Shot Placement: Thrill of the Hunt

Do you ever look around during a hunt and think “Wow, am I lucky or what?”

Last fall I found myself sitting in a field of prickly Blue-Eyed grass using a young Foothill Pine for concealment; I’d hiked in while it was still dark to find a place to wait before the sun rose. During the pre-dawn hours the mountains were barely-visible dips and peaks around me and the dark gave the slowly swaying trees and grass a ghostly appearance.

When the sun finally rose the valley was bathed in stunning golden light and there I sat, a spectator to one of nature’s many gifts. Piece by piece the enormity of my surroundings was unveiled: the stream gurgling to my left, the shades of gray of a rockslide covering the mountainside before me, and a big cinnamon sow leading a pair of cubs over a winding path to water. There it was, the ferocity and beauty of nature revealed in stages and I was fortunate enough to be on a hunt, enjoying it. No, I couldn’t shoot the sow, but I could revel in the Sierra Nevadas.

In that moment it struck me – again – how lucky I am to experience those moments, not only on my own time but for my job. Everything from the smell of the mountain air to the pleasure of campfire coffee reminded me how awesome it is to hunt.

Of course, it also reminded me then and now of something else: people have forgotten why we hunt. They’re wrapped up in the kill, in getting a trophy buck, in guaranteed hunts and bragging rights. They’re missing out.

The author and Jeff Axelson, owner of Axelson Tactical, on a coyote hunt.

It’s an attitude reflected throughout social media. Memes mocking the guys who post pictures of sunrises and sunsets but never seem to holler “BBD!!!” permeate my newsfeed, especially during deer season.

Then there are the written posts in the same vein, the swaggering, chest-thumping claims how the original poster is a “real” hunter because he bags bucks and those guys enjoying the sunrise are nothing but wannabes and fakes.

I tend to take the roll-and-scroll approach, rolling my eyes and going on my way without commenting, but here I am, feeling contemplative. So here’s my totally unasked-for two cents on why I hunt. It isn’t controversial and is highly unlikely to get you all going in the comments but I’m going to share it with you all anyway.

Meat

Let’s get the obvious out of the way right off. Yes, meat is the end goal of hunting. Game meat makes up the majority of my family’s meat-eating ways so walking away from a hunt empty-handed can be frustrating. And if you’re thinking I don’t really need that meat, you’d be wrong. So yes, meat is important and appreciated. Even so, there’s far more to hunting than the meat.

Trophies

Fred Bear once said “a hunt based only on trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be.”  That sums up the issue of trophies. If you get an epic buck or a cool Tom, right on. I love those moments, too. But if it’s the only reason you hunt or, alternately, go the way of a guaranteed, canned hunt, man you are missing out.

I’ve hunted the Sierra Nevadas quite a few times and am continually amazed by their beauty.

Sunrise, Sunset

There is nothing like watching the sun reveal or conceal the fields and woods around you. Whether I’m sitting in a duck pit in Arkansas, a tree stand in Texas, or a field of dried Blue-Eyed grass in California, the artistry of nature never fails to entrance me.

Dramatic slashes of color might be favored by photographers the world over but subtle nuances have their place as well. Do you sit back and savor sunrises and sunsets or are you so focused on the desire for a trophy you’ve developed tunnel vision?

Breathe Deep

Unless your tree stand is immediately adjacent to the highway – something I see semi-regularly in Wisconsin – you’re given the gift of clean, crisp air during hunts. There’s something enlivening about leaving the cities and towns behind for the fresh air of the woods and mountains. It serves as a solid reminder to slow down, breathe deeply, and relax.

I’ll out myself here by admitting I’m a diehard yogi – no, not the cartoon bear – and have a travel yoga mat tucked into the pocket of my luggage. For me, the pleasure of pranayama – breath work – and asanas – postures – the night before a hunt has become a grounding ritual. Moving through those poses in a field of bluebells? A religious experience of the hunting kind.

