A couple of years ago, I decided to add hunting to my survival skills, and I would like to share my experience as a new hunter, particularly with women who may be intimidated by the idea. Please note that the suggestions in this article are not strictly post-TEOTWAWKI methods and gear — but are intended to help now in the learning and preparation process.
Family and friends, including my husband, thought I had gone off the deep end, deciding to start hunting as a woman “of a certain age”, but I was not deterred. In addition to fishing and foraging, hunting could help supplement food supplies in the event of TEOTWAWKI and even just lean times. Also, a part of me reasoned that if I am going to eat meat, I should be willing to participate in the entire messy process. I have fished, camped, and backpacked. But I admit that taking on this particularly male-dominated activity was especially empowering.
First, find an experienced hunting partner. Don’t hunt alone. My brother-in-law, a long-time hunter, would be my teacher and partner. He and my sister own property with a primitive cabin — no electricity or running water, but with an outhouse as well as a water pump at the road. If you have the option, hunting on private land can be safer, more convenient, easier, and potentially less expensive than hunting on public land.
Educate yourself. Your state’s Fish & Wildlife website will outline regulations for licensing, hunting seasons, allowed weapons and ammunition, requirements for wearing hunter’s orange, daily/seasonal bag limits, and harvest reporting. Kentucky’s website (fw.ky.gov) is loaded with tips, videos and education to assist new hunters, even if you don’t live in the state.
Don’t skip the step of obtaining a license, thinking the likelihood of getting caught might be slim. The afternoon of my very first day of hunting, the game warden came onto the property — looking for teenage poachers hunting on private land — but he did check our IDs and my license. (As a Kentucky resident landowner my brother-in-law didn’t need a license but must follow hunting regulations.) If you are a senior, your state may have discounted rates for residents. An all-inclusive Kentucky senior sportsman’s license is a bargain at only $12.
Study techniques and obtain the tools and supplies needed to field dress a deer. Unless you plan to butcher the animal yourself, find nearby trustworthy game processers and know their hours of operation, requirements and butchering options. If temperatures are warmer (40 degrees or above) bring sufficient ice or have a plan to store or transport the carcass to prevent spoilage.
Pick the brains of folks working at stores that sell hunting licenses for information and tips on gear, weapons, and hunting spots. You’ll find an overwhelming amount of information on internet blogs, forums, and websites. Use your judgment and consider the source, because much of the info is opinion and is sometimes conflicting.
Know your weapon, your limitations, and what is beyond your target. I ultimately decided I would be more comfortable with my shotgun than a rifle, knowing it would limit my shooting distance. A rifle could send a missed shot a long way, and that made me a little uneasy.
Practice with your weapon and the ammunition you’ll be using to be sure you can achieve an accurate kill shot. I trust the accuracy of my shotgun with rifled slugs up to a maximum of 75 yards (with some adjustment for a drop in trajectory). Not only is it cruel to simply injure an animal, but tracking a wounded animal in the woods can be difficult or impossible. Additionally, I have read that the adrenaline coursing through an escaping panicked animal can taint the taste of the venison.
Prepare for the Outdoors on a budget. Don’t throw a lot of money at an activity that you may decide never again to undertake. If you have friends and family who are hunters or campers, you might ask to borrow gear with a promise to treat those items with care. Thrift stores, flea markets, eBay, Craigslist, and consignment stores are great sources for bargain-priced supplies and clothing.
If shopping online, carefully read descriptions, examine photos and ask questions so you know what you’re getting. Read the reviews on the seller for any red flags. Shop around to make sure you are getting a good price. If meeting a seller to buy an item, exercise caution. Take a friend with you to meet the seller in a populated public place, like a shopping center or grocery store parking lot. Some police departments have a designated “safe place” for meetups.
ROUND ONE GOES TO THE DEER
I was ready. With my hunting license in hand, and my shotgun, gear and a borrowed blind packed in the truck, we headed to the hunting cabin.
We arrived in the morning to set up the blinds and spread corn. (Baiting deer on private property is legal in Kentucky — check your state’s regulations.) We hunted after lunch until dark. It was quiet, other than the birds, squirrels and the game warden who visited us as we were returning to the cabin. We had a nice evening by the fire-pit, a hearty meal (foil wrapped steak, potatoes and vegetables cooked on the coals) s’mores, and some good Kentucky bourbon. We hit the sleeping bags early. The next morning, we arrived at our blinds well before dawn, and stayed through mid-day, returning after lunch for a few hours of afternoon hunting.
It was a fun trip, but we didn’t see one single deer the entire weekend (except for the small herd that crossed the road on the drive home to taunt us). I didn’t take home any venison, but I did take back a lot of lessons.
Patience, Grasshopper. The complete absence of deer was frustrating, but hunting is like fishing… hours of watching and waiting, sometimes with results, sometimes without. Part of the fun of outdoors is enjoying mother nature, but you will want to bring something to occupy your time in your blind and at basecamp. A book, a tablet loaded with e-books or music, playing cards, board games, or a cell phone for texting friends. Use earbuds and turn off your ringtones and audio notifications.
