What Makes A Good Hunt?
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If you hunt long enough, you’ll progress through the Five Stages of a Sportsman. In the early 1970s, Dr. Robert Norton surveyed 1,000 hunters and determined that as a hunter gains experience, his focus and motives for hunting shift. The fifth and final stage is that of the Sportsman. At this point, a hunter has spent enough time afield that a kill is secondary to the overall experience. Returning home with a satisfaction that hunting is more about the intangibles, than what might be in the freezer or on the wall.
Just Being Out There
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As a country we are blessed with a diversity of game, abundance of land, and numerous opportunities to hunt. While conservation concerns will likely always be present, populations have greatly increased over the past century. Sportsmen more than ever are rising to the challenge of being informed and involved on behalf of wildlife. There really isn’t a day of the year that you couldn’t find something to hunt if a hunter were motivated.
And while it is an oft used saying, “I’m just glad to be out” is deceptively simple. The time away from responsibilities and the resources spent to be hunting have a real cost. Finding a place that holds game, and not other hunters, requires an effort akin to planning a bank heist (not that I know anything about that). And just about any type of hunting requires an early rise and a dismissal of foul weather. But, in the end what hunters experience is unique and hardwon. That is something that can only be carried with the mind, not the hands.
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I hunt solo much more than I do with a friend. I wish it were different, but my schedule and pursuits do not fit easily into anyone else’s. I also tend to become very focused on the hunt which makes me a little more challenging to be around. But when I can spend a morning in a duck blind with a buddy, I enjoy the camaraderie. I treasure those moments and protect them by making sure we share the same ethics and goals of a hunt.
Hunting has been social since the beginning. I imagine a Far Side cartoon where one caveman picks up a stick, points at an animal, and grunts for his buddy to do the same thing. Of course, like a good buddy he obliges, they kill the animal, and then they get their stories straight before they make their way back to the village to share just how big that other mammoth was before he got away. In some ways we aren’t very different from that today. Learning to spin a yarn and listen to the glorious battles of others is present in every camp.
Learning Something New
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Since I have my phone with me when I hunt, I make it fill a few roles: navigator, photographer, lifeline, and secretary. It’s the last one that handles my notes, thoughts, and questions that I know I won’t remember after I am home with a whiskey in me. While calling in a bull elk, I was busted by a swirl of the wind bringing my scent to him. Frustrated, I sat and had lunch, only to be interrupted fifteen minutes later with him bugling just a hundred yards away. It made me wonder how long my scent persisted in an area and how the scent cone traveled from me. I made the note on my phone and later researched it.
I espouse being a lifelong learner. There is always more to be known and explored in the natural world. Sometimes it only satisfies your curiosity (what happens when an elk finds a field of an illicit drug) but others can elevate your understanding of what is around you, making you a more effective hunter. I look for new experiences or species to hunt, because I get excited about something being new and unknown again. I read what I can find, talk with hunters who have found success, and generally absorb whatever I can. Being an expert in one type of hunting doesn’t mean that you can’t also be a novice in another.
Introducing Someone to Your Passion
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This is one of the hallmarks to know that you have progressed as a sportsman. It requires a significant investment in someone to bring them into hunting. You usually become the supply cabinet for everything that they don’t have but need to survive a day in the woods. Secret spots become shared spots, with an oath of silence attached. And the many, many questions that you spent a lifetime understanding now require an active patience from your chosen student.
The reward is the birth and growth of a fellow hunter. Our ranks are not large and always in need of recruitment. More than that, we need hunters willing to defer a shot because it is ethically questionable instead of winging a bullet and wounding an animal. The image you mold them in is of your own rigorous standard of what a sportsman must be. Hopefully what you gain is someone to share the passion and heritage with and will pick up the phone when you need help packing out from deep in the mountains. Even if the mentorship is short, you’ve introduced someone to hunting in a positive way, that can make them an ally when wildlife policy is shaped.
As is so often the case in our world, the best things in life cannot be held or bought. I am a hunter and hope to bring home my game at the end. I like my freezers full with wild game and my home with memories of my adventures. But if I come home empty handed, that doesn’t mean I come home empty minded. I hope the next time you walk back into civilization, you remember these thoughts along with the wild places you’ve seen.
About the Author: Everett Headley is an outdoor writer and educator. He was raised hunting and fishing in Montana. He lives in the Bitterroot with his Chesapeake Bay retriever, Cane, and his peregrine falcon, Freyja. You can find more of his work on his professional page, on Instagram and his podcast Elevate the Hunt.
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