Hunters take to New Hampshire's forests in late autumn in pursuit of white-tailed deer. “Deer are considered our most popular game species,” notes New Hampshire Fish and Game information officer Jane Vachon. Hunters also pursue moose, black bear, wild turkey, small game, waterfowl and pheasant in season. A hunter education course, offered by Fish and Game in spring and summer, is a must before a licensed sportsman can venture into the wild. It is an integral piece of teaching would-be hunters — who use both firearms and bows — safety, navigation and ethics. “You get two types of people in hunter safety classes,” says lifelong sportsman and New Hampshire Fish and Game Lieutenant Douglas Gralenski. “There are those who have a lot of previous hunting experience with their family. The course reaffirms a lot of what they already know and breaks any bad habits they may have picked up. Then you get others who come in from a ground level and are just jumping in without a lot of previous firearms experience. Of course, a firearm to someone who hasn't had a lot of experience can be intimidating initially. But we get those people beyond that so they are comfortable in handling firearms.”Fish and Game also offers women's-only programs, youth-oriented workshops and oversees the Owl Brook Hunter Education Center in Holderness for hunter training. Gralenski, who hunts with his two children, is a firm believer in mentoring novices.“There is no better ethics and safety training than being one on one with a responsible adult in the field,” he says. “That certainly sets the groundwork for the development of safety and ethics down the road.”Impressive FactIn 2008, New Hampshire hunters purchased 17,253 archery, 23,960 muzzle loader, 17,231 turkey and 8,847 bear licenses.Gear BoxHunters spend many stationary hours in the woods, and also have to be able to traverse autumn's mud, rain and snow through the rugged backwoods. Sturdy, warm boots are essential and L.L Bean's Trophy Pursuit Boots ($129) are designed for those conditions. Bean's Basic Hunter's Day Pack ($49) comes in camouflage and has ample inner compartments and zipped removable outer pockets for the essentials.
The pack is waterproof with padded shoulder straps. If it warms up bungee a layer to the outside of the pack.
Bean's Field Binoculars, 10X42 Mossy Oak Treestand ($299), are compact and lightweight. With a magnification of 8x, the binoculars are also billed as being water- and fog-proof.Expert AdviceA lifelong hunter, Lt. Douglas Gralenski is a 24-year Fish and Game Department veteran. The conservation officer oversees Coos County and teaches the law section of New Hampshire Fish and Game hunting safety classes. He particularly enjoys mentoring and hunting with his two children, 17-year-old Nicholas and 10-year-old Lauren, in northern New Hampshire.
What will prospective hunters get out of a New Hampshire Fish and Game education class?
You get a good sense of the fact that hunting is so much more than just killing an animal. You get to experience nature, the environment, ecosystems and the way animals interact in their habitat. The simple act of carrying a firearm safely and ethics to a landowner are something that all hunters need to understand. There is also some first aid, map and compass, landowner relations and a section on the law.
You can never stress safety too much.
That's true. But if someone is mentored and they go through the course, safety becomes almost a natural byproduct of what you are doing. We want a hunter to reach the point, and they do, where safety just becomes second nature. It is kind of like driving a car safely. You subconsciously always need to be aware of it.
Hunters can use firearms and a bow. What are the challenges?
The challenges are the same. What a firearm gives you is the ability to have an animal in range at 100 yards as opposed to a bow where most hunters are restricted to 30 yards and in. The experience is the same. If you are bow hunting you need to get that much closer to the species. It requires that your skill set be at a high level.
Where do people practice?
There are firing ranges and fish and game clubs. In the North Country, where there are large tracts of undeveloped land, there are plenty of safe places where one can go out and find a gravel pit with a safe backdrop for target practice.
What is the most popular season for hunting in New Hampshire?
Deer season is the most popular season to hunt in the state in terms of the number of participants. It is not necessarily the number one species I would start a young person with. Deer hunting requires a lot of patience and patience generally comes later in life. If you are taking a young person out, I strongly recommend spring turkey season because it is so interactive.
This article appears in the December 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine