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I've engaged in many hobbies in my life-time, but I can confidently say that none have I at any time acquired the adrenaline buzz and 100 % pure joy, compared with hunting deer.

During hunting season, I don’t go a week without a reader emailing me asking some variant of this question: “I want to learn to hunt, or at least see if I want to, but I haven’t the faintest idea how even to start. Can you help?”

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But hunting season, which in America is, for the most part, late summer through late winter, is precisely the wrong time to get started. If you want to hunt in 2010, you need to get started now.

I am sorry if you are reading this outside the United States, because I have no idea how to get started hunting in other countries. But if you live in America, let me try to walk you through the process.

Keep in mind this is a primer, and I will undoubtedly forget some key points — feel free to ask any and all questions I have not addressed, and you hunters out there, chime in with stuff I am forgetting.


This is the primary reason I am writing this now. In most states, before you can legally hunt, you must earn a Hunter Education (also called Hunter Safety) certificate. This is what allows you to buy a hunting license in your state — and your hunter ed certification should be valid in all 50 states. A hunter ed certificate (usually just a sticker) is the gateway to the hunting world. Once you are certified, you can go anywhere, buy a local license, and start hunting.

Different states have different rules. The International Hunter Education Association keeps state-by-state lists of requirements.

Now not all states require the certificate. I did not have to take a course when I first started hunting in Minnesota. But, when I wanted to hunt in Wyoming, I did need the certificate — even though I was a licensed hunter in California. Bottom line: Better to get certified.

An even better reason to take the course is because if you have never hunted before, did not grow up around guns, and don’t know basic woodsmanship, this course should fill in a lot of blanks. I learned a ton just by taking the IHEA’s online course, which will get you most of the way toward being certified. It takes about an hour to complete.

Keep in mind you will also need to attend an in-person course as well in California, as well as in many other coastal states — the middle of the country, with the notable exception of Illinois, is much more hunter- and gun-friendly .

Here is the overview of California’s courses from the state Dept. of Fish & Game. If you live in New York, go to this site. Here are some other states’ hunter education sites: Texas, Washington state, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Florida, Oregon, and Virginia.

You will notice that the images for all of these sites feature children. That’s because most people take this class only once, and typically before they hit high school. So be prepared to be among kids and immigrants. It’s actually kinda cool, in an anthropological sense. But you will very likely meet a few other adults who want to take up hunting, too — they might become new friends.

Bottom line is that if you even think you might want to hunt, this is a low-cost way to get started. For one, it’s required in most states. But the courses also run through all the basics you need to know to a) be safe out there, and b) be successful. California’s course goes through everything from gun safety to private property rights to shot placement on a deer that’s quartering away.

Take the course, and take it soon! Classes fill up early, and you will want to get certified before fall.


United States


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