The 7 Most Important Things You’ll Learn in Hunter Education

Adults are coming to hunting in droves. And with that, much has changed in hunter education. But the core curriculum still stands strong.

The first step to becoming a hunter is committing to learning. The second step is signing up for your hunter education class to obtain a license from your state. First and foremost, the licensing process aims to teach safety. Beyond that, it emphasizes the care and consideration that hunting necessitates.

Whether you’re curious what the class may entail or you’d like a brush up on the basics, here are the top seven things you’ll learn in hunter education.

The 4 Rules of Gun Safety

Of everything you learn in a hunter education course, safety around firearms is the most important. This is often daunting to those who didn’t grow up with a rifle above the mantle and a .45 caliber pistol on dad’s hip. Just like you’re not afraid to drive because you learned how to operate a vehicle, once educated, using a weapon isn’t scary — it’s empowering.

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The four rules are as follows:

  1. Always point your muzzle in a safe direction — away from anything you don’t want to destroy.
  2. Always treat every gun as if it’s loaded.
  3. Always be sure of your target and beyond.
  4. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. Your finger should be outside the trigger guard unless you’re firing.

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PROVE: Point, Remove, Observe, Verify, Examine

Following up on the four rules, this is your process of keeping your firearm safe when loading it into a vehicle, crossing an obstacle, etc.

Point the firearm in a safe direction. Remove ammunition from the firearm. Observe that the chamber is empty and the magazine has been removed. Verify that the feed path is empty. Examine the firearm for any obstructions.

It’s so simple and easy to remember that you’ll use this acronym on every trip afield with a gun in hand.

STOP: Sit, Think, Observe, Plan

This acronym is your beacon of hope if you ever find yourself lost anywhere.

The first rule of the woods is never panic. Once you lose your ability to think rationally, you lose your best tool. Taking those few moments to sit down, think, observe your surroundings, and plan will make all the difference in fending off your fight-or-flight instinct.

Developing a Personal Code of Ethics

“Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching — even when doing the wrong thing is legal.” Aldo Leopold bestowed this gem of a one-liner upon us, and hunter ed students will hear it forever. However, that’s only if hunters forever abide, especially in a day and age where everyone is watching everything. Ethical hunters are the future of the sport.

Reading and Understanding the Regulations

Every year, state hunting regulations change — sometimes drastically, sometimes slightly. But if either goes unnoticed, your mistake can get you in legal trouble.

Take an hour before the season and reread the regulations for the districts you’ll be hunting. If you’re going to be hunting multiple districts, carry a copy of the regulations with you in your vehicle. Look up anything you’re unsure about. You’ll thank yourself when you’re looking down the barrel at a spike bull knowing whether you can or can’t shoot.

How to Prevent Your Meat From Spoiling

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Photo credit: Paxson Woelber

Wild, fresh, organic, lean, and delicious meat is the red gold you reap for your efforts afield. The last thing you want is to accidentally spoil your haul, or endure a year of unappetizing meat because it wasn’t processed right.

There are two main methods of “field dressing” your game. You can either field dress the animal or quarter it out using the gutless method. If you’re using the gutless method, getting the hide and quarters off asap will prevent the organs from spoiling your spoils. If you’re gutting the animal, it’s crucial to get all the organs (from windpipe to bum) out in a timely manner. Heat spoils the meat, plain and simple.

Once your game is out of the field, getting the hide off is not an “I’ll do it later” task. The hide keeps the animal warm while it’s alive and will keep the meat warm when you need it to be cooling. Any time you quarter an animal in the field, it’s tough to keep the forest and field completely off. But try anyway. With cold water, wash off that dirt before you leave your meat to cure in a dry cool space.

Last but not least, make processing a priority — especially if it’s hot. If you have a game freezer or winter weather, give your meat time to hang and cure. If not, get your quarters cut into steaks and ground into burger before it spoils.

What to Carry in Your Pack

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Finally, let’s talk packing. Every brand on Earth tells you that you need its gadget in your pack, but, trust me, you don’t. An overweight pack will ruin any good hunt, especially for a new hunter.

So what do you really need? It depends on the length, type, and location of the hunt. For a big-game day hunt, your pack should top out at 15 pounds. There’s rarely need for more.

In my daypack, I carry food (enough for a day or two), water, a knife (or two), a bone saw, a first-aid kit, neon flagging, three methods to start a fire, dry socks and gloves, a raincoat, rubber gloves, an emergency blanket, 3 feet of rope of paracord, a GPS, a compass, and extra rounds. This also serves as the base for overnight pack hunts.

Seriously, start off light. Your shoulders will be yelling at you until they’re conditioned to the strap of your rifle.

Final Thoughts on Hunter Education

Much like your degree didn’t provide the golden key to a successful career, hunter education isn’t going to make you a master hunter.

It will, however, provide a foundation of skills and ethics that will serve as a resource for your experiences afield. Know that hunter educators across the country work hard to make sure classes fit the demographics of their students. Adult-only courses led by young women and men alike aren’t too hard to find. And, in many states, you’ll have the option to fulfill a portion of the class requirements online. Then, you’ll complete the course with a few hours spent at a field day.

Whatever your choice, you’ll be surprised just how much you end up learning.