No social media, no photos, no witnesses. Just me, nature, and my gun. Finding your center in the fields and woods is exponentially easier and somehow greater than attempting the same indoors.

Go Hunt

There are endless reasons to get out and hunt. Whatever motivates you to walk out the door, take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. We are fortunate to have the gift of hunting in our lives. There is almost nothing better than sitting in the dirt and grass waiting for whatever is in season to come along. The bugle of an elk, the grunt of a Whitetail, the gobble of a Tom – it’s all amazing. Remember to marvel in those moments. Brand them into the recesses of your mind for future recollection.

The thrill of the hunt isn’t only about that end-result grip-and-grin photo. It’s comprised of infinite moments culminating in the instant you choose to pull the trigger. It’s the sunrise, sunset, and field of bluebells. It’s savoring the wild.

comments

  1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Great read.
    The scenery and comraderie of friends before, during and after a hunt…
    The total experience.

    THATS living!

    1. avatar frank speaks says:

      liked the ambiance of the article till I saw that weapon….seemed entirely out of context…

      1. avatar Okayest says:

        You’re an idiot.

  2. avatar RCC says:

    My biggest problem these days is the 900 metre (3000 feet) change from valley floor to hilltop walk seems to be steeper than 30 years ago. Bad knee from army training accident doesn’t help either.

    I agree though being on top of hill waiting for sunrise with a chance of deer is one of my favourite things.

    1. avatar Nigel the Expat says:

      Nope, you’re not wrong.

      Physics changes as you age. Those hills are steeper 🙂 I can vouch for that.

      1. avatar frank speaks says:

        sooner or later…for a lot of us…it just becomes impossible…and you find yourself looking longingly at the woods and fields…

    2. avatar Ams says:

      That’s why dad/grandpa walking up hill both ways to go to school wasn’t such a big deal, those hills were flatter.

  3. avatar Steve B says:

    Nice article, Kat. I share your sentiments exactly.

  4. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    This article highlights a significant positive result from hunting: being immersed in nature and its beauty. It calms the sole in a way that words cannot fully express.

    Another thing I like: when you are sneaky and camouflaged, you might be pleasantly surprised at what animals come into view. On one deer hunt, I had a ruffed grouse or partridge walk within 7 feet of me. It actually seemed curious and came closer to see what I was. I never moved other than slowly tracking it with my head. On another deer hunt, I was thrilled to see a mink working around the forest floor for several minutes. I had no idea that minks were even in the forest where I was hunting.

    While it is indeed frustrating when you fail to bag a deer, seeing surprise animals definitely eliminates the sense that you came away totally empty-handed — and keeps you coming back for more.

    1. avatar frank speaks says:

      sitting in the woods impersonating a bush is great…till they criss-cross archery season with a gun season…then it can get a little hairy!….

  5. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    For some of us who hunt, there is another benefit to hunting. Working your way through the woods in total darkness to a prime hunting location is a little unnerving — and hence invigorating — when a territorial buck in rut, bear, cougar, or pack of coyotes or wolves could be planning its assault on you.

    Being at the constant ready for such a rare contingency — against an adversary with vastly superior senses — improves your woods craft immeasurably. I pity the fools who are ever directed to go into the woods and eliminate a militia of skilled hunters.

  6. avatar Gordon in MO says:

    The highlight of one of my days in the mountains was setting very still as a young bobcat strolled past, maybe 25 feet away. It was not in a hurry and the breeze was in my favor so it never knew I was there.

    Grew up hunting in the Ozarks and still love it.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Love reading stuff like this.
      I’ve had deer wander close by while elk hunting. And elk walk by while deer hunting, but never a bobcat, cougar or other predator.
      It’s amazing what happens when the breeze is right!

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        I used to ride my mountain bike at night on state land in Rhode Island. More than once, I had company — a pack of yotes. They didn’t chase me, they ran alongside me. When I stopped, they stopped, as if they were confused or something. I never felt threatened, and they never showed any aggression or came closer than ten feet or so.

