A gun (or bow for archery hunts) is pretty important. If you don’t have one, that’s fine, many guides will let you rent or borrow one of theirs. You can filter Outpost’s search results by whether hunts offer equipment rental. If you have a gun but aren’t sure if it’s right for the hunt you’re going on, just ask your guide and they’ll be happy to help.
Apart from that, comfortable clothing is by far the most important hunting equipment. Dress in layers so that you can add or remove clothes as the temperature changes. And also make sure your footwear is comfortable, and waterproof if you’re going to be trudging through water.
The rest of what you need depends on how long you’ll be in the field and what type of hunt it is. Water is always good to bring, as well as a cooler or something similar to transport your animal(s). A good knife or multitool is usually helpful too. Ask your guide or hunting partners if you’re not sure what else to bring.
This is controversial among hunters. In general, camo is probably better than no camo. Don’t get too hung up on the specific pattern of camo, though. And if you don’t have any camo, comfortable clothes in earth tones will do just fine. If you spook any animals, it’s much more likely to be because they heard you or smelled you than because of anything else. You’ll often hear people opine that more deer have been shot by people in jeans and a red flannel shirt than every camo pattern combined.
One asterisk to this: for some animals, you do need to be very well-camouflaged. Turkeys, for example, have particularly good eyesight and will spook easily at the sight of you.
Probably. It’s a simple matter of buying it online. Most licenses in most states require you to take the state’s hunter education course before you can buy the license. The course is easy to take, and you’ll learn genuinely useful info about safety and outdoorsmanship. You can take the course online at Hunter Ed. That’ll take a few hours. Once you’re finished, most states require you to finish up with a half-day in-person course. Schedule a time for that, do it, and you’re all set. Completing hunter’s ed in any state then lets you buy a hunting license in all 50 states.
Some hunts — for example, pheasant hunting on a preserve in New York State — don’t require any kind of license at all. Other hunts do require a license, but it’s a simpler kind of license that doesn’t require you to have taken hunter’s ed. You can browse by license type in our search listings to find a hunt that’s right for you.
Hunts from a treestand or a blind are generally stationary — once you get to where you're set up, you'll be sitting still (and attentive) in that spot for several hours. This is the most common way to hunt deer and turkey.
Spot-and-stalk hunts and ambush hunts are more common in the western U.S. and involve much more hiking. The pattern there is typically “hike a couple miles to a spot where you can see several miles of country, glass (i.e. scan with binoculars) for a couple hours for animals, and repeat until you find what you’re looking for”. Those are tons of fun and, depending on the terrain, can be quite strenuous.
Still hunting is a mix of the two. It’s deceptively named, because it’s the opposite of sitting still — it’s moving slowly and constantly, stopping frequently to look at tracks or scan for sign. This is a common way to hunt a wide variety of animals.
The place to aim on most animals is through the heart and lungs. A shot through this vital zone will kill an animal in seconds, and it’s a big target. A brain shot is instantly deadly but is usually not an ethical shot — it’s much harder to make accurately and therefore runs a high risk of wounding the animal instead of killing it.
Turkeys are an exception where the most ethical shot is in the head/neck. Before your hunt, research the animal you’ll be hunting to get familiar with ethical shot placements and angles, both for that animal and for the weapon you’ll be using.
It’s a cliche because it’s true — hunting isn’t about the killing. Some of your most unforgettable hunts will send you home with memories of incredible mountains and tough hikes and the zen of being immersed in nature, but with nothing to put in the freezer. And that’s important to know going in. Some hunts are very low-percentage — for example, about 90% of unguided public land elk bowhunters go home without an elk. Others are very high-percentage — if you hunt a pheasant preserve, the chances are overwhelming that you’ll be going home with some birds. Just pick your hunts according to what you’d like to get out of the experience and you’ll have a great time.
Well, the most important thing is staying safe. That means always following the four rules of gun safety, being careful in your treestand or when hiking, and being properly equipped for the elements — falls and hypothermia injure far more hunters each year than anything else does.
