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A Few Tips for New Hunters Interested In Fair-Chase Big Game

Most experienced hunters have gained their skills from an older relative that took them hunting for the first time as a young person. Many of the skills and practices have been passed down through the generations and are considered traditional. As young hunters mature, they learn from mistakes, develop skills and become stronger  hunters as well as people. At a certain point their knowledge has developed enough on the subject to begin mentoring others and to continue to pass on the tradition. 

There are many people that have never had the opportunity to learn the skills needed to hunt. Whether it is due to a family background with negative views on hunting or the lack of a knowledgeable mentor, they have missed out on the positive aspects of pursuing game in the wild. They have also missed out on the unique outdoor experience that hunting wild game offers outdoorsmen. A person that has significant experience in the outdoors, but has never hunted will likely gain a new respect for wildlife after being hunting.

Regardless of the reason that attracts people to the hunting, it is important that they exercise strong ethics while in the field. A sportsman needs to maintain a high level of integrity because hunting can be easily scrutinized by critics. Practicing integrity is not only to preserve the activity of big game hunting, but also the conservation efforts that it supports.

The term "Hunting" is a broad concept in general that applies to many different species of game and styles of hunt. The subject matter of this article is meant to apply to North American big game hunts; More specifically to "fair chase" hunts on public land or wilderness. Although many game animals are taken ethically on private land with relative ease, the material in this text aims to offer suggestions for those who are working toward more challenging experiences. 

The following suggestions are not a complete guide to big game hunting; they are simply some guidelines to begin with and build upon. These tips don't scratch the surface of the amount of knowledge that a person needs to become a safe and effective hunter. The pursuit of big game and the outdoors in general offer new experiences with each outing and the sportsman can continue to learn for a lifetime. It is beyond the breadth of one short article to comprehensively teach all the baseline skills needed for a big game hunt. It is also beyond the ability of any individual to absorb enough information from text alone to be a proficient hunter. Hard work, repetition and experience in the field are the only ways to develop the skill set to be an expert big game hunter.

 

An Introduction to Hunting is Required

Before a new hunter embarks on their first big game hunt it would benefit them immensely to experience harvesting game on a smaller scale. There is a vast amount of practical sense that can be gained just by fishing, small game or bird hunting.

A new big game hunter will be overwhelmed if their first experience harvesting game is an intense elk or sheep hunt. It is important that a person introduces themself to the challenge of harvesting game by starting with a relatively “easy” hunt. Instead of trying to stalk elk, mule deer or sheep high in the peaks, try going after pronghorn in the plains, whitetails in a river bottom or Mule Deer in the foothills rather than in difficult "high-country".

This allows a new sportsman to experience fair-chase game hunting while having a high chance for success. In the event of a successful hunt, the rookie hunter will gain an introduction to the level of work required to field dress and pack out big game. This is one aspect of hunting where the inexperienced tend to underestimate the level of effort required. Downed game can be cumbersome and difficult to handle and a hunter needs to be able to successfully harvest all of the usable portions of the game animal. If a person takes their first big game animal in remote terrain while on foot, there is a strong possibility they will waste much of the animal due to the effort it takes to pack-out wild game. Wasting game is illegal and unethical and should always be avoided.

 

Shadow an Experienced Hunter

Observing and reacting to the behavior of wildlife is an important part of pursuing big game. It is necessary for hunters to gain skills on predicting the movement and instincts of the game they are pursuing. There are many learned and traditional aspects to the skill of hunting that cannot be easily communicated verbally or in writing. These skills are absorbed from experience and are more easily recognized by those who have spent considerable time in pursuit of game.

A new hunter should go on as many outings as possible with seasoned hunters. Pay attention to how they use their surroundings and animal sign as part of their hunting strategy. Whether be the ability to identify tracks or scat or staying downwind of the game; these are important skills to learn. Shadowing a knowledgeable hunter will be the best way to learn how to mimic a hunter's behavior. If a friend or a relative is not a well versed hunter, use heavy discretion and consider hiring a reputable guide.

 

Take a Hunters' Safety Course and Do Your Homework

Many states require new hunters to take a "Hunter's Safety" course by law prior to purchasing a hunting license. Fish and Wildlife agencies began requiring these courses prior to purchasing a hunting license years ago to reduce the number of common mistakes made by new hunters.

