Newcomers to ancient practice
Beginners learn how to hunt, put food on the table
Hunting has been a part of human life for thousands of years and was a necessity for early human survival. There were no grocery stores where meat could be purchased. Humans were completely self-sufficient. This tradition of self-sufficiency was part of the driving force that inspired Adam Johnson to begin exploring the sport of hunting.
Johnson, 39, went hunting a few times on his own, but said those outings were little more than stumbling around, figuratively as well as literally, in the woods. He asked questions on online forums to learn more about the “dos and donts” of hunting, but that only helped so much.
It wasn’t until he stumbled across the “Field to Fork” learn-to-hunt program, hosted by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), that he was able to really grow his confidence and knowledge. He took part in the weekend program in October 2019 and has since grown in his hunting endeavors.
“I realized that I didn’t have any self-sufficiency,” Johnson, says of why he began hunting. “All of my ancestors had all of these things that were intuitive knowledge to them, and I had broken that chain.”
A chain that included his dad, who knew how to fix a car, grow food and, yes, hunt. A metro Atlanta resident, Johnson could find a mechanic and roam the produce aisle at his local grocery store – a “suburban skillset” – but that was about it.
“I wanted to be able to demonstrate to myself that I could go get some necessities and I could continue doing all these things that some of my ancestors took for granted.”
Augusto Zimmerman is another metro Atlantan who began hunting later in his life. Zimmerman, 40, moved to the United States from Brazil in 2009 to attend graduate school. Going to school in rural Illinois, he was exposed to hunting and became interested. It wasn’t until years later, when he came across the Netflix hunting series “MeatEater” that he decided to act on his interest.
Instead of reaching for a weapon, he turned to his computer. That’s how he learned about “Field to Fork.” He fired off an email, which hit its mark; the program welcomed him. He participated in the autumn 2018 session in Athens, GA, “a very interesting and welcoming experience.” Since then, he has developed a deep passion for hunting.
Becoming a hunter can be an overwhelming venture. As Zimmerman notes, there are a lot of things that people who grow up hunting learn, so they don’t realize how daunting it can be to someone not raised in a hunting household.
It takes careful preparation and hours in the field scouting for signs that deer are present. Then, after hunters have found the perfect spot, they sit for hours hoping a deer will wander past. Some go whole seasons and never see a deer or have the opportunity to harvest one.
Land access is another potential problem. A common misperception is that to hunt, you need to have access to private lands or be part of a hunting lease. This is false. State and federal public lands, including National Wildlife Refuges, across the country are open for hunting.
Johnson has no access to private land, so he takes full advantage to hunt public Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). His favorite WMAs are about 40 miles from his home. While there are WMAs closer, he prefers to frequent the less popular areas; they’re more secluded. Zimmerman has also taken advantage of public land, and participated in a public land quota hunt last year where participants apply and are selected through a lottery. There is information about these public land hunting opportunities on wildlife agency websites.
Other questions can be nerve-racking for the new hunter. Should I use a crossbow? A compound bow? A rifle?
And, of course, there is cost. A compound bow can cost several hundred dollars – a firearm easily as much, or more.
For Johnson and Zimmerman, “Field to Fork” helped them decide their weapon. For Johnson, the decision was easy: He chose a rifle. Zimmerman went with a crossbow. The program did more than that, too. The novice hunters learned more about hunting basics, which boosted their confidence. The program taught them how to pick a hunting spot, how to shoot and then paired them with a mentor so that they could hunt alongside an experienced hunter. Johnson was able to successfully harvest a doe during his program. Zimmerman wasn’t as lucky and continued to wait patiently for his moment to arrive. After the program ended, it was up to the new hunters to continue and apply what they had learned.
One lesson: “If you’re going to do it, you have to be fully committed to it,” says Johnson. “You need to join as many [online] forums as you can, ask as many questions, try to reach out to people that may have a friend of a friend who likes to hunt. It’s something that you can’t give up early on because the reward is worth it.”
Zimmerman echoes this advice. “Take it little by little,” he says, “Keep going at it and keep trying.”
