Joining the hunting community much later in life than many of my contemporaries gave me the opportunity to make youthful mistakes with the reasoning of an adult, and perhaps adjust more quickly to my errors in the field. That’s not to say that I didn’t continue goofing up here and there, leaving a shell out of the chamber, working against the wind, or forgetting to click the safety off as I prepared to take a shot. Excitement sometimes gets the better of us all, even those more experienced hunters, and that’s how it should be in the field. But, in an effort to help override that rush and provide the heightened elation of a successful trip, here are some tips to help those new hunters joining the ranks.
Foremost, don’t forget what you’ve learned in order to earn the privilege of your hunting license. Know where your barrel is pointed at all times, what lies in front of, behind and immediately around your line of fire when preparing to shoot. When in doubt, don’t shoot. The safest shot, obviously, is one that is never fired. However, when that perfect shot is set up at a rising bird or that meandering buck against the side of a hill, fall back on a practiced pattern.
Getting ready for the moment of truth in the outdoors, despite all the variables one might encounter across a variety of game species, is something that in its very basic form can be practiced. Certainly, getting ready before the season pays off, but going through the motions during the season, or just before heading out can provide a great refresher as well. Time behind a trap thrower will result in marked improvement in judging distance and movement of an airborne target and where your firearm needs to line up to connect with a bird. A couple hours at the range sighting in a rifle and practicing breathing and how to set a shot up in a scope will provide heightened confidence in the field. And every arrow zipped into a foam target will help build a coolness on stand or in the blind. If you can find time during the season to stay sharp, all the better.
At a more basic level, without ever having to fire a shot, practice with an unloaded firearm the mechanics of shouldering the gun, walking through where the safety is in relation to the trigger, and how it would go off before the shot, and back on as you lower the gun. This will help establish a familiarity with your firearm and a sort of muscle memory as to the process of using it. With that step-by-step ingrained in your system, no matter where or when your quarry bursts from cover, you’ll be ready. Imagine a variety of situations – flushing grouse, running deer, incoming geese – and move yourself in slow-motion through the steps you’d take to be ready for the moment. As Yogi Berra said, “90 percent of this game is mental, the other half is physical,” and having that mental preparation will prepare you to carry out the physical actions that make the total experience greater than the sum of its parts.
What has struck me most about many recent forays into the field with new hunters is how those physical aspects of the hunt have caught them off guard. Even those novice hunters who are runners, athletes and in relatively good shape have remarked at how challenging taking on the combination of uneven ground, vegetation and rising hills can be. Add in the rush of chasing after a hard-charging dog pushing pheasants into the air downfield, and one’s heart rate can certainly jump! Every bit of physical preparation helps, and being in good shape is a lifelong habit that will extend your hunting days. If you aren’t walking, running or playing sports – start now! They don’t have to be organized events or varsity-level in effort. You’d be surprised how just a little bit of play in the backyard or work in the gym will improve your physicality in the field. If you have the opportunity, hit a nearby hiking trail or wander through available grassy landscapes and take on some hills to simulate the challenges that come with many hunts, upland and otherwise.
Don’t Get Down
Ultimately, the outdoors and the hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities available to us are to be enjoyed and cherished and those rights and privileges that go along with it are available in very few other locations in the world. The mere fact that you’re out there, freely carrying a firearm on land open to public hunting is something that would generate awe in almost any other place on this planet. So love that opportunity as a whole, whether you bag the quarry you’re after or not. Learn to let a miss – or a missed opportunity – go. Try not to get frustrated as you make your way up the learning curve. As in life, there are wins and losses in the field and on the water, and each one is a memory and a chance to make yourself a better person and a more complete outdoorsman. Stay focused and ready, and most importantly, stay positive! There will be other opportunities to test what you’ve learned, if you choose to make them and preserve them for the future.
While this hunting season is drawing to a close, there are many more to come and for those planning to enter the ranks in the near future with firearms safety courses starting up again this winter, there is even more time to get ready for the challenges that await. Be safe, be prepared and be positive and that first step into the field will already be a successful one…in our outdoors.