Recently, I argued that reactionaries should hunt. Perhaps our brothers in Croatia are too busy hunting roebuck and mouflon to read essays on hunting, but most American reactionaries have never hunted. Most of us grew up in urban areas, in liberal states, with non-hunting parents. Hunting is most often passed down from father to son. So, if you were not raised as a hunter, where does that leave you? The answer is, exactly where I was five years ago. Despite knowing no hunters personally, I knew that I had hunting in the blood.
Rather than trying to write a long book, this essay will serve as a guidepost to steer reactionaries who have never hunted into hunting culture. Because hunting laws and game species vary so dramatically, I will assume that you are an American who has never handled a gun and who wants to hunt whitetail deer (the most common game species in North America). There are dozens of good articles, books, and blogs on how to start hunting, so I’ve tried to distill this down to the essentials, and, more importantly, highlight where my advice differs from convention.
Your Ticket to Hunting in North America: Sign up for Hunter Ed
The first step to any kind of hunting in America is getting your hunting license. Hunting licenses are issued at the state level by a department that manages fish and wildlife. Find your state’s department and sign up for a Hunter Education class. The “Hunter Ed” class is your ticket to purchasing hunting licenses in almost every state. Compared to European countries like Germany and Norway, getting a license could not be easier. In Germany, a hunter’s education takes as long as a year. In America, most Hunter Ed classes can be completed in two (long) days. Generally Hunter Ed classes are offered seasonally, so plan accordingly. The Hunter Ed class is primarily about how to hunt, and importantly, hunt safely, e.g. avoiding falls, hypothermia, and accidental shootings. That said, on an absolute and relative basis, hunting is far safer than other common outdoor activities. The other key topics covered in Hunter Ed are Fish and Game Regulations, of which there are numerous.
With your Hunter Ed certificate in hand, you can buy a hunting license in any state. The best time to buy your license is in the summer, as some states have lotteries for especially rare and desirable species like moose, pronghorn, and bear. Most states have adopted online hunting license purchase systems, but some still require purchasing licenses in person at your nearest sporting goods store.
The Best $800 You can Spend: Buy a Quality Rifle
In all but a handful of jurisdictions (New York City, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Jersey) the process for purchasing a rifle could not be more simple. Simply go to your local sporting goods store, present your Driver’s License, and buy a hunting rifle. You need to be 18 or older, a citizen/permanent resident, and have no felonies or other disqualifications on your record. Your federal background check should take less than fifteen minutes. If you live in one of the tougher jurisdictions, you CAN still purchase a hunting rifle. Hunting rifles are legal in every city and state in America, even San Francisco, New York, and Boston. Investigate your local laws to see the steps required to get a permit/license. It takes a modicum of agency. Just do it.
Once you are ready to buy a rifle, you must decide what to purchase. On the bright side, you live in a golden age of bolt-action hunting rifles. CNC milling, injection molding, and hammer forging have reduced the cost of an accurate, high-quality rifle to less than $600. In that vein, I will recommend a handful of good rifles, and go through the three main considerations after you’ve picked out a rifle make/model.
First, what do I mean by bolt-action hunting rifle? This is a Ruger American Rifle chambered in 30-06 with a Vortex Crossfire II 3-9×40 Scope. It is highly representative of the modern deer rifle. You can purchase this exact package at any sporting goods store for $600 or less. Some hunters may want to spend a little more, some a bit less, but any of these guns would make a great first hunting rifle:
|Browning AB3||Kimber 84M Hunter||Mossberg Patriot||Remington 700||Ruger American|
|Savage Axis||Sako A7||Tikka T3x||Weatherby Vanguard||Winchester XPR|
The gun enthusiasts will note that I am purposely omitting break-actions, slug guns, semi-autos, and lever guns. While those all have their place in your gun safe, they are not ideal as your first hunting rifle. The three major decisions to make with any new rifle are: cartridge, stock material, and scope. Since we are planning for whitetail, you want a general-purpose cartridge: something that has enough power (ruling out anything smaller than 243 Winchester) to reliably punch through thick bones to reach vital organs, yet is not going to beat you up (ruling out anything larger than 300 Winchester Magnum). Another factor to consider is ammunition availability. 7×57 is a great cartridge for whitetail, but good luck finding a box of ammo at your local Cabela’s. Stick with a common cartridge available at any sporting goods store.