Zimmerman also recommends new hunters look for a learn-to-hunt program like “Field to Fork” and to contact local wildlife agencies. “They are more than willing to help you take the first steps,” he says.
Learning other lessons
Johnson has hunted every weekend during the 2020 Georgia deer season, whose start dates depend on the type of weapon used. His began Oct. 17. He is focused on whitetail now, but hopes to expand his hunting and add species with more confidence and experience.
Becoming a hunter has given Johnson an incentive to be a more like his ancestors. He’s starting a garden in his backyard and is developing his carpentry skills – additions, he says, to his “suburban skillset.” He’s even thinking about becoming an angler.
He credits his newfound confidence to lessons learned in a hunting classroom and in the woods. He likes to look at maps and imagine where the deer are going to be. He ponders wind direction, camouflage and the art of staying still.
“It’s much more complicated than I thought it was before I started,” Johnson says. “Hunting is a sophisticated puzzle. I don’t know how many pieces there are, and I don’t know what the picture looks like.”
Hunting has also provided a bonding opportunity with family. Johnson’s hunting has piqued his daughter’s interest. She’s in second grade, not quite old enough to join him in the field, but when she’s ready, he is excited to teach her what he’s learned.
“To me, it’s also showing her that even as an adult, I’m not done learning,” he says. “I would like to continue learning and acquiring skills and becoming more self sufficient.”
Zimmerman has been focused on pursuing whitetails since “Field to Fork”, with great results: He recently harvested his first two mature bucks that he proudly processed himself.
He’s discovered a new quarry, too. After a few tries, he bagged a turkey this past spring. It was a fine bird, a tom, and Zimmerman thoroughly enjoyed the work it took to bring that bird home.
He is also hoping to go pheasant, quail or duck hunting, and is talking with a coworker who is an avid upland bird hunter. He hopes to go out with him one day and fulfill this new dream.
Zimmerman is also giving back to “Field to Fork.” He’s helping one of his mentors ready their property to be used in the program for new hunters. He has walked the land, discovered great hunting spots and set up tree stands and trail cameras.
Like Johnson, Zimmerman has bonded with family through hunting. All four of his kids want to tag along at least once with him this season.
He was also able to take his sons, ages 5 and 6, dove hunting this year. “I wasn’t very successful,” he says, “but it was fun!”
Zimmerman was able to share what he had learned about hunting with his father as well, and the two hunted together. His father had never been hunting, so the younger Zimmerman asked one of his mentors if he could bring his dad to his property in the Athens area for a hunt. Of course, said the mentor.
That’s how, one crispy Georgia morning, father and son sat in a tree stand. Zimmerman ran through the basics with his dad, telling him that they had to be very quiet and very still. Their wait got rewarded when two does stepped into view. Zimmerman saw them and kept still, hoping not to spook the duo. Not his dad: The elder Zimmerman excitedly began tapping his son’s knee, thinking he had not seen the deer. Wrong move. The tapping spooked the deer and they ran – but it was exciting. Later, a button buck, not even a year old, wandered by. They let him pass, to let him grow a little more.
Around 4:30 p.m., the day waning, a doe came by. It was a 120-yard shot. Zimmerman’s dad gave his son a quizzical look. Would he take the shot? He did. That evening, father and son took home meat for the freezer.
But it was more than just bringing food home. A father and son bonded in the woods, and the dad went home with a great story to share with his friends.
“It was really neat…to be able to share [with him] something that I learned later in life. It was very cool,” says Zimmerman.
It’s never too late to start hunting. There are lots of educational opportunities available. Check out a wildlife agency website, be on the lookout for learn-to-hunt programs like “Field to Fork”, or ask a friend or neighbor who hunts if they would mentor you. To get started, all you need is public land, a method of harvest, and some earth-toned clothing. Learning a new skill can be uncomfortable at first and can take some time, but with perseverance and a positive attitude, it is certainly not an insurmountable task. You will make mistakes, but you will learn from them.
Learning to hunt can be a growing experience that comes with rewards and priceless memories. Are you ready? The field is waiting for you.