There are many benefits to hunting, most importantly, having fresh, free range meat on hand. Many homesteaders raise livestock for eggs, meat, and craft materials. Taking to the woods can supplement this supply with a variety of healthy and tasty table fare. This is even more important for the homesteader who doesn’t have enough land, or can’t raise livestock due to zoning regulations, and relies only on a grocery store for their meat.
In most states, getting started involves taking a hunter’s safety course and obtaining your hunting license. These are normally free, and only take up a weekend of your time. You can find out when and where these courses take place, by contacting your state’s game commission. After that, it’s a matter of deciding what you want to hunt and getting some appropriate gear.
For a beginner, small game is a great starting point. Rabbits and squirrels are plentiful in just about every part of America, and gaining access from a farmer is usually much easier than asking to deer hunt. If you treat the land owners well, clean up after yourself, and hunt in a safe way, they just might let you back to hunt deer in the future. Offering a landowner your help with chores for a few hours every now and again is also a great way to stay in his or her good graces. Another great option, and one I use the most, is my state’s public game lands. You can normally find maps of the game lands on the commission website, or by contacting your local game officer and asking him. They are usually more than happy to help.
You can spend as much or as little (to a point) on gear as you want. The first item on your list, and probably most expensive, is some type of firearm. Since this guide is focused on small game, we’ll start with an appropriate gun. Most hunters use a .22, or a shotgun. .22’s are great, and I hunt squirrels with one often. Although, a shotgun is probably a more versatile weapon, and it’s much easier to take rabbits on the run. If you already have a .22 or a shotgun, make use of it, as long as it’s in good working condition. If it was grandpa’s gun and you’re not sure if it works, take it to a gunsmith to have it checked out. This shouldn’t cost much at all, and will certainly be cheaper than a trip to the hospital. Remember, eye patches are only cool if you’re a pirate.
There are many options out there for a beginner, and you can outfit yourself for relatively cheap if cost is a big factor. A used gun is most likely your best route if this is the case. Good, reliable, single shot shotguns can be had used for as little as 90 dollars in 12 and 20 gauge. Both of these gauges are excellent choices for small game. What you will most likely find are H&R, and NEF single shots. These are great guns, and will serve well for the beginner without much cash. There are many other options such as, pump action, double barrel and semi¬-automatic shotguns, but I find the single shots are the most economical and teach the beginner to take proper shots, knowing they only have one shell to rely on. Also, a beginner not familiar with fire arms can end up paying almost as much for a used gun with questionable reliability, as they would for a new gun with a warranty.
Next up is buying a box of shotgun shells for your new shotgun. There are many different types, and it can be confusing to a beginner. The most important part of buying shells for your gun is picking the right length shell. Firing a shell that is not compatible with your gun can be extremely dangerous, and possibly fatal. The proper shell size is stamped on the barrel of your shotgun. You must follow this to a T. The three most common lengths are 2 ¾”, 3”, and 3 ½”. 3 ½”chamberings are most commonly found in duck and turkey guns, and you will most likely not find a single shot in this chambering. You can always fire a shorter length shell, but never a longer one, not even once. Shot size will be what you pick next, and for small game such as rabbits and squirrels, I recommend #6 or #5 lead shot. Now all you need to do is practice a bit, and become proficient with your shotgun. Wounding an animal is not fun, nor does it make you feel very good.
Most states usually require some type of hunter orange, and you will need to check the regulations book that you get with your license. Normally a blaze orange hat and vest are required, and it is a good idea to wear this anyway. Unfortunately, there will always be a couple of dumbasses out there. Don’t be a dumbass.
Next up is your clothing and a good knife. If you frequent this website, I’m sure you are more than familiar with being out in the woods, and know how to dress appropriately. I will say that a good pair of boots and a pair of heavy works jeans are going to make your hunt much more comfortable. You can go to the thrift store and most likely find a sweater, a pair of Dickies or Carhartt work jeans, and even some hunter orange goodies on the cheap. Don’t forget a pair of gloves and good quality socks. If you don’t already have a decent pocketknife or fixed blade, I would recommend an Opinel folder. Cheap as hell, great quality, and holds an edge like a razor. If you’ve got a person that’s into knitting or crocheting, home-made hats, scarfs, gloves, and socks are about the best you can get, and pretty cool, too.
I will mention a few items that would behoove you to have in your truck or backpack. A pack of matches or a lighter, and an extra pair of socks should always on hand. If you fall through an ice-covered creek, and have to walk in freezing weather wearing soaking wet boots and socks, you will find yourself up Shit’s Creek, quite literally. I speak from experience. A flashlight should also be carried for obvious reasons. Some additional small items are your regulations book, a pencil, toilet paper (seriously), something to drink and some snacks. Take whatever else you feel you may need.
This is intended to make picking gear a little less confusing, and there are certainly other routes to go. I am writing from experience, and to me this is the best way to get started for a minimal amount of cash. Once you actually get out hunting, and get a feel for things, you will be able to determine what else you may want or need. If you like it, there is some really great clothing out there, along with guns, knives and all the other goodies. This is only the first part of my beginners guide. In the future, I will get into locating game, hunting strategies, processing and cooking, and what parts to save for crafts and fly tying. I hope that you have been able to learn a bit from me, as I certainly enjoy sharing what I know.