As you conduct your own research, you can deviate from this list, but for now, look for a rifle chambered in one of the following: 243 Win, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 7mm-08, 308 Win., 270 Win, 30-06, 7mm Rem Mag, 300 Win Mag. Those are arranged roughly in ascending order of power, for simplicity sake you may wish to stick to 308 Win or 30-06 as a first cartridge. Either, with the right bullet, can competently take almost any game in North America without hammering you too badly. This list is not exclusive. If your grandfather gives you a lever-gun in 348 Win or a sporterized Mauser in 6.5x55SE those are perfectly fine for deer, just know you might need to buy ammo online.
Regarding stock material, stocks are generally made in either composite (aka plastic), wood or laminate. For most shooters, I recommend composite as they are weather-resistant, hold up to abuse, and are not as affected by changes in temperature, humidity, etc. That said, if you love the look of classic walnut, knock yourself out.
Finally, on the subject of scopes, scopes deserve their own essay, but most deer hunters prefer a medium-power, variable magnification scope. Like the afformentioned Vortex Crossfire II, most scopes have specs like “3-9x40mm.” In English, the scope has a magnification range of 3x to 9x and a 40mm objective (the diameter of front end). The scope you want will have a the low-end of the range of 2-4x magnification, and at the high-end of the range 7-16x magnification. The objective you want should be in the 30-50mm range. Do not skimp on the scope. An old rule of thumb is spend about the same on the scope as the rifle. So if you purchased a $500 stick, put at least $500 of glass on it. If you stick with brands like Vortex, Nightforce, Leupold, Nikon, Steiner, Zeiss, Meopta, as well as higher end models from Bushnell and Burris, you should be good to go. After you purchase the scope, you will need to mount it to the rifle. If your rifle does not come with a mount and rings, having tried a lot of different mounting solutions, I would buy the DNZ Game Reaper One-Piece mount that matches your Rifle and scope tube diameter (either 1-inch or 30mm).
Learn to Use a Rifle Like Your Life Depends On It: Someday it Might
The vital area of a deer is approximately the size of a pie plate, so until you can hit a pie plate every single time from improvised positions at the ranges you would reasonably shoot, you need more practice. To begin, you should sign up for your local NRA basic rifle class. The class covers safety and the fundamentals. Once you have the basics down, head to your local range, zero your scope, and practice. “Zeroing your scope” means calibrating the scope such that the scope cross-hairs and point of bullet impact match at a specific distance (usually 100 or 200 yards). While the bench is a good place to learn the very basics, once your group size is decent (2-3” at 100 yards), switch to shooting from positions.
Standing, sitting, kneeling, reverse kneeling, with and without shooting sticks. I recommend practicing with sticks much more than practicing with slings and bipods as shooting sticks are fast to deploy and highly versatile. In my most recent safari, after checking zero from the bench, every shot I fired was from sticks. If you truly want to master the art of the rifle, take rifle course from a reputable shooting school. Thunder Ranch, Front Sight, Gunsite, Thunder Beast, and SAAM all offer the kind of practical precision rifle training you want.
Climb the Learning Curve Quickly: Get Professional Help
Most ‘how to start hunting’ guides go into great detail about finding public land, scouting public land, learning to recognize sign, placing trail cameras, tree stand placement suggestions, etc. If you have significantly more time than money, you can bootstrap your way into being a successful hunter. If you are stubborn enough to prefer a totally DIY approach, I recommend, “The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food” by Jackson Landers. He covers everything from deer psychology, to butchering your first deer, to venison recipes. Do not expect anything to be easy. Depending on where you hunt, you might go multiple seasons before seeing your first deer on public land.
Some states, especially densely populated northeastern states, have as many as 20 hunters per square mile. When deer consistently encounter hunters, their behavior changes and they become “pressured.” Pressured deer change their normal paths and spend more time travelling at night (when it is illegal to hunt). As a result, many states report a <50% “success” rate for all deer tags sold, but even this number is deceptively optimistic as many of those successes are obtained by hunters on private land or extremely experienced hunters on public land.
