Want to start hunting? First, you'll need to buy a quality rifle and learn how to shoot it. Here's how to get the most bang for your buck.
Taking up hunting is probably the most serious way in which you can get yourself closer to nature. Before you'll be able to harvest any game, you'll have to learn how to comfortably spend large amounts of time outdoors in often extreme weather conditions, while crossing large distances. You'll have to learn to track and stalk, moving through the woods stealthily, with minimal impact and while literally reading the natural world that surrounds you. You'll have to learn about not only the animals you're going after, but all the other ones as well, learning how they move and communicate and see and hear and you'll have to immerse yourself in to the patterns of your target species as they exist in that particular, unique environment.
Wild caught meat is the absolute healthiest protein source you can put in your body, largely because it comes not from a tortured, modified, pitiful excuse for an animal, but from something which has lived its life as nature intended; happy, healthy and consuming only wild plants while running freely. The difference in taste between farmed and wild meat is unbelievable, it does not taste as if it came from the same species, even when it does. There is no higher quality meat than that you can feed yourself or your family. Forget organic, grass fed, cruelty free, hormone free or non-GMO; all those are just labels while hunting is the real deal, the ultimate health food.
Hunting is also far less cruel than industrial farming. Hunters spend weeks, months and years pursuing a single animal, which they kill instantaneously. Not only because we care deeply about the animals we hunt, but also because the taste of the meat can be ruined if we don't, the goal is a one-shot kill where the animal feels no pain.
Hunting "tags" — permits to take a specific species — are the most effective way to control animal populations in the wild, regulating the size, sex and age of the animal that can be harvested, as well as the specific time period in which you can do so. This helps promote genetic diversity in the wild, controls the spread of problem species like pigs or manages overall population sizes, ensuring species like deer who no longer have natural predators don't expand beyond the environment's ability to feed them.
Hunting is not cruel and is not blood thirsty. It is an enlightened way for modern man to both connect with his own roots, take responsibility for his own impact on the world and to participate in the natural world in the most significant possible way. Don't knock it until you've tried it, this is something anyone can benefit from.
In addition to a rifle, you'll need a hunting license from your state. To get it, you'll need to take a hunter's education course, which will teach you about all the various laws, restrictions and safety measures you must take.
Tim Frampton (pictured above) is Weatherby's Product Manager. "I've been hunting for about 20 years now," he tells us. This is everything he knows about guns, distilled for new gun buyers.
IndefinitelyWild: When shopping for a first hunting rifle on a budget, what factors should a new buyer consider?
Tim Frampton: There are many, many factors to consider when purchasing a rifle, but I'll go over a few that I think are the most important.
One of the most difficult factors to consider when purchasing a rifle on a budget is remembering that you also need to factor in the cost of optics. I say this because there are a lot of people in this world, myself included, who will buy a rifle and then not have enough money left over for a scope. So, there it sits until I can save up some more scratch.
There are a couple of equations that are considered a rule of thumb when budgeting for optics: some folks recommend spending the same amount on their scope as they paid for the rifle, while others suggest spending somewhere around 50 percent of that cost. I generally subscribe to the latter opinion.
I recommend doing research on any rifle that a new buyer is considering. The Internet is a wealth of information and my go-to sites are forums, but one should always be skeptical of any information being presented. All forum users have an opinion, but few are worthy of note. Doing this initial research can be overwhelming and most hunting rifles are very similar, so it can be difficult to determine which rifles offer the best-in-class package. It may be best to visit a gun store to see the rifle being contemplated. If you have a knowledgeable friend, then ask them if they have any suggestions.
Then there is the world of used firearms. There is a lot more to consider here, so I'm going to keep it short to avoid writing a novel. There is always risk when buying a used gun. And, certain problems can be subtle.
The first thing to do is look over the exterior for things like rust, pitted metal and cracked stocks. If the exterior is in rough shape, then I would say it's safe to assume that the interior has been neglected too. That being said, I consider bore condition to be the most important part of a used gun. If possible, look down the bore (preferably through the receiver end!). Ideally, the bore will be nice and shiny. If it looks rough, then set it down and walk away. Unfortunately, looking through the bore with the naked eye won't tell you everything, but it will give you an idea of the overall condition of the rifle.
Photo: Vermont Historical Society
IW: Walk us through the different calibers and types of rifle hunting ammunition and help new hunters understand which is best for them and why.
TF: For big game hunting, I typically have a few centerfire rifle cartridges that I recommend to new shooters. I'll be honest, it's not because they're my favorite or that they're necessarily the best, but because they're the easiest to find and the most affordable. A new shooter really can't go wrong with buying a gun chambered for .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield. All of those are perfectly capable of bringing down any hoofed animal in North America. More importantly, each one is extremely versatile and factory loads come in a variety of bullet weights and bullet types.
There are two parts to the ammunition selection process. First is bullet construction. For big game hunters, I always suggest using a bullet that is "tough." That may not make sense initially, but the idea is that you want a bullet to hold together for better penetration, while still expanding to make a large wound channel. A hunter can hardly go wrong with dual-core bullets like the Nosler Partition and Swift A-Frame; monolithic bullets like the Barnes TSX and Hornady GMX and bonded bullets like the Nosler Accubond. On a recent elk hunt that I attended, all four hunters in camp chose to shoot Nosler Partitions.
The second most important part of the ammunition selection process is finding a load that shoots accurately. Despite advancements in modern manufacturing, all guns are different, even within a particular make and model, and will produce different accuracy results. Bullet weight is another variable in accuracy. It's up to the shooter to determine if the load they want to use produces acceptable accuracy to kill the quarry they'll be stalking.
