For some Americans, hunting is a family tradition – a way to spend time together outdoors and build a greater appreciation for nature. For others, it's a sustainable way to put healthy food on the table.

Hunting is also about conservation. The majority of funding for state fish and wildlife agencies comes directly from hunters, anglers, and shooting sports enthusiasts. Hunters pay their way through licenses, permits, and other fees ($796 million annually). In addition, every purchase of a box of ammunition, a firearm, or archery gear includes a fee (called an "excise tax") that helps fund state fish and wildlife programs – more than $371 million in 2011 alone. It was sportsmen who developed this "user pay" system. Without these funds, state agencies would effectively cease to operate, which would affect outdoor recreation opportunities for all residents and visitors.

Scouting hunt location in Minnesota. Credit Tina Shaw-USFWS

Hunting plays an important part in state wildlife management. Sportsmen help keep wildlife healthy by balancing wildlife populations with available habitat. For example, humans are the only remaining "predators" for white-tailed deer in many parts of the country – an overly populous species that was endangered just a century ago. Restoration programs funded by sportsmen helped this species recover.

If you are interested in hunting or know someone who is, we have a few quick tips to get you started:

  • Sign up for a hunter education course through your state fish and wildlife agency. (See list below.) These are usually held in the summer and early fall.
  • Learn game laws and regulations.
  • Buy a hunting license, which are usually specific to the game species and type of hunting you plan to do. For example, a state may have different seasons to hunt deer with bows, rifles, and old-fashioned muzzleloaders.
  • Select your equipment and PRACTICE.
  • Find a place to hunt. Public lands are a good place to start. In addition to state forests and wildlife management areas, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management acres offer access to abundant game. Also, check with the national wildlife refuges near you to determine which ones permit hunting. Some Izaak Walton League chapters allow hunting on their property by members; many more offer a place to sight-in and develop marksmanship skills. Find the League chapter nearest you.

Hunter Education Classes

All states require first-time hunters to pass a hunter education class before they can apply for a hunting license. These classes are about more than gun safety. Classes may also cover wildlife identification, first aid and wilderness survival, map and compass skills, hunter ethics and responsibilities, wildlife conservation and management, and landowner relations.

Each state has different requirements on the age at which a hunter can (and must) complete a hunter education course and whether a refresher course is required for experienced hunters. Check with your state fish and wildlife agency for upcoming hunter education classes:

[Last updated 12/20/2013]