By Aaron Farley:

I am the king of looking like a fool because I don’t know what I’m doing. The king.

A friend of mine was in the Navy for several years, and he likes to tell a story that illustrates this kind of thing well. He worked in the maintenance division, on planes that would land on the ships. With a straight face and assurance, they sent new recruits to the parts room to get “prop wash” to wash off the propellers (*Prop wash is not used to wash anything, and modern planes do not use propellers). He would usually spend a while looking around and sheepishly return with something else he hoped was “prop wash”. Everyone in the maintenance department would get a good laugh at the expense of the newbie, and the recruit would pay his dues and join a long line of initiated seamen. Honestly, I felt like that recruit looking for prop wash when I first started hunting. Instead of propeller cleaner, I was looking for a product, tip, trick, or secret to make me a super-hunter. Just like prop wash, it didn’t exist.

I started hunting later in life. I was in my twenties, out of college, and had no idea what I was doing. I spent tons of time reading books, blogs, and magazines. I watched a “How to field dress a deer” video on YouTube at least 15 times. I questioned everyone I knew who hunted and bugged them to take me out and show me how to find sign. Eventually, I found my way around and learned a lot. There was about a 2 year learning curve before I felt confident in the woods and started killing deer on a consistent basis.

If I could go back in time and give myself some advice just as I was getting started, I think it would have saved me some time and embarrassment. Now that I try to introduce others to the hunting lifestyle, I find myself sharing this same advice with others. If I could pull myself aside and give myself some advice it would sound a lot like this:

1.    Use less, better gear. – “Light and Tight”

You are a gear junkie, and a tight-wad. Stop it. Quit spending hours looking at reviews, searching for the best prices online, and convincing yourself that this latest piece of “kit” is going to revolutionize your hunting skills. This is not the case.

A quick story…

After begging for a while, and making all the arrangements, I pulled into the WMA check station to meet my friend who was going to take me out hunting and show me the ropes. I stepped out of my jeep and started strapping on gear, my friend standing there watching. “What’s that?” was said more than once. My pack was full of gear, my rifle had 10 extra shells on a sleeve around the stock, and I had more stuff hanging off me than a Christmas tree. I was prepared! My friend on the other hand, was wearing simple warm-looking fleece camo, carrying a rifle in one hand, and had a small fanny pack slung around behind him.

All my preparations and gear actually left me at a huge disadvantage slipping through the woods. After a few hours looking for sign and jumping some bedded does I realized that simple is better. All that extra gear weighing me down, made more noise and served no purpose.

Make your motto “light and tight”.

You will be better off having a few pieces of high-quality, light weight gear that fits tight against your body than all the high-tech stuff you think will matter. High quality, dependable gear, will be much more valuable than “game changing” new products that hang on store shelves. So to the old me – Stop buying all that junk and wasting money.

2.    Just Go

The paralysis of analysis can set in when it comes to hunting. You read too much – just get out there. Over thinking all those articles about hunting tactics will cause you to freeze when it is go time. Make up your mind and just pick a plan, or you’re going to blow it on more than one hunt, trust me. Fear of picking the wrong tactic or using the wrong approach will keep you from doing anything well. You will be more successful when you just get out there and try. If something doesn’t work, fine. Try something else. The important thing is that you get out there and put in your time in the woods. You will learn a dozen times more from nature itself than you will anything else.

3.    Pick Up a Bow

You are going to put this off for way too long. Sure, your rifle will reach much further. Yes, you see deer that you could have killed with a rifle but you can’t reach with your bow. Trust me, and buy a bow.

Until you start hunting with that bow you are going to be missing out. There are a full 4 weeks of hunting every year you miss because you don’t have one already. There are properties you’ll get access to hunt just because you agree to bowhunt. You are going to love shooting in the yard with your wife and kids, and it will become something you enjoy very much. Don’t put that off another day. Go get a bow, right now. Go.

4.    Hunt Small Game

I know you are thinking that squirrels and rabbits aren’t as tasty as deer and that the small amount of meat isn’t worth it. You’re an idiot. Eventually you’ll find ways to cook rabbit that make your mouth water. Sneaking around for those squirrels is going to teach you more about woodsmanship than anything else you’re going to do for the next 5 years. You’ll learn a lot about deer, turkeys and other wildlife by simply hunting squirrels. Just cook them in a stew if you don’t think you can stomach a tree-rat, because it’s worth it.

5.    Kill Deer

There is a time a place for managing deer, and letting small bucks walk. For now, you are not in that place. If you start out hunting waiting for the big one, you’ll lose a lot of opportunities. One of the best ways to learn what you’re doing is to kill deer. At first, just kill deer. Don’t worry about how many points it has, or how old it is. Anything without spots is fair game for now. Don’t let it get so complicated so fast. As you hone your skills and get better at your craft, you will naturally transition into management. Just don’t worry about that your first couple years. If you do, you are going to let a very funny looking ½ racked buck walk, and you’re going to regret it. For a long time. If you let it walk, that buck will still haunt your mind years later when you write a letter to yourself giving advice you’ll wish you had heard when you were just beginning.

That’s my letter to me. What would you tell yourself back when you first started hunting?

– Aaron Farley,