Deer hunting is a great American tradition, providing sport for seasoned hunters and helping millions feed their families. According to the data dashboards on the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR) website, there are over 15.2 million paid hunting license holders nationwide.
In 2016, the NSSF estimated that nearly 7 in 10 of all licensed hunters are deer hunters, many exclusively hunting the most abundant type of deer in the United States, the whitetail deer. If you are new to the hunting world, follow these deer hunting tips for beginners to get the best start.
Why Hunt Deer? Three Benefits of Deer Hunting
While deer hunting is one of the favorite pastimes of freedom-loving Americans nationwide, there are many benefits to going deer hunting, including:
Deer Hunting Helps Nature Conservation
The most important reason to become a deer hunter is to participate in nature conservation efforts and help preserve America’s wildlife and natural landscapes.
Deer today have few natural predators other than humans to keep their populations in check. Without deer hunting, they are at constant risk of overpopulation, causing their territories to grow larger and increasing the risk of encroaching on agricultural land and causing crop damage.
As deer populations increase, local biodiversity, or the diversity of local fauna and flora, decreases. Deer eat many species of flowers, shrubs, and trees needed by other wildlife to survive, such as forest songbirds.
If a location’s carrying capacity cannot support the local deer population, they risk degrading the local environment and reducing its ability to support other species. Deer hunting helps ensure your local forests and natural landscapes remain as diverse and pristine as possible, making it a net benefit for all nature enjoyers.
Deer Hunting Helps Keep the Roads Safe
As deer populations grow, the risk of encountering them on roads and highways also increases, making them less safe for deer and drivers.
According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), increased wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) are linked with higher deer population sizes. Impacts cause significant damage to motor vehicles and are responsible for approximately 26,000 injuries and 200 fatalities yearly.
Deer hunting helps keep populations under control, reducing the risk of encountering them on our roads and suffering from costly repairs and injuries due to collisions.
Deer Hunting is a Great Way to Obtain Meat
Another reason to consider deer hunting is for sustenance. All species of deer are considered big game animals, placing them in the same category as elk, moose, or mountain goats. This means they provide significantly higher meat yields than small game.
A successful deer hunt is an opportunity to obtain a large quantity of venison (deer meat), which can help keep you and your family fed for weeks.
According to a study conducted by Cornell University, each deer yields approximately 50% to 60% of its weight in meat. The average weight of an adult whitetail buck is about 150 lbs., meaning that field-dressing and cutting one may yield 75 to 90 lbs. of meat.
The same study estimates 85 grams (3 ounces) is worth 134 kcal and contains less fat, more protein, and a higher quantity of many essential minerals like iron, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus than typical ground beef. In other words, the meat obtained from deer hunting is an excellent alternative to store-bought equivalents.
Familiarize Yourself with Deer Hunting Regulations
If you have decided deer hunting is for you but don’t know where to start, an essential first step is studying all applicable local and state laws.
Visit Your State Wildlife Management Agency’s Website
While deer hunting is legal in all 50 states, each has its own laws, regulations, hunting zones, wildlife management agencies, and licensing system.
As a new hunter, start by visiting your state’s wildlife agency website. These sites are excellent information hubs for any hunter looking for up-to-date hunting information in their state.
The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies website maintains a convenient list of all 50 state wildlife agencies on a single portal, making it easy to find your state’s. For example, visit the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) website if you live in Utah.
Understanding Your State’s Hunting Laws
Depending on your home state, your local wildlife agency may define and enforce different hunting laws, rules, and definitions. Use this checklist to know which terms to look for and understand when navigating your local hunting regulations.
- Hunting license: Holding a valid hunting license for your state allows you to hunt lawfully anywhere within its borders. Each state is free to define different hunting license types, most often by species, weapon, or residency status. For instance, in Wyoming, you need a resident deer hunting license to hunt deer.
- Tag: A tag is an additional permission slip hunters must have on top of a license to harvest a single animal lawfully. Tags are typically needed to harvest big-game species such as deer.
- Bag limits: Many states limit the number of animals each hunter can bag (kill and harvest) per given period. For deer hunting, the bag limit is typically set for each season. For example, Florida sets the bag limit to five deer per hunter annually, including no more than two antlerless deer.
- Public land: Hunting on public land means visiting government-owned or managed land, such as a national wildlife refuge, to go hunting. Each public land has rules regarding outdoor activities, including hunting. The best source of information for public land is your state’s wildlife management agency website.
- Private land: Private hunting land is hunting land on another person’s private property. Unless you own the land, you must ask for explicit permission to hunt from the landowner before entering to avoid trespassing.
Pass Your Hunter Safety Course and Get Licensed
Most states require hunters born on or after a specific date to pass an approved safety course before applying for a license. For instance, Florida requires all hunters aged 16 or older, born on or after June 1, 1975, to pass hunter education certification before buying a hunting license.
The easiest way to find an approved hunter safety or education course in your area is to visit your state’s hunter safety website, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Safety Course portal.
What Will I Learn in a Hunter Safety Course?
