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Hunting for Dummies

What every wannabe hunter should know

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I have never been hunting, nor ever had any desire to hunt. Among those who know me, it's no secret that I struggle to even understand the motivation for or satisfaction derived from the activity of killing an animal. If hunting were necessary for survival, then of course I would re-evaluate my objections to it, but given the current state of food procurement (needing only a shopping cart and some moolah), I am of the opinion that successfully hunting down a parking spot at Wal-Mart on a Saturday morning is more likely to be a skill necessary to daily survival than tracking and hunting a wild animal.

However, after a half-dozen years of Idaho residency, I have accepted the fact that the "sport" of hunting is really a form of return to primal instincts. I may not like it, understand it or support it, but for the sake of a story, let's live in the hypothetical for a moment. If I were to suddenly have a change of heart and conjure some fierce desire to learn how to hunt, where would someone like me begin? How does a decidedly animal-friendly, gun-shy city girl like myself legally and safely harvest a bird for Thanksgiving or a 14-pointer for the wall space above my mantel?

A weapon is my first stumbling block. Admittedly, my aversion to guns is most likely the reason I have always detested hunting. Call me one of those crazy peace-loving liberals who wants to strip my fellow Americans of their constitutional rights because I cannot understand why, in 21st century city-dwelling life, we need to own guns. Despite having a gun-collecting roommate in college, I had never even shot a gun until last April. The two Aussie brothers I was backpacking with through Vietnam convinced me to shoot exactly five bullets from an AK-47 during a tour through the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of Saigon. I screamed as I let off the first round and firing off the remaining four rounds only solidified my resolve against ever shooting at a living thing.

But if I want to get serious about hunting, I either have to a) get over my gun phobia, or b) learn how to bow hunt. In overcoming the the former (and as I am an Idaho resident over the age of 18), I can walk into any retailer who sells rifles, fill out some forms, undergo a background check on-site and walk out with a rifle and bullets in two shakes of Bambi's tail.

Though a research trip to Wal-Mart did not result in me purchasing a gun, I did learn two things a wannabe hunter must do whilst purchasing a firearm. First, pick up a current copy of Idaho Fish and Game's Rules and Regulations specific to the type of game for which you'll be caterwauling through the woods to find. Second, ask the retailer for information on hunter's education classes. A hunter's education class is required for all hunters unless you are an Idaho resident born before January 1, 1975, in which case you are grandfathered and therefore exempt from meeting the class requirement.

According to Idaho Fish and Game, hunter's education covers "basic hunting knowledge," which means that beginners learn general hunting rules (do not shoot your fellow man), as well as how to identify different animal species (an elk is so not a deer). A class costs less than $10 and is taught by a volunteer according to the schedule set forth by that volunteer.

Got a gun? Check. Got hunter's ed? Check. Now what?

I called IFG and pleaded for help, explaining that I didn't even know the difference between a license and a tag, much less which one I needed to have in order to hunt legally.

The answer is that I need both. Every hunter has to have a hunting license. Licenses are available at more than 400 vendors throughout the state and your license is valid for one calendar year. How much one pays for a license is subject to a laundry list of criteria: the licensee's age, whether or not the licensee is disabled, the licensee's state of residency and the type of game the licensee intends to hunt.

A tag is specific to the game. If I want to hunt a turkey, I need a turkey tag. If I want to hunt a deer, I need a deer tag. Tags range in price from $11.50 for a mountain lion tag to $31.25 for an antelope tag, with discounts given to juniors, seniors and qualifying disabled hunters.

According to Idaho law, ignorance is no excuse for illegally taking game. All hunters are responsible for purchasing the correct tags and licensing, as well as knowing what seasons are open in which regions of the state. For example, turkey season, which opened September 15, has three separate closing dates in four different regions. The Southwest area closed October 4, the Clearwater region closes October 9, while both the Panhandle and Southeast regions are open until October 31. Therefore, harvesting a turkey in the Southwest region after October 4 is illegal despite turkey season still being open in other state regions.

And how does a hunter know which regions are where? The entire state is divided into 78 Game Management Units and each unit has definite boundaries (as described in the rules and regulations book: "Unit 1--All of Boundary County and that portion of Bonner County north of the Pend Oreille River, Pend Oreille Lake and Clark Fork River. Myrtle Creek and David Thompson game preserves: closed.") and specific season regulations.

Confused yet? Let's say I want to hang a white-tailed deer's antlered noggin above my television. After obtaining the necessary licenses and tags, I would look in my handy rules and regulations book for season and GMU information. According to the 2005 edition, white-tailed deer season is open in units 4,7 and 9 for antlered deer between October 10 and November 9. But if I'm unable to get a few days off from the daily grind of newspaper editing until October 31, then I have to hunt in another unit, which may be located in another region of the state but will at least be legal. Beginning hunters, like myself, who are overwhelmed by the amount of information in the rules and regulations book, should not hesitate to ring up IFG and ask as many questions as possible.

Once I have harvested my game (that's sportsman speak for "killed my prey"), I must physically attach the notched tag to the animal in some way. The notch indicates where and when the animal was harvested. Some game have mandatory check-in requirements for hunters who have harvested them, but in Idaho most game is only required to be checked by an IFG officer if there is a check station in the area. FYI, even if you have not harvested an animal, all hunters must stop at an IFG check station if one is present. A harvest report card is the only standard requirement for all tag holders. Whether or not a hunter has harvested, the harvest card that is printed with your tag at purchase must be returned to IFG. If you have harvested game, the report must be rendered within 10 days.

And now another disclaimer. I am not a hunter, never have been and whether or not I ever will be is still up to the uncertainty of the future. The information contained herein is correct to the best of my knowledge but there are zillions of rules and regulations, safety tips and procedures that are important for every hunter to know. My best advice for beginners? Get yourself one of those bright neon orange safety vests and get in touch with Idaho Fish and Game at 334-3700 or online at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov. And happy hunting!