There are many ways to learn to hunt new species
Marcia Brownlee is the program manager for NWF's Artemis Sportswomen. Learn more at www.artemis.nwf.org.
Last Friday, I went for a walk scouting new hunting grounds. I was looking for turkey sign, but, as it happens when you’re in the woods, I delved into a “Who was here?” storyline. The abundance of elderberries, the trampled grass, the unnervingly fresh scat told me I wasn’t far behind a black bear. A pair of small, pointed whitetail tracks and the musk of deer urine show this game trail is used by a doe and her fawn. A snake slithering into the water. A poplar stand on the edge of meadow. Grasshoppers catching my pant legs. Oregon grape stripped of their berries. A pileated woodpecker laughing in the distance. Each observation is a puzzle piece slipped into place, adding to my understanding of the wildlife that live here.
Since that scouting trip, I’ve gone on a nostalgic trip down memory lane and retraced the varying paths of learning with each new species I pursued. As all hunters do, I had help along the way, but it took a different form every time. If you are a newer hunter – or support a newer hunter – remember that there are a lot of ways to learn and a lot of ways to support learning. Here’s what my path has looked like.
Walking with an experienced hunter
The first game I pursued was whitetail deer. It seemed appropriate, as a native Michigander, that my journey should begin with this ubiquitous game species. My childhood is full of memories of coming face to face with whitetail deer in the woods and corn fields, of venison being the only meat I would eat when I was eight, of a whitetail being processed in my backyard after my dad’s successful hunt. My first year in the woods, my two mentors helped me learn firearm safety and accuracy, the complexities of hunting regulations, deer behavior patterns, habitat preferences, and the basics of ambush, spot and stalk, and still hunting tactics. They sparked conversations about hunting ethics. They supported me emotionally the first time I killed an animal. They guided me through field dressing. They celebrated with me and shared the meals cooked. Walking side-by-side with an experienced hunter laid an important foundation to my hunting identity and my comfort in the field. There are times when nothing beats the traditional understanding of mentoring a new hunter in the field.
Don’t overlook the benefits of co-learning
After a year in the field pursuing deer with mentors, I took off with a fellow beginner to hunt antelope in the sagebrush hills of eastern Montana. She and I both had precisely one successful year hunting whitetail under our belts. There were things that we knew: how to be safe in the field, how to make sense of the regulations, how to make ethical hunting decisions, how not to get lost. And there were lots of things we didn’t know: where were the antelope, what are their behavior patterns, how the heck do you get close to them? With curiosity, intense observation, discussion, discussion, and more discussion, and a lot of trial and error, we slowly increased our understanding of this incredible animal. I discovered how much fun it can be to have a co-learner in the field, making your own decisions and your own mistakes and driving your own hunt. That first year, I got within 400 yards of a beautiful buck. Well outside my comfort zone as a new shooter, I watched him from afar until the wind shifted and he took off. This week, we will be heading out to hunt antelope for the 5th year in a row.
My advice to every new hunter is to not be afraid to choose a hunting buddy over a hunting mentor. Pick someone you trust, someone you communicate well with, someone who makes you laugh. Don’t be afraid. Make good choices. Learning together is the most fun.
Outfitters and guides
My second-year hunting, my dad asked me if I wanted to go with him on a guided bear hunt. I said that I didn’t think I was ready for that yet, but maybe in a few years. He asked again a month later. And, again, a month after that. The third time, I said yes. Those of you who listen to the Artemis podcast know that I’ve developed a bit of an obsession for black bear. The lineage of this obsession can be traced directly to a hunting guide in the mountains of Idaho. Guides and outfitters are an absolutely incredible wealth of knowledge and an extremely valuable resource. Show some grit, an awareness of safety, and an appreciation for when not to talk and most guides will answer up to a million questions.
Long distance Q&A
Most recently, I’ve decided to dive deep into turkey hunting. My first exposure was an Artemis group turkey hunt in Idaho in spring 2019. One that trip, I watched a turkey harvest and met some incredibly knowledgeable turkey hunters. Since then, I’ve only hunted turkey alone. Each time I go into the field I come out with a list of questions. Some I answer myself through reading, googling, or listening to podcasts. Many times, I call a hunter more knowledgeable than I am and say, hey, can I buy you a drink and ask you some questions? From picking out non-lead ammo to understanding sunlight’s triggering effect on spring mating, find the hunters willing to answer your questions. Honestly, in my experience, that includes most of them. People are usually excited to talk about their passion.
The Great American Outdoors Act will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund while investing in a backlog of public land maintenance, providing current and future generations the outdoor recreation opportunities like boat launches to access fishable waters, shooting ranges, and public lands to hunt as well as the economic stimulus we need right now.