You'll also find a lot of people talking about appropriate bullet weights for hunting. I don't mean for accuracy, but for effective killing power. I think this is less important than most make it out to be.
IW: In addition to the gun, which accessories are essential and why?
TF: Much of it is regional or even species specific. As far as any big game hunting is concerned, I've only hunted in the west, so a tree stand would probably be a waste of money for me. But, that may be crucial for a whitetail hunter in Illinois. My personal checklist for hunting includes a quality scope, a good pair of binoculars (preferably 10x), a comfortable sling, a sharp knife and shooting sticks.
There are other things any gun owners should have, like cleaning equipment, safety glasses, ear protection, etc, but they aren't things you'll use while hunting.
Most, if not all, new guns come with a lock these days.
IW: What are some good, commonly available, affordable rifles for new hunters targeting deer, pigs and similar?
TF: The world has an astonishing number of bargain hunting rifles that can be found for less than $500. They all share one characteristic for certain: the fit and finish is ghastly. But, they may still shoot accurately.
My favorite bargain hunting rifles might be considered on the high end of that category. If I was going to buy my first hunting rifle all over again, it would either be a Tikka T-3 or a Weatherby Vanguard. They are both very accurate, have excellent triggers and better than average fit and finish for a rifle in their price range.
IW: How do you chose a scope for your rifle?
TF: Having a good scope is as important as having a good rifle. And, quality glass comes with a price tag that can equal the cost of the gun. My first piece of advice is to stay away from any and all scopes made in China. I've seen a lot of them, but I've never seen a good one. There are many reputable scope brands offering affordable options like Leupold, Redfield, Burris and Bushnell, to name a few. A buyer can spend a lot of money on a scope, and they usually get what they pay for, which is better quality glass.
The standard for scope magnification is variable power, 3 to 9x. The low magnification, 3x, give you a wide field of view for close-up shots and can then be zoomed in for longer distances. In most cases, a hunter won't need a scope with greater magnification.
I prefer a 40mm objective (front lens). It offers the best balance between size, weight and light transmission, as well as cost. Popular tube diameters are 1" and 30mm; I prefer 1" on a hunting rifle to keep the weight down. So, am I recommending a new hunter shop for a very vanilla 3-9x40, 1" scope like most people use? Absolutely.
Then there are the scope mounts, which usually consist of a base, either one piece or two, and a set of rings. Scope rings come in different heights, usually low, medium and high. Ideally, a shooter will use a set of rings that allow the scope to sit as closely as possible to the rifle, but without touching the barrel. Just like the scopes they hold, do not buy cheap Chinese scope mounts. As trivial as they seem, mounts play a huge part in maintaining accuracy, so buy a quality set. Leupold, Talley, Warne and Burris make good quality mounts.
IW: How competent with a gun should a new hunter become before venturing into the field?
TF: Marksmanship is an important part of hunting. If you're going to shoot an animal, then the least you can do is kill it quickly. I tend to think that a shooter can never have too much practice, like in any other sport, so hit the range as often as possible, especially in the run up to hunting season.
Make sure to practice a variety of real world shooting positions like prone (laying down), kneeling, seated and offhand (standing). If you plan to use shooting sticks, then practice with those.
Not every range offers distances beyond 100 yards, but I highly recommend trying to practice at longer distances.
When the time comes to pull the trigger on your prey, you want to feel as comfortable and confident as possible. With enough practice, you'll be able to determine your comfortable shooting distance; the vital zone on a deer pig or other big game animals is fairly large. But, know your limitations, if you're hunting with grandpa's old .30-30, don't take a 300 yard shot.
IW: What maintenance should a new gun owner expect to perform themselves and how often should they do it?
TF: The most important task for any gun owner is to keep the bore clean. When a person says they're going to clean their gun, the majority of the time they clean the bore and wipe the exterior down with a rust preventative oil. I would recommend wiping the gun down after every use to prevent rust, but I'm fairly relaxed about cleaning the bore. My hunting rifle bores get cleaned about every 50 rounds or so.
IndefinitelyWild recommends Tom Brown's Field Guide To Nature Observation And Tracking for anyone that wants to learn how to see animals in the wild.
IW: How can neophyte hunters find hunting locations and what's the best way to learn about finding animals?
TF: To a new hunter, finding a decent place to hunt is often the most discouraging aspect of the sport. These days, it's very difficult to find a private land owner who will let you hunt on their property. I primarily hunt public lands and it can be hard to find spots that produce animals, especially big game. The first thing to do is buy maps of the locations you want to hunt. The US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management sell maps online. Be warned that these maps are often outdated. Apparently, the government bodies don't print new maps on the regular, so you may wind up with 10 year old info. You can also do some virtual scouting of possible hunting spots online, through Google Maps. Once you have some leads, then it's time to lace up your boots and get out into the wilderness to see it with your own eyes. Spend as much time as you can in your chosen hunting area before season opens, familiarizing yourself with its terrain and animal patterns and behavior.
This isn't easy. If you can find a hunting mentor, then that is truly the best way to get into the sport. A mentor can teach you the ropes faster than you can learn by trial and error.
Photo: Scott Kraft
IW: What can go wrong and how do you avoid it?
TF: Cold weather, hot weather, falling, lacerations, puncture wounds; the list of possible dangers goes on and on. To avoid catastrophe, use common sense. Don't forget to follow the rules of gun safety. If you're hunting alone, then tell someone exactly where you'll be hunting and tell them when you will return home. If you aren't back by then, then it's time to call for a search party.
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.