I’ve been hunting since nine months before I was born. I am super blessed. I had the best mom and dad in the world. Dad took us hunting and fishing with him from the time we were little. He got us a BB gun when we turned 6 years old, a pellet gun when we turned 9, a shotgun at 10 years old and a .22 when we reached 12. I started shooting my sister’s shotgun when I began dove hunting at 6 or 7 years old. Dad took us everywhere with him and, on top of that, our grandad and uncles took us fishing, too.
But what if you weren’t that lucky and didn’t come from an outdoor family? How would you even get into hunting? Where would you start? It’s almost like a family inheritance or something. I live in Idaho where countless Californians are moving into the state. In the valley where I live, I hear that 42 Californians are moving there per day. Despite the stereotype, not all of them are flaming liberals. In fact, many of them are trying to escape the socialist atmosphere there and want to get into Idaho’s outdoor lifestyle but don’t know how to start. This may be you.
Well, don’t panic. It may seem tough but it’s not impossible. So let’s get started. But first, the tough-love part. Don’t come into Idaho demanding that someone teach you the ropes. Overall, outdoorsmen are a friendly lot but a lot of them have had the same hunting buddies and hunting camp for decades. Let’s give you a comparison. It’s almost like you moved to America and said, “Hmm, I want to get into the Thanksgiving and Christmas spirit so I’m barging in on your family get together so I can figure it out.” That’d be a little weird, right? Same if you try to barge in on someone’s hunting. You’re going to have to hustle, scout and explore to find your own secret hunting and fishing spots.
Newcomers to the outdoors should read as much as they can in their particular line of interest. For instance, NRA Publications, the pick of which you would receive with an NRA membership, offer a wealth of information on outdoor and shooting skills. (Image courtesy of the author.)
So have some patience. There is so much to learn so it will take a minute. Guns are a lot of fun to shoot but, as the NRA—America’s gun safety, training and education leader—says, with that right to own and enjoy them comes the responsibility to be safe, educated and proficient. While I may be accident-prone, considering this year alone I’ve broken a rib twice, cracked my patella and tore a meniscus, among other things, I’m super serious when it comes to gun safety.
The best advice in getting started is to go straight to the NRA and take an NRA gun safety course. If you’d never driven a car, you wouldn’t just buy one and jump on a freeway, would you? The NRA develops safe, ethical, responsible shooters through a network of more than 125,000 NRA-certified firearm instructors nationwide. First up, you’ll learn the NRA’s basic gun safety rules, starting with always keeping your gun pointed in a safe direction and always keeping your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. Read the complete list of NRA gun safety rules.
NRA Hunter Services has a plethora of education and safety programs you can tap into 24/7 for hunters of all ages and skill levels, starting with a free online NRA Hunter Education course.In addition, NRA Hunter Services has a plethora of education and safety programs you can tap into 24/7 for hunters of all ages and skill levels, starting with a free online NRA Hunter Education course. As covered by this NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum website multiple times, the free NRA online course was the natural next step for the NRA, considering it is the organization that created America’s first-ever hunter education course in conjunction with the state of New York in 1949. For information on the course, visit NRAHE.org. Of course, those interested in concealed carry also can turn to the NRA for courses on that topic as well. When on the range or in hunting scenarios, I suggest everyone in your group make it a standing rule to correct each other and point out anything that may be unsafe. This is serious stuff.
Going another step, I recommend taking advantage of any outdoor skills seminars that pertain to your interests. In fact, as someone who enjoys offering outdoor seminars, I’ll be conducting quite a few in the new year, including at the Dallas Safari Club Convention and Sporting Expo in Dallas and the Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas, both in January, and four more at the Safari Club International Hunters’ Convention in Reno in February. I conduct 50 to 60 seminars a year, including at various outdoor retailers, so I hope to see you at one of them. Of course, I also continue to attend as many seminars as I can to keep on top of things and learn new tricks.
For more advice, read a lot. Join the NRA, which gets you a free subscription to one of its NRA official journals—American Hunter, American Rifleman, America’s First Freedom or Shooting Illustrated. And don’t forget to take your local newspaper if it has an Outdoors section. It will cover local events and seasons that pertain to you. And if it doesn’t have an Outdoors section, call to request one. Remind the person you speak with that a huge percentage of the newspaper’s readership enjoys the outdoors and that it is missing out on servicing a huge customer base.
Another way for newcomers to the outdoor lifestyle to learn is through seminars and workshops. These courses were offered through Cabela's. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Next up, check out various blogs. For the news on issues impacting the future of hunters, hunting and wildlife conservation, start with reading the content on this NRAHLF.org website. I also write a weekly Product Review for Ammoland.com, a leading news service for the ammunition, firearms, shooting, hunting and conservation community. Also, check out the websites of NRA Publications and others such as gunpowdermagazine.com. Read, read, read!
I also recommend joining a local shooting sports, archery and/or rod-and-gun club. You’ll meet people there who will take you under their wing, whether you are just getting started in traditional outdoor sports or are new to the area. I’ve had to move a bit and that is always a major pain. In some ways it is like starting all over again. You have to discover new hunting and fishing spots, but that also can be exciting. Another place that you will meet a lot of your new hunting partners is at work or in your neighborhood.
When it comes to buying outdoor gear, before you spend your family inheritance on products, talk to outdoorsmen in your locale, see what gear they use and benefit from their insight and experience.
If you’re a female, it often has been more difficult to get into the outdoors—but not impossible. Of course, all the guys will want to teach you the ropes, but consider that there are now more and more women forming their own groups. For example, my wife and her school-teacher buddies go shooting on Tuesday afternoons. My daughter formed a “Sisters Before Misters” shooting club for girls while in college. She and her friends asked me to help them get started, but these groups also tend to have female instructors.
So as we wrap up, it can be tough getting into the outdoor world if you weren’t raised in it but it is by no means impossible. Imagine you just moved to a new country and don’t know the customs or the language. That’s almost how drastic it is. Have the attitude of a 2-year-old and jump in with both feet. Have fun. I’m pulling for you.
About the Author:Outdoor writer Tom Claycomb III lives in Idaho. He publishes 325 articles and conducts 50-plus seminars per year. He serves on the pro staffs of several hunting companies and enjoys field-testing hunting and fishing gear year round.
Follow NRA Hunters' Leadership Forum on Twitter@HuntersLead.