Get The Right Blind
Like tents, I discovered that a blind advertised for one-person will barely fit one person with minimal gear. My borrowed blind was a narrow pop-up model. My shotgun bumped the walls anytime I moved and left me holding the gun at an awkward angle, which would have made it tricky to quickly and quietly take aim. Additionally, the zippered door had a 6-inch area of wall around the opening. Being short with bad knees, it was awkward to step over the threshold without tripping. The small screenless windows limited my field of view, but leaving the door hanging open got breezy, and made me more visible.
Unless you can borrow a suitable blind, and if you can afford it and intend to hunt again, I would suggest investing at least a small amount in a comfortable blind. Don’t scoop up a blind just because it’s a bargain price. Understand the pros and cons of each blind in your price range and wait for sales or look for used equipment. There is a blind for every wallet — from $50 to thousands of dollars.
I found a three-person blind within my budget (under $100) with features important to me — roomy, good interior height, a “clamshell” door eliminating a threshold, large windows with screens, visibility on four sides, and easy for one person to set it up and break down quickly.
Even though a blind is advertised as waterproof, you will still want to seam seal it. Nothing is more miserable (and potentially dangerous) than being wet in the freezing cold.
The Early Bird (Supposedly) Gets the Worm
Deer are crepuscular animals — more active at dawn and dusk. It is widely recommended to get to your blind well before sunrise, so you are settled in quietly before the deer begin moving. That first year, we did arrive at our blinds early on the second day, while it was still dark and teeth-chattering cold. Since we saw no deer that weekend, I can’t attest to the validity of the early-bird theory, but I can tell you that pre-dawn in a blind at 25 degrees is darned uncomfortable.
You Don’t Need to be a Packhorse. Since we were near basecamp (the cabin) and we drove to the blinds in a utility cart, there was no need to have extreme emergency provisions in our packs. Excess gear makes your load needlessly heavier, and it is harder to find things.
In a remote hunting location, though, you may want to carry extra supplies to be prepared to survive the night in the event of an accident. Many of the items you will want to carry are some of the same items to include in a bugout bag.
At a minimum, you will want extra ammunition, waterproof matches, a lighter, basic first aid (pain reliever, Band-Aids, pain reliever, prescription medicines), weather appropriate items (insect repellent, sunscreen, handwarmers), wet wipes, hand sanitizer, sunglasses, extra eyeglasses, a flashlight/headlamp, toilet paper (double what you estimate you may need), snacks and water. For safety, have a loud whistle to alert your hunting partner, if necessary, and an emergency blanket and/or emergency sleeping bag and warm clothes. You may want to bring walkie-talkies to communicate with your partner if cell service is sketchy.
A sharp knife, paracord, and/or tarred twine will come in handy to secure brush to the blind, and to tie off to trees further than the reach of the blind’s guy lines.
Avoid snacks that are noisy to open or transfer them to a Ziplock bag at home. A thermos with a hot beverage and hand-warmers in your pockets will help stave off the chill.
In case of rain, have a pack rain-cover, a hooded poncho (even a sturdy disposable) and a waterproof pouch for electronics. My brother and I ruined both our cell phones on a backpacking trip because we underestimated a Florida rainstorm. Although our phones were buried deep in our packs with rain-covers, four hours of hiking in a torrential downpour soaked our gear inside and out, with rain pouring down between our backs and the packs. Our “waterproofed” shoes squished with each step.
In addition to a rain cover, I now line my backpack with a heavy-duty trash compactor bag, keep everything organized in Ziplock freezer bags (or reusable zip-lock bags or dry bags) and wear a hooded poncho OVER the backpack to keep rain from running down my back. Rubberized hiking boots can help keep your feet dry and warm, even if you are just walking through dew-laden grass.
Basecamp Supplies. I overpacked even for basecamp with clothes I didn’t wear, toiletries and supplies that went unused, and food that we didn’t eat. Think safety, security, comfort, and hygiene. The biggest difference in packing for multiple days is the amount of food and water you’ll need.
You can wear the same pants several days but have at least one change of clothes, socks, and shoes in case they get wet or soiled. I like to start each day with a fresh shirt, underwear and socks. Some folks sleep in their clothing, but I prefer bedclothes. For a longer trip, you might use a sleeping bag liner, which will help prevent soiling the sleeping bag and will also add warmth. Lightweight rubber soled slip-on shoes are convenient for nighttime bathroom trips.
Basic toiletries should be sufficient for a night or two: facial cleansing wipes, a hair pick or comb, toothbrush and toothpaste (I use baking soda – no scent), lip balm and lotion. On longer trips you might find dry shampoo a practical addition. Without a hairdryer to tame it, my morning hair looks like I brushed it with a firecracker. A hat, toboggan or wide headband will cover the worst mane, and you’ll need to wear an orange head-cover anyway.
You might want to bring a more complete first aid kit as well as a small amount of hand soap and dish soap. Bring extra batteries for flashlights and lanterns, and a charging block for electronics.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)