The rifle is the single most important piece of equipment a person takes on a hunting trip and AR-15 and AR-10 style rifles are an increasingly popular choice for the modern hunter and it’s easy to understand why. The modern sporting rifle is the most popular rifle in the nation, and gun-owners want to get the most from their favorite rifles.
One thing to understand is, that just like the first budget-build rifle you finished, properly configuring the complete upper receiver by installing the suitable handguard and optic system took a lot of time and patience until you got it right. It’s the same when you take that newly built rifle with you on your first hunting trip.
While the choice of the game you’re hunting may be different depending on the season, there are a few things a first-time hunter needs to understand to break the learning curve and make the first trip as pleasurable as the following hundred times you go. Some of these tips may seem so logical it’s a sure bet you’ll follow them without much thought, but others require practice and consistent application until it becomes an integral part of your actions on each trip.
Practice What You’ve Verified
Many veteran hunters are more than willing to offer up a litany of opinions on what will make a successful hunting trip. Your first tip should be to take all these “suggestions” with a grain of salt until you verify them yourself. Yes, some of these hunting suggestions you might read about will point you to various locations where you’re likely to find the type of game you’re hunting, but that doesn’t mean the areas mentioned are the only places you should pursue.
While the game you’re chasing may demonstrate certain habitual traits, they also instinctively learn to avoid exposure to predators. With each hunting trip you take, your understanding of how these animals react to different seasons, when and where they appear, water sources they frequent, and ways they blend into the natural foliage around them needs to be validated by you.
As the adage goes, you’ll probably see a lot of the game you intend to bring home before taking that first shot. Think of it this way. Once you’ve verified the best methods to spot your prey, it means you’re doing something right. Continue practicing these traits until the opportunity presents itself and you’ve got your mark in the crosshairs.
Many first-time hunters are excited to bring home that first trophy and often rush to pull the trigger. Remember, your creed as a hunter is to take the prey down ethically and with as little suffering as possible. Don’t take the shot and be ready to let your target wander out of sight if you’re in doubt. If you’ve validated that the spot you’ve located will present another opportunity, then wait it out.
Curiosity and Patience
If you’ve ever browsed through a hunter’s magazine, you’ve probably been overwhelmed with all the hunting gear, and gimmicks experts suggest to make your hunting experience perfect. Regardless of the fact you have an optic system that sets you back thousands of dollars, or you’re dressed from head to toe in expensive camouflage, creatures in the wild don’t care. Woodland animals move at their own pace, and so does Nature, most times at a rate that’s far slower than what you expect.
While you may crouch in a duck blind or sit in a tree stand for hours without ever spotting a single target, even these moments can be beneficial if you’re patient and turn up the curiosity knob a few notches. While you patiently wait, start asking yourself the why questions about your game. Why do they prefer crossing across a path from one section of a dense thicket when they could just as easily pick another spot to cross? Why do they fly high above a body of water from a particular direction and land in one place? What makes one food source more preferred than another? Discovering the answers to these and many more questions while scouting the places you intend to hunt will help turn you into a veteran hunter instead of a mere novice.
Quality Optics and Boots on the Ground
There are several quality optic systems on the market today, and while one thing every beginning hunter should have is a set of good optics on their hunting rifle, you need to ask the pros and do the research until you find the one that works for you.
Suppose you’ve decided to make an initial investment in hunting equipment. In that case, you should consider doling out a few dollars on a quality set of binoculars, a dependable LPVO or red dot optic system, and with any remaining budget, a durable range finder. Remember that most game animals prefer to move around and forage in low-light or dusk conditions, so having a functional set of optics or binoculars that performs well in these conditions will keep eye strain to a minimum and aid in spotting your target.
Another hunting essential any new hunter needs to acquire is a durable pair of boots. While a steeled-toed and water-resistant pair of boots may be a perfect choice, the primary functionality a first-time hunter should focus on is comfortability. If, after only a few hours in the field, whether you’re scouting the area or walking to the spot you chose, your feet are miserably blistered and sore, you’re not going to be happy. Not only will you not be too thrilled to be there, but the entire hunting experience is going to be disastrous. Save yourself needing to soak your feet in an Epsom salt bath afterwards and get yourself a good pair of dependable boots.
Proper Camouflage Misunderstood
Of course, the state you live or hunt in may have a few regulations regarding the amount of blaze orange camouflage needed on a hunting trip. It’s highly recommended that you check the necessary minimums in your local area before heading out on your first trip.
While local regulations do mandate blaze orange minimums you’ll need to wear, one thing to remember is that the need for this type of camo is often misunderstood. The blaze orange camo does not hide you from your prey; it’s for protection from other hunters in the area. Most animals see the orange blaze as nothing more than a lump of gray shadow.
Still, the orange blaze is readily identifiable to other humans and helps provide the personal protection you’ll need on your first and subsequent hunting trips. Also, remember that most prey can detect colors on the lower end of the blue spectrum, so you may want to consider wearing a pair of camo pants instead of your favorite pair of blue jeans.
If you’re looking for a real-world example of how camouflage works, watch a few deer on your first trip. When moving, the animal is easy to spot, but when it moves into the fringe of the scrub and stops moving, it’s almost impossible to spot. Although the camo you’ve picked out makes you visible to other hunters, stop moving around and be still if you don’t want your game to pick you out. Make sure every move you make is slow and easy if you must move.
Make Your First Trip One to Be Remembered
All hunters should level set their expectations on that first hunting trip. Understand that you may or may not bag a trophy-sized animal your first time out and remember that you might not even see what you came to hunt. Still, if you don’t perform the proper scouting of the hunt area, carry the correct type of optics, or can’t remain docile and still for hours at a time examining the wonders of Nature, you’ll undoubtedly lessen the chances of bringing home what you came to hunt.
*I wish to thank Paul Barnett for writing this particular article and also thank our friends at Primary Arms.