Hunter's safety courses cover the basic skills of big game hunting, from fundamental firearm safety to field dressing game. They often examine the difference between safe shooting conditions and those that should not be taken. Many course curriculum cover the nuances of local game laws which can vary among states. Hunter's Safety courses are usually carried out in a classroom environment during a few evenings and they effectively provide some baseline practical knowledge to new hunters.

In addition to hunter's safety consider archery, survival and firearm courses among others. Useful knowledge can also be gained from a book or magazine to read about what the "experts" are trying to teach in print. A recently published book that is a thorough literary introduction to hunting is Steven Rinella's "The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game". Steve is an experienced outdoorsman that does a great job providing valuable information for those new to hunting.

 

Fair Chase Hunters Should Be in Great Physical Shape

During a big game hunt, a human is trying to pursue and kill an animal on its home turf. These creatures endure a day to day struggle in a harsh, unforgiving  environment where everyday is a challenge to survive. A human is not physically adept to dominate this terrain like native wild game; especially not a person that is accustomed to all the comforts of the modern world.

Although it is the human brain that allows humans to hunt instead of scavenge, there is still value in conditioning the body. Hunting big game in a fair-chase environment is very physically demanding and fitness can give another small advantage to the hunter. Man is only a fraction of the physical being that wild animals are and with all his tools and technology, he still needs every edge he can generate.

Imposing all the physical demands of a big game hunt literally on the back of a man is a lot to expect of the human body. One needs to consider their physical conditioning and whether or not it is adequate to complete the challenges they will face on their hunt. If it is not, steps should be taken to improve their condition or plan to subsidize it with preparation, pack animals, or the help of others.

 

Coming Home Empty Handed is Not a Failure

The seasoned hunter that strives to practice high level ethics knows that an unsuccessful hunt is not a failure. A day in the wild without an opportunity to take a shot at game should not be viewed as a failure and should be enjoyed as a another chance to experience the outdoors. On the other hand, a hunt which results in a wounded animal should weigh heavily on a hunter's conscience and every precaution should be taken to prevent it. All hunters should know the limits of their shooting ability and not exceed their skills while in the field. A hunter needs to exercise self control when taking a shot at an animal and only attempt it if they are completely confident in their ability to accurately place the shot.

It is the hunter's responsibility to develop the skills needed to effectively harvest a big game animal. A hunter should put in enough time practicing with their weapon to make sure they can humanely kill game. A misplaced shot on an animal is a direct result of a hunter's poor decisions and it will cause unnecessary suffering and waste. The responsible hunter shall always take every precaution possible to avoid wounding game. 

 

Exercise Patience and Make Safety the Top Priority

It will take considerable practice and patience for a new hunter to successfully harvest a big game animal in a fair-chase, public land environment for the first time. The journey will be challenging, but rewarding when the goals are finally realized. The hard work will eventually pay off with patience and persistence, but don't jeopardize the chance for reaching a long term goal in the outdoors with unsafe or unethical behavior. Plan thoroughly and exercise common sense in every aspect of the hunt. Before a hunter learns how to harvest game effectively, he has to learn to hunt effectively.  A new hunter needs to be mature and patient enough to not make exceptions to safety and ethics in the wild. All the hunts where a license goes unfilled will lead up to the one where the first successful harvest is finally achieved.

Written by Honus Titcomb — November 08, 2015

Comments

Dave Alderson:

Very well said! I was lucky… My Dad had me out hunting small game as soon as I could hold a 22 rifle. Now 50 years later… The truly most memorable moments are mentering new hunters or clients in the proper ways of hunting.

January 24 2016 at 06:01 PM

DAVID RAMOS:

I was raised in a hunting family. During WWII my dad as a kid had to hunt for deer and was allowed no more that 2-.22LR rounds. He taught me all about bullet placement and how to hunt, but most importantly he taught me how to respect both game and land. It is not a competition it is about the experience. The most amazing moments I share with my grown daughter now are those spent hunting mule deer and elk here in AZ. Fair chase and ethical hunting……always.

April 10 2018 at 06:04 PM

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