Other than that, that’s why you hire a guide! They’re there to help you and to answer questions. No one’s there to judge you for being a newbie, and you’ll see that experienced hunters often love to help beginners learn the ropes.
If you are hunting with a guide, your guide will help you clean the animal. Watch carefully. After you see them do it once or twice, you’ll be ready to give it a go yourself. YouTube is a great place to get a preview before you go out.
If you’re hunting without a guide, be sure to watch enough videos ahead of your hunt that you feel ready to field dress any game you kill. This is essential with big game. For small game like rabbits and birds, cleaning may be able to wait a few hours until you get home as long as the weather is cold and dry.
Wild meat is generally delicious. (We’re biased, you say? Of course! It’d be pretty weird to start a hunting site and not like wild game.) Be sure to keep the meat clean when butchering your animal. Most meat isn’t naturally gamey, but letting it get dirty can harm the flavor.
It won’t taste exactly like store-bought meat, though. Birds like quail and pheasant taste similar to chicken, but with a hint of wildness in them. Like a chicken that’s seen some stuff. Hiked the Appalachian Trail after college, worked in logging for a few years in the ‘80s, likes weightlifting and Chuck Palahniuk books. Similarly, deer tastes like a beef with a deeper earthy flavor, not far from the taste of grass-fed beef. And so on — way too many animals to list here, but if people are hunting it, people are cooking tasty things from it.
One note about fat: wild animals are usually much leaner than farmed animals — they run around a lot more and as a result tend to be in good shape. Because of that leanness, wild meat will cook faster than farmed meat, so just be careful not to overcook it.
Many bears have trichinosis. Their meat is safe to eat just as long as you cook it to 160 ºF or hotter. Rarely, rabbits will have yellow spots on their liver — that means the rabbit is sick and you shouldn’t eat it. In general, animals that are clearly sick shouldn’t be eaten. Check your local fish and game office’s website for info on any local risks, and research the animal you’re hunting to learn about any species-specific risks. But otherwise, meat from healthy wild animals is generally safe and delicious to cook however you like your meat. For example, we like our deer and our duck breast medium-rare, just like Hank Hill.
In the vast majority of the U.S., you can walk into a gun store today, choose a hunting rifle or shotgun, take an instant background check, pay, and walk out with the gun.
A few jurisdictions (including California, but not Texas) have a waiting period of 10–14 days before you can pick up the gun. A small handful — most notably Massachusetts and New York City (not New York State) — require some permit paperwork before you get your first gun. But the bottom line is that no matter where you live, if you pass the background check, there is a way for you to own a hunting gun.
As a quick reference, Wikipedia has a very handy state-by-state summary.
And for definitive answers, just call your local gun store. They’ll be happy to help you buy a hunting gun.
(If you’re buying your first firearm in California, the state requires you to take a short written safety test, which you can typically do right in the gun store. It’s pretty straightforward, and you can find out more at the California state government’s comprehensive FAQ.)
Go shooting at your local gun range. (Chances are very good there’s one within 30 minutes of your house. The site Where to Shoot can help you find one, and Google is usually pretty handy too.) Many ranges offer lessons if you’d like some extra coaching. The more you shoot, the better you’ll get.
An even better option: Project Appleseed is an organization that runs 1–2 day marksmanship courses around the country. They do a great job teaching thousands of people a year, and they cater to first-time shooters and experts alike. It’s by far the fastest way to improve your shooting — and it’s lots of fun. Click here to find an upcoming Appleseed event near you.
Guns are a lot of fun, but obviously can be very dangerous if handled sloppily. Gun safety teachers around the world teach Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules. Always follow these rules and you’ll have a great time:
- Treat all guns as if they’re loaded. Always.
- Never let the gun point at anything you wouldn’t want to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until your sights are on the target and you’re ready to fire.
- Be sure of your target and what is behind it.
Also, reddit.com/r/guns has a phenomenal (and very extensive) list of answers to every common beginner question out there.
Lastly, if you want to go really deep there’s this old school U.S. Army training video from World War II. It’s a healthy 40 minutes long and uses a neat scaled-up cutaway model to explain how just about every kind of gun works internally — what they refer to as the “cycle of operation”.