A modern guide to guns and hunting

Part 1: getting legal

So: I decided that I wanted to become a hunter. But…what exactly did this entail? I sort of knew that I’d need some kind of license, or permit, but the specifics were unclear. A little googling revealed that I what I needed was indeed a hunting license, which in my state (California) is issued by the state Department of Fish and Game. I can’t say with authority that every state has an equivalent department, but I believe most do, and if they don’t handle the licensing for their state, they should be able to point you in the right direction.

When I went to the DFG’s web site, I learned that in addition to paying a modest fee (which you have to do every year), you must furnish evidence of having completed an approved Hunter Education Program. The state’s web site had a list of resources for completing this program, so I chose one close to home and made a phone call. When I spoke with the instructor, he told me that the course takes two full days and has a final exam. He also told me that he’d just completed a course, and the next one wouldn’t be offered for another two months. Crud.

First-timer’s lesson #1: Don’t decide to become a hunter on Monday and expect to hit the field on Tuesday. You’re going to be put through some paces before you’re allowed to hunt. And this is probably how it should be.

While waiting for my class to roll around, I did some online studying. The state’s site linked to a couple of online courses, and I chose this one:

Hunter Education Online

It’s important to realize that this online course will NOT get you the certificate that you need to get a license. That said, this particular site contains an absolute treasure trove of hunting information, and it’s brilliantly presented. It’s also free unless you wish to take their test (which, again, doesn’t replace the state-required examination). Highly recommended.

The course was taught in the clubhouse of a county-run rifle range. On the walls were trophies of deer, elk, boar, coyote, and other species of Northern California game animals. I eyed them and imagined myself someday filling my own trophy room with similar prizes. Our instructor, Sol, was very knowledgeable and seemed to really love teaching this class. I liked him immediately. He even went to the trouble of bringing in several of his personal firearms to help us better understand the various kind of rifle and shotgun actions. During a break, Sol and I chatted about hunting, and made a plan to go on a pig hunt together. It’s been nearly two years, and we haven’t done it yet, but we still keep in frequent contact. Anyway, the course was great, the time flew, and I aced the final (which really didn’t seem too tough). I hope your experience with your course is similar. At the completion of the course, I got a small card which I needed in order to get my hunting license.

Hunting licenses in CA are available at several kinds of locations, most commonly gun shops and sporting goods stores. I went to the nearby gun shop and purchased my license shortly after completing my safety course. I also bought a special tag that I needed to legally hunt pig. When you harvest a pig in CA, you’re required to fill out the tag and attach it to the carcass. As it turns out, most species of game animals require that you get some kind of tag or stamp for them. The license by itself doesn’t get you very far.

So here I was: I had my Hunter Safety Program certificate, my state hunting license and my pig tag. All I needed now was some guns and ammunition, and I was ready for action!

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