        The whole thing was exhilarating.

      2. avatar frank speaks says:

        my best was sitting up on a ridge in pre-dawn darkness and hearing what sounded like human footfalls getting closer…and closer…and closer…till I couldn’t take it any more and flipped on my light…to be faced with a giant porcupine no more than 4 ft away…YIKES!

  7. avatar SouthernShooter says:

    My place is the 68 acres in north Louisiana that my mother grew up on and I’ve inherited. Favorite spot is a 15 foot tripod overlooking a hollow of hardwoods. Amazing when the sun hits the other ridge 125 yards away and starts creeping down to the floor.

  8. avatar billy-bob says:

    All of that plus communing with *my precious*… Creedmoor.

    1. avatar The Army of Northern Creedmoria says:

      That’s the true thrill of hunting. Simply holding a creedmoor can give you all these thrills.

  9. avatar Cambo says:

    Great story. Keep it up.

  10. avatar 7.62x54r says:

    I’ve had a chick-a-dee land on my shotgun barrel, a black bear trot by at 40 feet, a coyote amble past and a doe look,feed,look,feed,look,feed,look,feed at 50 feet and then walk away. Camo up and be still!

  11. avatar FredMan says:

    Had the chickadees on my head, had them walk down the barrel and pick at my thumb, squirrels run over my feet, and a doe nibble on the cedar branches of my blind in Luzerne MI ….so close I could see saliva drops under her mouth. That, my friends, is irreplaceable. Great article….

    1. avatar frank speaks says:

      it’s all great!…[till they crap on your head…]

  12. avatar rob says:

    This article brought back delicious memories of past hunts in the mountains of central Utah. Thank you.
    It motivated me to put in this year for antlerless elk.

  13. avatar Colby says:

    I have no one to hunt with

    1. avatar Jeffro says:

      You are you’re own best company. Being alone with your thoughts………………priceless.

      1. avatar Colby says:

        Hiking by myself is fun and easy, but knowing how and where to hunt by myself seems less easy. #cityproblems?

        1. avatar Jeffro says:

          Now I understand. Sounds like you need a hunting mentor. I had my father and grandfather’s to teach me. Visit some of your LGS’s. There may be a seasoned hunter that might be willing to teach someone. There and local gun clubs would be the places to start looking. At least from my point of view.

        2. avatar frank speaks says:

          just try to hunt where your cell phone still works…guys still get heart attacks out there…especially when you got to drag it out yourself!…

      2. avatar colby says:

        Thanks for the advice. I go the range at least once a month. I’ll have to start asking around about who hunts.

  14. avatar ironicatbest says:

    You paint a good picture. . As I’ve grown older and literally living 40 years with the critters out of my 68 years of blessed life I find it getting most hard to pull a trigger. The animals I shoot now are with a Canon. As some of you have discussed some of your experiences, Ive got pics of most all of North America’s big game, ironically one of my favorite photos is a Cotton Tail rabbit flopping on its back and kick boxing a Red Tailed Hawk.

    1. avatar frank speaks says:

      know what you mean…preferred a video camera myself…so I could always prove I could of gotten’ ’em if I wanted to…still carried a gun or a bow though, so people wouldn’t think you were a total wuss…

  15. avatar TrappedInCommiefornia says:

    My wife and i are both very interested in doing a deer hunt, but with a 4 month old baby at home it’ll be at least another year before we are able to make that happen. For now I’m just trying to read up on what I’ll need to know before we go. Any of our experienced hunters know of good areas to hunt in the southern half of CA?

    1. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      Well, I’ve hunted the CA side of the Sierra Nevadas several times. It’s stunningly gorgeous country. There are also hogs in CA you can go after. Or you can cross into Nevada and do a public land pronghorn/coyote combo hunt.

  16. avatar frank speaks says:

    seems like the kids just aren’t that into it anymore…sad….

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