By Richard Bogath
Want To Eat?
It’s an important question to keep in the back of your mind when practicing and refining your hunting skills and particularly when it comes to shooting for hunting. It’s not about hitting a paper target at 200 yards. It’s about making the shot when you have to—in the right place to guarantee a kill—while in potentially less-than-ideal circumstances.
While it’s great that you can pop a bullseye with your .243 as far as the eye can see from a comfy shooting bench or lying prone on a shooting mat at your local range, impress me further by saying that you can make the same shot while standing or twisted around off-angle while tethered into a tree stand. How about crouched behind a rock on the side of a hill? Ever lay on the banks of a stream-bed and try to aim?
Of course, that’s also making the assumption that you’ve got a rifle or a shotgun to hunt with. What if your situation presents you with a handgun or a bow or crossbow? The point is that you must practice with all these tools (I hesitate to call the “weapons” because for the purposes of this article, they are used as the primary method of obtaining consumable protein).
Hunting Skills: Choosing The Right “Tool”
Every tool used for hunting provides a different set of challenges and a different skill set. All have benefits and detriments. Your bow or crossbow are relatively quiet but with limited range. Your rifle can reach out as far as the eye can see (and beyond) but you had better make that first shot count because every animal for miles will be on alert after that bang rings out. Some would also say that a shotgun offers more negatives than positives—having limited range and an enormous report—but the shotgun offers the opportunity for a quick, clean kill without the exacting precision that either a bow or rifle would require. It IS referred to as a “scattergun” for a reason.
Hunting with a handgun (not specifically purpose-built for hunting) should be a last resort due to the limited range, extremely limited power and the amount of noise generated when the trigger is pulled. Anything less than a .357 magnum will yield poor results and unfortunately little more than a frightened and horribly wounded animal.
Let’s also not forget that you will need to eat year-round and depending on your level of proficiency in hunting, your stockpiles of protein may dwindle outside of hunting seasons (assuming there are hunting seasons where you are surviving) so be prepared and practiced to take the shots you need to in all kinds of less-than-ideal weather conditions. They’re not all going to be gorgeous fall days that are cool and crisp as you wait for that buck to wander by. Shoot in rain, snow, wind, heat, humidity and any other miserable condition that a particular time of year and geographical location can present you with.
This also reminds us that we are to be opportunistic hunters. Deer are not the only source of food out there. Rabbits, squirrels and other forms of rodents are out there in abundance as a renewable protein source—but you still have to manage to hit them unless you are trapping them. This is also where that old reliable shotgun comes into better play than a high-powered rifle. Ever try to shoot a one-foot long, furry moving target with a 30-06 and a scope?
Hunting Skills: Be Responsible Or Starve
Your responsibility as a hunter does not change whether you are hunting to survive or hunting for sport or any level in between. It is your solemn duty as a mitigating force in nature to hunt responsively and respectfully. The hunter who believes himself or herself to be above the rules will soon find themselves on a slow road to starvation, as natures rules do not change because we are hungry. Over hunt an area—the game disappears or moves on to a location with less pressure, leaving no sign of which has occurred or where they might have moved to. Take pot-shots that leave animals wounded and un-harvested—then the local predator population increases as they consume the wounded and proliferate on your hunting grounds. Noise is the enemy. Inaccuracy is the enemy. Waste is the enemy. Realistic, responsible hunting teaches us that lung shots work, heart shots are hard, head shots are damn near impossible and that gut shots usually mean that you have a lot of tracking ahead of you, running the risk of non-recovery of the animal. Nothing is wasted in nature—be a part of nature when you hunt.
Part of shooting for hunting is the mastery of your movements. Slow, calculated and measured movements will always result in more harvests than jerky head-snaps at every sound that rings out of the woods and uncontrolled gun-swings across your torso every time a breeze crosses a bush.
Hunting is not easy. Shooting is not easy. Performing them together effectively is not easy. It’s an unfortunate reality that some gun owners assume that because they own a hunting rifle (or bow or shotgun) that they are capable of making the shot in a hunting scenario. You become a hunter by hunting and not by being equipped for hunting. You’ll do well to remember this fact and always work under the assumption that you still have more to learn. Shooting is not hunting but hunting requires shooting. Go hunt, go practice.