The 2016 spring turkey hunting season in Montana marks the first time I ventured into the woods as a hunter. Before this, I had never even fired a gun larger than a .22, and I kept my outdoor recreation limited to groomed hiking trails, complete with 4G cell phone service.
My friends, family, coworkers and the NWTF gave me a lot of support when I officially decided to go on my first-ever hunt. I was given a lot of advice and did a lot of research before I went out the first time, but even with the abundance of knowledge I had pre-field, there were still things I didn’t learn until I was in the field scouting or hunting.
Below is a list of eight things my first hunting season taught me and what I believe every new hunter needs to know.
- Pay close attention to your Hunter’s Ed course.
Learning different ways to safely carry my gun kept my arms from getting tired and also kept me and others out of harm's way. I didn't realize how important it would be to know all the specific details of how a gun works. That knowledge gave me a better understanding of firearms.
- Make sure you are comfortable with your firearm.
This takes presedence, especially for a first timer. If you are thinking about how uncomfortable you are with your gun, then you are not thinking about hunting.
- Don’t assume you are in “good enough” shape.
Hunting in the wilderness requires different movements than what you see during a typical day. It's necessary to prepare for the unordinary. Expect to walk on different terrains, up steep hillsides and through streams, thick brush and brambles. Practice movements that engage all your muscles and give you a wide range of motion. Do cardio a few times a week, and consider doing wall sits to build strength to ensure you can hold steady and still for long periods of time.
- Nothing you can find online will prepare you more than being in the field.
Learn what you can from online resources, like the NWTF.org website, but know there is nothing equal to the sights and sounds of the hunt experience in person.
- Scout, scout, scout!
Seriously, especially if turkey hunting is your first hunt ever, you can’t scout enough before the season starts. Each turkey species behaves differently. Geography and location can also factor in, so get as much firsthand experience with them as you can before the season opens.
- Measure the distance to and past your decoys.
If you are using decoys, make sure you know the range from your setup to the decoys and a little past it. Most new hunters (especially me) aren’t the best judge of distance, and being unsure of your range may cause you to lose the perfect shot (the worst feeling).
- You cannot practice your calls enough.
In my mind, I kept thinking, “My calls are great, they sound just like the videos.” However, the turkeys probably thought, “someone must be dying over there, let’s avoid that spot.”
- Finally, and most importantly, if you don’t get something your first season, it’s ok.
Hunting is a temperamental hobby. Sometimes you’re a victim of inexperience, sometimes it’s weather and other times a simple whim drifting across a turkey’s mind can leave your hunt hopeless. No matter what, successful hunting is measured not by bringing home a bigger trophy every season, but by going out, doing your best and enjoying what you do.
To follow the story of Margaret’s first hunt, check out BECOMING A HUNTER—PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION.
By: Margaret Persico