Don't Know Where to Hunt?
Note: Italicized is author’s personal experience, scroll past if not interested
The times of being born and living out your days in the same stomping grounds are all but gone. Whether it be for school, work, or personal reasons many people in the United States find themselves moving to new locations near and far, with multiple moves not uncommon. Relocating is a daunting task in and of itself, add to that locating new hunting grounds and the whole situation can be quite overwhelming. I’d like to offer a few tips I picked up along the way after moving from Louisiana to Florida. Disclaimer, I can’t cover the rules and regulations of all 50 states, so please refer to your local Fish and Game Law Enforcement literature before setting foot in the woods or on the water.
First off, if you’re completely new to hunting you must attend a hunter education/safety course. In most if not all states you can’t get a license much less legally hunt without attending a course first; so do yourself and everyone else a favor and get educated. We all rely on one another to maintain a safe experience in the outdoors, which includes placing a lot of trust in total strangers not to do something irresponsible and/or dangerous. The following methods are directed towards people who are new to an area and have no contacts to rely on, as was my experience. For that reason a brand new hunter with no foreseeable hunting partners could also follow these tips.
One of the first things I noticed upon arrival in North Florida was the vast amount of water that surrounded the area. Freshwater springs and lakes dot the landscape while rivers and creeks meander through the flat topography. The St Johns River slowly winds its way from south to north spilling into the Atlantic Ocean just east of downtown Jacksonville. This environment creates the perfect recipe for brackish fishing and saltwater marsh duck hunting, two activities near and dear to my heart. The area looked like a treasure trove of fish and game, but now I had two hurdles to overcome…no boat and no clue where to begin.
Up until this point my father had always provided my hunting and fishing opportunities. I was just a kid going hunting with his dad using his boat, his camp, and his lease. Granted, we all worked very hard to make the lease and camp productive, but still I was granted wonderful opportunities that only required some work and a good attitude on my part.
So what does a young and adventurous outdoorsman do when it comes time to learn a new area? I opened my laptop and Googled “Jacksonville fishing reports.” In all seriousness, the internet is one of the best tools at your disposal for quickly narrowing down places to hunt and/or fish, while also finding the information to do it legally. Long story short I found a great forum that focused on kayak fishing, bought a tandem kayak on clearance, and hit the water with my wife to start learning the area.
The forum provided reports, general conversation, and maps of areas to launch your kayak safely. What you will almost never find on these forums is fishermen/women willing to give up their honey holes. You need to earn those on your own, or make a friend willing to spend some time on the water with you. The same applies to hunting, probably even more so but we will get to that soon. When it comes to fishing, no time on the water is time wasted. Focus on an area and learn it until you are successful, then apply those methods to other nearby areas. Say you don’t have a fishing forum that caters to your area. In this case your satellite imagery provider of choice will be highly beneficial. You can locate spots worth investigating and then reference other resources (state/county GIS systems) to better understand access matters. Luckily many counties maintain public boat launches and many waterways are public. The next step was to use what I learned tracking down fishing information and apply it to hunting.
Forums are a great place to gather information on the local hunting environment. They are also a great place to inadvertently make enemies, so be very mindful of your initial approach. Forums can be sensitive! The last thing you want to do (especially on a duck hunting forum) is type out something similar to the following...” Hey guys, new to the area. Where are the birds holding up?” It sounds innocent enough, but the majority of responses will be defensive or negative comments about “internet scouting” and how “back in my day we scouted 5000 miles before the season” and so forth. What you should do is some preliminary research using your state wildlife website. This will help you narrow down public hunting areas that are within a reasonable distance of your location. Once you have a few places in mind you can reach out to the forum with more specific questions. Naming a few places as potential hunting locations tends to garner more cooperative responses on these forums. Guys/gals that frequent them like to see you’ve done your homework before posting. Most forums allow you to search historical posts, so I suggest using the areas you plan to hunt as your search terms. Again, this will give you more specifics to include in your “new to the area” post. Forums typically have a handful of habitual posters who are part of nearly every post. If you can initiate a conversation with them your chances of having a genuine conversation about hunting in the area will drastically increase. Most hunters are ready and willing to share information, so long as the recipient is respectful, diligent, and responsible.
State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Websites
States have different names for their wildlife divisions, but all have a website where you can find fish and game regulations (link to state map found here https://www.nssf.org/hunting/where-to-hunt). Some state websites will be better than others, but all will provide the rules and regulations for hunting and/or fishing in your state. They should also provide you with a list of public areas where you can hunt during certain times of the year. Some of these areas will have quotas, which is a whole other article, but some will have public lands where you can hunt so long as you follow the season dates and area regulations. Please read all applicable documents pertaining to the area you intend to hunt, because rules can and will vary from location to location. This can include time limitations, weapon regulations, restricted areas, and many other particulars that may not be included in general state regulations.
I’ve had great luck with the Florida Wildlife Commission’s website. The information is very useful, easy to navigate, and current. I’ve also picked up the phone a few times and spoken to local law enforcement agents when questions regarding legality arose. They were happy to assist and inform me about the dos and don’ts around various hunting techniques. Remember, what is legal in one state may not be legal in another so it is better to be safe than sorry. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and make the call.
Chances are you are not the only outdoorsmen in your surrounding area. I can’t speak for large metro areas like the cities in the Northeast US, but I imagine even there you could find some like-minded individuals. There are many clubs aimed towards hunters and anglers, so it helps to have a general idea of what you are interested in pursuing. Don’t discount Craigslist either, as many leaseholders in need of members will post openings on the site. Here is a short list of links you can use to find information for your state and get started:
- Ducks Unlimited Events
- Quality Deer Management Association
- Hunter Retriever Club
- Delta Waterfowl
- Local Bass Fishing Clubs
- Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
- Local State “Sportsman” website – Florida and Louisiana both have websites that contain useful information and forums and I’m sure other states do as well.
My posts on the kayak fishing forum led to a few conversations regarding the local duck hunting climate. This led to a couple of hunting trips with forum members, which led to purchasing a puppy, which led to attending monthly training sessions, which led to meeting a hunter looking for new deer lease members. It all boiled down to a series of connected events that allowed me access to outdoor experiences including hunting, fishing, dog training, and camping. All it took was a willingness to reach out to like-minded individuals and take the time to converse with them.
This is just a general outline on how one can navigate hunting opportunities in a new area, but it is far from conclusive. Outdoor activities require the ability to adapt, which is even more necessary when moving to a new location. Our nomadic ancestors constantly adjusted their methods for survival, and we must do the same in order to excel at and preserve our rights to pursue fish and game.
- Kevin Johansen, Fall Obsession Field Staff