Bird hunting is a great excuse to get into the great outdoors and go adventuring with your four-legged best friend. The sport is relatively easy to begin. With a little gear, some knowledge, and a license to kill, you’re ready to go.

Gear up
The key piece of bird hunting equipment is a shotgun. No, it’s not more sporting to use a rifle. (Not only will you miss the bird, your bullet will end up in another person a half mile away, which is why it’s illegal.) Depending on the fowl you’ll be hunting, you have a lot of options for your boom-boom stick. First, consider your gauge. A lower gauge number actually refers to a larger shell and, thus, higher killing power. The two most common gauges of shotguns are 20 and 12. A 12-gauge is excellent for hunting a variety of birds, including grouse, pheasant and duck. If you’re hunting water fowl or are in a wetlands area, you’ll likely be required to purchase steel-shot ammunition, as opposed to lead.

The other most significant choice related to your gun is the reloading/firing style. Hunters generally choose from double-barrel, pump action and semi-automatic designs. This comes down to personal preference and price range. “Double-barrel” refers to a gun having two barrels stacked on top of each other or placed side by side. This model is popular because of its classic design and reliability. Few moving parts means a misfire is extremely rare. Pump and semi-auto models allow hunters to load more rounds in their gun. A semi-auto will generally comes ewith a higher price tag, but you get the benefit of the gun loading itself, versus the movement required by the hunter to reload a pump-action model. A knock on semi-autos is that they’re prone to jams. Try different styles to discover which you prefer.

A cynical old man once told us, “Never get married, just get a good hunting dog.” Not understanding exactly what he meant, this stuck nonetheless. Bird hunting with a dog is much more enjoyable and usually more fruitful, as their noses work better for finding downed birds than yours does. If you’re planning to own a dog anyway, might as well choose a useful breed. A dog is a wonderful accessory.

While bird hunting, you’ll be walking around a bit, so make sure you pack a pair of boots. Hunting season is in the fall and winter, so waterproofing is good, along with durable, warm outerwear. Most bird hunters will wear a vest that stores extra shells and has a pouch to carry your kills. Hunter’s orange is not requisite , but it’s never bad to identify yourself as a human, not a target. Ask Dick Cheney.

Location, location, location
Weaponry acquired, it’s now time to find the birds. First, understand the habitat they require. Birds, like most animals, need water and food (generally some sort of grain) and shelter. Plots of waist-high grass near a stream are ideal killing fields. All states are not created equal, however: The Midwest is America’s powerhouse for pheasant hunting, with Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. Idaho, Montana, California and others also produce excellent bird populations year after year.

If your buddy owns open land in one of these areas, buy him a beer and negotiate your hunting trip. Regardless of your relationship to the land owner, always get permission before walking the fields. Kind of like asking before you date your best friend’s ex. You could also book a guided hunting excursion. When looking for an authentic experience, choose a guide that will take you on wild land, not a game farm, such as South Dakota Guide Services.

Get licensed
No matter where or what you’re hunting, you’ll need to purchase a license before you take your first shot. Many states allow you to purchase a license online. Take caution, though, if this is your first hunt in this state. You may be required to purchase multiple licenses depending on your target and location of the hunt. For example, hunting on a reservation might require an additional fee. To make sure you don’t buy too few or too many, speak to a human. Seek out a sportsmen retail store or a gas station with lots of “Welcome Hunters…we serve Bud,” signs to find an expert who will sell you exactly what you need. If you’re from out of state, expect to pay five times, or more, the local rate. Don’t let this dissuade you: Hunting is a boon for these states’ economies.