A typical hunter safety course includes lessons and workshops designed to equip beginners with the knowledge they need to be safe and responsible hunters. While the exact length and content of each course vary, you can expect to learn the following essentials:
- Basics of firearms and ammunition handling, such as the Four Rules of Gun Safety and how to use the correct ammunition for your gun.
- Shot placement basics, the position of a deer’s vitals relative to its front shoulder, and where to aim to hit the vitals from different positions.
- Hunting ethics, the importance of humane kills, and how to avoid wounding deer.
- A primer on your local hunting laws and regulations, including when to wear safety orange and how much you need to wear to meet legal minimums.
- Wilderness survival basics including knowing what to pack before a hunt, orienting yourself with a map and compass, and starting a campfire.
- How to recognize wildlife before pulling the trigger, such as knowing how to tell bucks from does, fawns from adults, and how to identify the different species of deer like whitetail, red, or mule deer.
- How to safely use hunting gear such as ground blinds and tree stands.
- Basics of first aid, how to recognize outdoor emergencies, what to pack in a first-aid kit, and how to use first-aid items to treat common hunting injuries like burns, fractures, cuts, and tree stand accidents.
How to Choose Your Hunting Weapon
Hunter safety courses cover firearm safety because the vast majority of deer hunters use rifles. However, there are many other types of hunting weapons to consider. Three common choices are the rifle, shotgun, and bow, each offering different characteristics.
The classic deer hunting rifle is typically chambered in a caliber with sufficient range and energy to take down a deer at extended distances cleanly and humanely.
Common rifle calibers for deer hunting include .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .30-30 Winchester, and .300 Winchester Magnum.
According to a study conducted by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the mean distance at which hunters take their shots is 132 yards, and the average of all successful shots is 127 yards. The data supports rifle hunter habits: Most of them sight their rifles at 100 yards, but many can reliably hit deer at 200 or more.
The rifle is the most common deer hunting weapon, available in numerous styles, actions, calibers, and with compatible optics. It is also the only hunting weapon that lets you cleanly harvest deer at 100 yards and beyond.
The primary disadvantage of choosing a rifle is the recurring expenses, such as the cost of quality hunting ammunition. Additionally, despite being the most common hunting weapon, rifle seasons are the shortest, meaning beginners may face much competition.
Although not as commonly used for deer hunting, the shotgun is one of the most versatile firearms beginner hunters can own.
By far, the most common shotgun cartridge in America and the world is the 12 gauge. The smaller 20 gauge is a common alternative for recoil-sensitive hunters.
Ammunition is available in a wide variety of types, primarily categorized into three groups: birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. This versatility is the primary advantage of the shotgun, alongside cost. A reliable, quality shotgun is affordable, often costing a fraction of a quality deer rifle.
Buckshot, named for its suitability against deer at close ranges, is the best choice for deer at 40 yards or less. Each shell carries multiple projectiles capable of disabling the vital organs quickly, provided the hunter remains within the effective range.
Slugs are the preferred choice when hunting deer beyond 40 yards but under 75 to 80 yards. A slug shell contains a single, large projectile with sufficient mass to penetrate the deer’s body from any angle, including bone.
Of course, the primary drawback of the shotgun is the effective range. Compared to rifle bullets, which can maintain a relatively flat trajectory at 300 yards and beyond, shotgun projectiles do not have the same ballistic advantages, meaning they are only effective within a short distance.
Considered by many hunters to be the most formidable weapon to hunt deer with, the bow offers unique challenges and opportunities to deer hunters, both technically and legally.
From a technical point of view, archery weapons such as the compound bow or the crossbow are simply less effective than any firearm. Becoming proficient with a bow is more challenging than with a rifle or shotgun, requiring more physical strength and longer practice periods. Additionally, the effective range of the most powerful hunting bows rarely exceeds 50 yards, limiting engagement distances.
Although these factors may seem daunting to a deer hunting beginner, bowhunting presents numerous benefits and advantages. Bowhunting season is typically much longer than firearm seasons: up to a month, offering more opportunities to fill tags.
Bowhunting is also safer. Bow season is exclusive, meaning only bowhunters can join. Additionally, a missed shot has significantly fewer chances of turning into a hunting accident; most arrows lose all of their energy past the 100-yard mark.
Find a Place to Hunt
The most common option for most beginner hunters is public land unless you can contact a private landowner and ask for permission to hunt on their land.
Many online resources can help you find public land for deer hunting. The first resource you should consult is your state’s wildlife agency website. It should feature the most up-to-date information regarding species, hunting seasons, opening days, and maps of the state’s hunting areas and subdivisions.
Resources such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) website or Recreation.gov can help you find more deer hunting opportunities if you wish to hunt on federally-owned public land. They can help you locate land owned by agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the National Forest Service (NFS).
Traditions and Patriotism with Freedom Fatigues
Whether you are new to the world of deer hunting or an experienced outdoors enthusiast, hunting is one of the great American traditions where liberty, self-reliance, and patriotism come together.
Wear your pride for these quintessential American values with apparel from Freedom Fatigues. We carry a wide selection of patriotic hoodies, T-shirts, tanks, hats, and accessories ideal for any season.