Few things are more discouraging for a novice then investing thousands on gasoline, motels, tags, etc. and seeing nothing, year after year. Instead, get professional help. I would divide help into three tiers:
1) Make friends with a serious hunter who will take you hunting
2) Join a local private hunting club
3) Pay for a guided whitetail hunt
The first option is the cheapest while also the most difficult. The final one is the most expensive but also the most convenient. Making friends with a serious hunter should be done even if you opt for the latter two options, but it is not as easy as it sounds. Due to fact that “game has always been scarce” some hunters will be friendly but others will treat you as the ‘competition’ and thus be unwilling to share their secrets with a novice. That said, perhaps you have an uncle or an in-law who lives in Indiana and takes a buck every year – blood relations will always be more amenable to helping a novice than a total stranger. Additionally, check your state for a “hunting apprentice” or “mentored hunting” program, such programs can pair you with an experienced hunter who is willing to share his skills. Another way to meet a very large number of experienced hunters is to join a private hunting club.
A private hunting club is a membership organization which either owns or leases a large tract of land for its membership to hunt on. Hunt clubs vary dramatically in price, friendliness, and openness to new members. Some hunting clubs are as little as $150 per year, others cost as much as $15,000 per year. A $150 per year club probably owns a small plot of land with a clubhouse, with hunting rights on a few thousand acres. A $15,000 club probably owns a massive swath of land, with a cabins for members, full-time staff, and guided hunts.
Start with the national hunt club listings to find local clubs, then do extensive due diligence before paying your initiation dues. The ideal beginner-friendly club will have a well-managed property with food plots, sanctuary areas, bedding grounds, treestands, etc. (those terms will all eventually make sense to you).
While the third option is the most expensive, it is by far the most desirable for someone with a professional or even semi-professional job. Rather than invest weeks in the woods on a haphazard attempt at scouting, hire a guide instead. A guide, also called a “professional hunter,” or PH, is someone whose entire job is making sure you become a successful hunter. They can map a piece of property, understand the deer trails, food sources, bedding areas, and so on, so that when you arrive, you can hunt from a position that has a good chance of successfully spotting a healthy buck.
Because guided deer hunts are usually 4-6 days, when you aren’t sitting in a stand or a blind, you can spend hours spotting and stalking with your guide. As a professional, they will do their best to teach you everything that you would take months to learn by reading books and essays. Importantly, if you are successful, they will walk you through skinning, gutting, and butchering your first deer, allowing you to take home your delicious venison.
Prices for a guided whitetail deer hunt vary quite widely by state and size of buck but $1000-4000 is a fairly normal range. These numbers sound fairly shocking when compared with going to public land, which is ostensibly “free.” However, what you save in money you will spend in your time, especially as a new hunter. After your first deer, you can save significant money by moving to a semi-guided or self-guided hunt but for now, stick with guided. Finding a reputable guide can be a challenge in and of itself. Joining your local chapter of Safari Club International is a great way to meet other local hunters who can steer you in the right direction.
As a final note regarding guided hunts: as a neophyte ethical hunter, read up on “fair chase” ethics. Every time you hunt deer, you must hunt them in their natural habitat giving them freedom of movement. Some controversial ranches in Texas and elsewhere offer “high fence” or “100% success rate” hunts that amount to little more than long-range butchering… don’t go there, gnon will judge you.
Branch Out into Other Weapons: Expand Your Hunting Options
After your first deer taken with rifle, you can consider broadening your arsenal. The reason is very straightforward. American hunting laws vary dramatically by state. Some states prohibit centerfire rifles and only allow shotguns, some states offer a special season for muzzleloaders, almost all states offer an early season for bow. By having a rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, and bow, you maximize the number of potential days you can hunt, as well as making yourself more available for hunts in states with different rules. Rifles, Slug guns (shotguns with rifled barrels), and muzzleloaders all operate on along similar principles. If you can hit with a rifle, you can hit with a slug gun or muzzleloader.
Bows, while significantly more challenging to use than the other weapons, have exploded in popularity for a few reasons; Bowhunting has an earlier season which raises your chance of seeing a monstrous deer, bowhunting tests your skills by forcing you to get very, very close to the deer, and bowhunting opens up more lands for hunting as some grounds, especially near urban areas, are “bow-only.” I would strongly advise starting with rifle for the following reasons, shooting a bow accurately is much harder than shooting a rifle, the effective range on a bow is much lower (40 yards vs. 300 yards), and the killing power of an arrow is much lower than a bullet, even with a clean hit. After you’ve taken a few bucks, then buy a bow and practice, practice, practice.
