Illinois Department of Natural Resources
November 2021
November 1, 2021

My Journey as a New Hunter

By Ed V.

Photos courtesy of Illinois Learn to Hunt.

Hunting always felt like a mysterious club I wasn’t a part of. Growing up, my family did not resent hunters, but hunting was never something we did. Both my Dad and Grandfather, both long since passed away, told hunting stories but somehow hunting missed my generation.

I’ve always loved the outdoors, nature and survival. I think a lot of people assumed I could just “pick up hunting” as a hobby, but I’ve found that, as you grow older, it commonly becomes more difficult to start new hobbies or meet new people. I ended up in a situation where I was interested in hunting but had absolutely no idea how to get started.

In the foreground, a climbing tree stand has been installed on a tree trunk. Behind the tree is a group of people listening to one person speak. In the distance is a pavilion in front of a lake.

Fates conspire and I had a chance conversation with a friend about how much I enjoyed eating venison but was frustrated that I didn’t know how to go out and legally harvest a deer. After a brief discussion he suggested I look into the Illinois Learn to Hunt program. After a very short mental deliberation, weighing availability, stress at work and how I missed being outdoors, I started researching the program.

Looking at the program’s lecture schedule I found an introductory course on deer hunting was taking place in a couple of weeks. This was doubly auspicious because the deer hunting season opened a couple of weeks later. The program was offered online, which was ultra-convenient. I was even able to view previous presentations to gain more knowledge. The lecture was great, walking me through everything from site selection and shot placement, to field dressing and suggestions for butchering. I loved the question-and-answer segment at the end.

The workshop coordinators were endlessly patient. Although I was sure I was the least experienced person in the session, my numerous questions were good-naturedly answered. It was obvious that the guys running the workshop loved hunting and were excited to share their knowledge. Their presentation style was conversational and approachable. One memorable highlight was the discussion on scent elimination and what each presenter found worked or didn’t work. I appreciated that it did not feel forced or like a sales pitch, but simply was some guys who loved to hunt talking about what made them love the sport.

Outdoors during a snowy winer day a group of people stand around a person demonstrating how to butcher a deer. There is a barn to the right and agricultural fields in the background.

The Learn to Hunt program contained a ton of additional support as well. The Learn to Hunt Facebook page offered lotteries for hunting locations that were normally restricted. There was an opportunity to use a crossbow for the season to help make it more cost effective for beginning hunters. Mentored hunting opportunities were available. Some of the guys even offered to help me track a deer if I got one. Like any sport, there is an initial investment in equipment, and it was nice to have the workshop leaders chime in with frugal suggestions, too.

I wish that I could tell you my initial season in the woods was a total success but that isn’t the case. I learned a lot, and I also made a lot of mistakes. But I learned from those moments. At the end of the season, I had tons of memorable moments, had sighted birds and rare animals, and was able to get back into shape a bit, too. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed being outdoors.

The Learn to Hunt program is great. The people clearly love what they do, and love sharing knowledge with anyone who will listen. I’ll be forever grateful for all the experiences, knowledge, mentorship, and general fun I’ve experienced through the Learn to Hunt program. I want to give a special thanks to both Dan Stephens, Learn to Hunt Manager, and Jason Buckley, R3Workshop Coordinator, for the time they spent with me. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you want to learn about hunting, just take the first step. Sign up for a Learn to Hunt workshop and learn what they have to say.

I bought my own gear this year. I’ll see ya out there.