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What's the best hunting advice for beginners? When you're new to hunting, there's a lot to learn. From loading and firing a gun and getting your eye in to understanding range, wind, weather and safety - there are many skills to pick up on your way to becoming a capable hunter. While there's no substitute for getting out there and doing it, we decided to reach out to some more experienced hands to ask their advice. After putting the call out on social media, we were pretty impressed with some of the advice that came in. Some of it might seem a bit obvious at first, but if you can master some of these fundamentals you'll be well on your way. These tips will also serve as a good reminder for the more experienced hunters among us.
Gun safety is the number one thing every beginner hunter should learn. You'll learn a lot of this stuff when you go through the process of obtaining your New Zealand Firearms License - Apply for a firearms license here. The Firearms Safety Authority has 7 safety rules which cover the fundamentals of safe hunting:
Treat every firearm as loaded
Always point firearms in a safe direction
Chamber a cartridge only when ready to fire
Identify your target beyond all doubt
Check your firing zone
Store and transport firearms and ammunition safely
Avoid alcohol or drugs when handling firearms
It's worth noting, that safety can be the first thing that goes out the window when the action and excitement of hunting takes hold. So if you feel your adrenaline pumping, make extra effort to calm down and walk yourself through all the safety steps. The same can happen when you're feeling tired and run down at the end of a hunting trip. Safety always comes first, no matter what.
There are hunting clubs dotted all over New Zealand and Australia and these can be great places to cut your teeth so to speak, especially if you haven't got a bunch of mates who are already into hunting. There's no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to hunting and remaining curious will ensure you progress quickly. You can watch as many YouTube videos as you like, but the best advice will come from crusty old hunters who are ready to download their wisdom to the next generation. Be like a sponge and absorb as much information as you can. Then apply Bruce Lee's famous quote: "Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is specifically your own."
Most beginner hunters start out shooting small animals, such as rabbits, possums and goats, with small calibre firearms such as a .22. Small animals and small calibre firearms are a great way to start as they're excellent for practicing and improving your shot accuracy and, if you miss (which you will sometimes), it's not a big deal. Whereas, if you spent a couple of hours stalking a deer just to practice talking a shot... and you miss... well, that might not go down quite so well with your hunting buddies. Smaller calibre rifles also have barely any recoil, which is another reason they're great for beginners and young hunters. Once you're knocking off rabbits and possums with ease, you can think about graduating to a more powerful firearm and larger animals.
This is quite a creative and unconventional way to put in hunting practice from the comfort of your own home. Hunting magazines are full of photos of game animals, so consider making it a habit to mark your shot as you're flicking through the pages. That way, you won't have to think twice when you're on the hunt. It will be like muscle memory. Repetition is the key to mastery, after all.
Lance reckons humans, and particularly beginner hunters, are in too much of a hurry. Hunting can be exciting, especially once you've spotted an animal. The adrenaline starts pumping through your body and all your training and preparation can go out the window. That's why slowing down is such an important piece of advice. This is particularly important when you're closing in on an animal. Quite a few people shared the "slow down" advice on social media, but the other part of Lance's advice is just as important: "Move different". That means no sudden movements, no swinging limbs or heads - crouch, shuffle, and close distance like a wild predator. If you think you catch sight of an animal in your peripheral vision, freeze, crouch, and turn slowly. There's no point dressing up in camouflage if you're gonna waltz through the hills like a right duffer. The more you practice slow, purposeful movements, the more it becomes second nature.
When you're starting out, you might think that more distance you cover on foot, the more chance you'll have of coming across an animal. However, hunting veterans like Phil Johnson will tell you to let you binoculars do the walking for you. While you will have to put in some hard yard in the hills to earn your stripes, your binoculars can save you a lot of energy. Glassing also helps with slowing down. It forces you to take a breath and observe your environment closely. Often you'll discover a lot more than you would if you were walking. Also, by putting in time through the glass, you're less likely to make noise, or get seen or winded by the animals you're hunting for. We talk a bit more about the importance of glassing in this article: 5 Tips for Winter Hunting in New Zealand
This advice is related to #4. You want to do your best to keep your shot out of the loins so you don't damage or cause bruising to the best-quality meat. Also, if you put it in the loins it's less likely to be a clean kill shot. What this advice is really saying is to learn where to place your shot and practice your accuracy. That way, you can honour the animal by giving it a humane death and by using its meat productively.
Understanding how wind works is going to make a huge difference to your hunting experience. The most basic rules are to hunt into the wind (with the wind blowing towards you) and not to set up camp in a spot that's going to tip off animals downwind from you. However, you should also take some time to learn about the topography of the area you're hunting in and how anabatic and katabatic winds work. In short, as the temperature drops at night, the air becomes heavier and descends (katabatic wind) and in the daytime, as the sun warms the valley, the wind ascends (anabatic). Understanding the different types of wind can help you plan your approach when hunting.
It's not really a joking matter as hunting on private land without permission is a pretty big problem for farmers and iwi in New Zealand, but we still wanted to include this advice to ram the point home. We're not cowboys in the wild west, we're responsible hunters. So make sure you always ask for permission to hunt on private land, check the DOC rules if you're hunting on conservation land, and make sure you've got the right permits. It's important that we all take responsibility for upholding hunting's reputation in New Zealand and Australia by doing the right thing.
This advice is short, snappy and speaks for itself. But it really encompasses the attitude you should have when you're starting out hunting. Respecting nature is a biggie, which includes being prepared for all weather conditions, understanding the environment and risks, and honouring the animals you're hunting. The idea of knowing your limitations and training to break them is so good. It means be realistic about what you're capable of, but continue to push yourself up to that limit so you can steadily increase your capacity.
When you're new to hunting, you'll have high hopes that you're gonna bring an animal home and fill your freezer every time you head out. However, you've got to learn to enjoy the process, otherwise you're gonna be in for disappointment. Make sure you set realistic expectations, prioritise having fun and enjoying your time in nature, and you'll be good. The less obsessed you are with a particular outcome, the more likely you'll be successful, which is a bit like life really.
Too true, Glen. Hunting will take you to some of the most remote, beautiful landscapes in the world. It's a privilege to live the hunting lifestyle and share it with like-minded people. There's a theme developing here about things naturally falling into place. If you have the right attitude and mindset, it seems you're well on your way to becoming a successful hunter.
Jonathan Carson is a Content Writer and Copywriter at Bushbuck. He's a wordsmith who handles most of Bushbuck's website, marketing copy and oversees our blog, The Campfire.
Outside of work, he's big on hiking and dabbles in surfing and bouldering. His favourite wilderness area in New Zealand is Nelson Lakes National Park, particularly the Blue Lake, home to the clearest known freshwater in the world.