Branch Out into Other Species: Find Your True Passion
This essay hopefully walked a novice hunter through his first successful deer but after deer, what next? There are far too many different types of game to go into in a short essay, but a few options stand out: upland game, waterfowl, predators, small game, and big game.If you read the preceding sections and the entire concept of deer hunting seems a bit daunting for you, consider trying your hand at bird hunting first.
Upland Game, e.g. pheasant, turkey, dove, chukar, quail, is generally hunted with a shotgun, with or without a dog. In this author’s humble opinion, hunting birds with a group of friends and a good German shorthair followed by cigars and bourbon is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s a very Cavalier method of entertaining oneself.
If this sounds fun, purchase a 12 or 20 gauge shotgun, either over-under or semi-auto. Then go to your local trap, skeet, or sporting clays range and practice. Get some professional instruction and then shoot a lot. When you are comfortable breaking clays, find a preserve that offers “walk-up” pheasant or chukar hunts. During such a hunt, your fields are stocked with birds the morning of the hunt. The birds usually present fairly simple targets so even as a novice, you will be successful. After succeeding on a walk-up hunt, you can graduate to hunting doves, wild pheasant, quail, etc.
Waterfowl, e.g. ducks and geese, are also hunted with a shotgun, usually from a blind with decoys. If you are a culinary buff, waterfowl hunting might be up your alley as a productive hunt can often yield as many as ten ducks that need cleaning and eating.
Predators, e.g. coyote, wolves, and bobcat are usually hunted with a bolt-action or semi-auto rifle using either calling or decoys. Predator hunting is very challenging, but is a great source of pelts if you want to learn skinning and tanning.
Small game, e.g. squirrels, rabbits, hares, is generally hunted with either a 22 lr rifle or a smaller shotgun (20 ga or .410). Small game is a great way to practice for big game, as well as being a source of meat for the stew pot.
Lastly, big game, e.g. elk, pronghorn, moose, and bear, are generally hunted with bolt-action rifles (many feature more powerful or flatter-shooting cartridges like 300 Win Mag, 300 Remington Ultra Mag, 300 Weatherby Mag, or 338 Win Mag). While some big game is purely hunted as a cheap source of 50-200 pounds of high-quality, paleo meat, most big game is hunted to immortalize the fallen beast.
The true trophy hunter is a self-disciplined perfectionist seeking a single animal, the ancient patriarch well past his prime that is often an outcast from his own kind… If successful, he will enshrine the trophy in a place of honor. This is a more noble and fitting end than dying on some lost and lonely ledge where the scavengers will pick his bones, and his magnificent horns will weather away and be lost forever. – Elgin Gates, Trophy Hunter in Asia
If you find that big game hunting is what you enjoy most, you may eventually join a brotherhood of hunters who travel the world to hunt. I’ve hunted on three continents and I plan to hunt at least two more. Alaskan Kodiak Bear, Namibian Cape Buffalo, Carpathian Wild Boar, Tajikistani Marco Polo Sheep – these are but a handful of the ‘world-class’ hunts that await you, the big game hunter. That said, try every kind of hunting you can, and eventually you will see what lights your fire. I know one man whose entire ambition as a hunter was to take a self-guided back-country elk, eventually he succeeded. I know another man who spends thousands of dollars travelling to Argentina to hunt doves every year. Everything depends on you and your temperament.
Mentor non-Hunting Reactionaries: It is Your Duty to “Pass it On”
If you read this and you are already a reactionary who hunts, good for you, now grab two reactionaries and take them hunting this fall. If you are new to hunting, remember this essay after you are an expert with rifle and have a beautiful shoulder mount over your fireplace. Do not forget to invite your friends over to feed them the venison that you harvested. If you are a father, get your son started young, first with small game, and then eventually his first buck. Just as the reactionary even lifts for reasons other than the purely physical, we hunt for reasons other than the purely practical. We hunt to reinvigorate ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. By prioritizing the restoration of hunting, you help restore masculinity, and by extension civilization itself.