quiet are the best things a new hunter can do. Save the money and time for other things your first couple seasons. Now if you are hunting turkey’s you are going to need to buy a call. I think a box call or a slate call are the best options for a beginner to learn on.
11) Beginners Hunting Tactics and Strategy
The sky is the limit here, but the simplest and easiest way for a new hunter to get started is to find a deer trail and look for a good place to hide. Tree stands and ground blinds have a lot of advantages but they also add cost and complexity to what can be a very expensive first season. I recommend you find some cover on the uphill side and sit with your back against a big large tree. Then you sit looking downhill at the deer trail. This gives you some advantages in hunting and helps keep you a little safer as well.
You can find pretty much everything you could want from a beginners standpoint on deer hunting strategy in my deer hunting podcast archives. If you are hunting other game just look at the Show Categories in the menu and find the game you are looking for.
12) Wind, Snacks, and Bathroom Breaks
One of the biggest things that can ruin a good hunt is if the wind blows your scent to the deer you are trying to ambush. You always want the wind to blow past you into an area that you do not expect the deer to be in. So if you are facing a trail, you want the wind in your face. Snacks can range from fun to critical depending on how long you are in the woods but whatever you bring to eat will also create more smells making it that much more important to be mindful of the wind.
Likewise there are many myths about relieving yourself in the woods, but the truth is that every animal pees in the woods and within minutes any odors that are unique to humans break down or at least become unthreatening to deer. So you can do whatever you need to in the woods without much concern.
13) Field Dressing
You will take a deer, it may not be on your first couple hunts, but it could very well be. So you need to prepare for success. Study how to field the animal you are hunting. Watch videos, and be ready for it. You will be glad you did! It only takes 5-10 minutes to field dress a deer, but avoiding a few common blunders can make the process so much easier, cleaner, and more pleasant. Study a little, you will thank me. Here is a podcast episode with videos on how to do it.
A sharp pocket knife or kitchen knife is the only tool you need. But some elbow length disposable gloves can make a huge difference though! For $10 you can get 10 pairs. Definitely worth it. The golden rule for field dressing is recover the deer, dress it, and get it out of the woods and into refrigeration as quickly as possible, that will yield the best meat.
14) Meat Processing
Before you even walk into the woods, know where you are going to take that deer after you field dress it. Have a plan for a truck that can haul it, or put a big tarp down in the trunk of your car and do it that way. Yes, I have hauled deer in the trunk of a compact car. There is plenty of space and a 10’ x 10’ tarp keeps everything clean. You can get one at Walmart or a discount store for super cheap. I don’t leave home without one!
I recommend picking out a good deer processor for your first season or two at least. It is worth the money and lets you fully enjoy the fruits of your labor without risking you messing up the meat. Get steaks, roasts, sausage, jerky, and whatever else you processor can make out of it! Eventually you may decide you want to do it yourself, but don’t add that burden to your first season. My new butcher is so good I have lost all drive to do it myself.
Mounting a whole deer head can be very expensive, somewhere around $500-$1000 is common, with the better work being on the higher end of that scale. But for around $30 you can get a great antler plague mount kit. I use these exclusively now. The butcher gives me back the antlers still connected to the top skull plate for no extra cost,
After a little cleaning and prep I can mount the antlers in about 20 minutes, and they look great hanging on the wall. And they don’t take up a fraction of the space that a whole head does. If you do want to mount a whole head, then I recommend you start saving up for it before you even go hunting and just keep that money set aside so when do you get your deer, you do not have to write a large painful check all of a sudden.
Final Take Aways
These 15 steps are certainly not exhaustive, which is why I created The New Hunters Guide podcast with over 200 episodes and counting. I have worked to diligently mentor, teach, and impart everything I can think of into these episodes to help provide you with the resource that I wish I would have had when I started hunting. And don’t forget about the YouTube Channel where I demonstrate, test, and show things that complement the podcast.
What is bottom line? You can do it, take your first steps toward hunting today!
Till next time. God bless you, and go get em in the woods!
George Konetes Ph.D. – Founder and Host of the New Hunters Guide.