Yes, you can use a competition gun for hunting.
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Stress. It can be categorized by type – distress, eustress, neustress – and classified by hormone – adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Some of its effects can be positive, at least in the short-term, while others are overwhelmingly negative. When it comes to the role of stress in hunting one factor rules them all: training. Yes, you read right. Training isn’t just the purview of self-defense shooters and competitors; training matters for hunters.

“You do not rise to the occasion in combat, you sink to the level of your training. Do not expect the combat fairy to come bonk you with the combat wand and suddenly make you capable of doing things that you never rehearsed before. It will not happen.” (Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, “On Combat”) Whether you’re a fan of Grossman or not, he is dead-on about this.

Mastering adrenaline is a valuable skill while hunting. During a self-defense situation it becomes vital.

There are those who argue training is irrelevant; muscle memory isn’t real, repetition has no bearing on future performance during a hunt – or an assault – and practicing specific skills today has little to no bearing on tomorrow trigger time. (Yes, there are people who say these things or variations of them.) And while your life isn’t – typically – on the line while you’re hunting, many of the same factors come into play thanks to adrenaline dumps.

This is reality.

The effects of stress on your brain and body are notable and include various temporary responses: increased blood flow to muscles, mental hyper-focus, greater oxygenation, and a rush of adrenaline-fueled energy. You even become resistant to pain. At first blush these may sound fantastic – an adrenaline rush can only help you, right? – but there are downsides, too. While not lost, your fine motor skills may not be as sharp, and more oxygen is being gulped down by way of hyperventilating. Hyper-focus can become tunnel vision. An adrenaline dump makes you shake like you’ve been mainlining caffeine for days. Learning to work with and through stress isn’t just important, it’s vital.

Get this. Learning to manage adrenaline and stress while hunting isn’t just about the hunt. One day it might cross over to a self-defense situation and be a major factor in saving your life.

Training isn’t just for self-defense. It comes in handy for hunters, too.

This is why we train.

Legally, anyone with a current, government-issued ID who is capable of passing the checks involved in a Form 4473 can own a firearm. (Of course, not everyone adheres to those legalities.) Those of us in possession of legally acquired firearms should be training with them far beyond a single run through How to Shoot 101.

It doesn’t matter if you’re hunting or intend to carry concealed. You need training. The woods are full of good old boys who believe a single shot fired through their .30-30 is sufficient effort not only for deer season but the entire year. Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution (yeah, I said it).

Firearms training might begin with memorizing and following the four golden rules of guns but it doesn’t end there. It never ends. There are classes available for shooters of all skill levels and firearms academies across the country offer them. Sure, it might be ideal to visit Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona but it isn’t necessarily feasible. Attend classes where you are able. As for the when, make time.

If you’re thinking you don’t need any training because you’re a hunter, you’re wrong. Shot placement, trigger control, understanding drift and drop – the list of skills to hone for a successful hunt is almost endless. Getting a boost from a qualified instructor is what we call a Good Idea.

Former Sheriff Jim Wilson once said “It’s not about a week of shooting, it’s about a lifetime of learning.” He was right. Train. Practice. Work at it, don’t just scrape by.

Remember, shooting skills are perishable. Keep training.

This is why we never stop.

Ongoing training not only improves hunting and shooting skills but keeps existing skills honed and ready. Shooting skills are perishable, meaning it requires consistent effort to maintain them let alone further them. No matter what you want to call it – muscle memory, procedural memory, chocolate banana bread memory – one thing is clear: repetition is key. Skills cannot and should not be rushed or ignored.

Invest the necessary time. Train properly and often, and once you have the building blocks down do not simply walk away from them. Revisiting the basics now and again benefits us all. Pay attention to the wisdom of experienced shooters both past and present using the pieces of their lessons you can and discarding the rest, but do not be dismissive. A shooter doesn’t have to be a student of only one shooting school of thought; in fact, they shouldn’t be. Rather than mocking someone because you disagree with some facet of their practices or think they said something silly once, pay attention. You just might learn something.

Of course, if someone is dangerous or downright ridiculous – like the video going around where the shooter uses his mags to jab at the eyes of a dummy for supposed self-defense purposes – walk away. (Run. Run away.) Disagreements over methodology are far different than instances where a supposed instructor or expert is unsafe and preaching risky or foolish tactics.

Back to hunting. Blaming misses and wounded animals on your gun is rarely an accurate gripe. Learn to work through adrenaline and practice until your understanding of placement, drift, and drop is beyond rudimentary. Wouldn’t you prefer successful hunts? Then work for it.

As for gun owners who believe luck will protect them, consider this: luck is rarely incidental and frequently created. Make your own luck by training.

The skills you hone as a hunter will benefit you as someone who also carries concealed. Although the adrenaline dump that takes place during an attack is almost impossible to replicate, hunting is a fantastic way to get an idea what it feels like. Yes, there are different types of stress, but learning to shoot well with adrenaline coursing through your system is a valuable skill.

The ways various shooting skills weave together is amazing – and useful. Take a moment to consider what you might be able to learn from another sector of the shooting sports world. Then get out there, train, and enjoy the hunt, adrenaline and all.

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  1. That’s not what Joe Biden said! I remember clearly, he said “if there’s ever a problem” to walk outside their home and “fire two blasts”.

    Me don’t need no stinkin training, I gots a shotgun. I don’t even have to aim! 😉

  2. Even though I don’t see myself ever really ‘as a hunter’, I do acknowledge that 5 or 10 years from now, life might be very different. Just look at what has changed in just the last two years. This is a great article.

    For those that are new to all of this, I would like to point out that you can do this any way you like. You are not required to train to be a competition shooter to train to be a good and accurate shooter. You are not required to have a three thousand dollar firearm. You are not even required to own multiple guns in order to train. But if you never practice then it becomes pointless. Don’t let your gun sit and rust in the back of a closet somewhere.

    Hit the paper
    Hit the target
    Hit the ten ring

    It all comes together over time with practice. These things happen in stages and can be faster for some and slower for others.

  3. “You do not rise to the occasion in combat.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m too old for the draft and I’m not volunteering again, so screw combat.

    Sure, training is good. Training is (or should be) fun. I just retired after ten years of being a firearms instructor, and I think my clients enjoyed it as I always did.

    And when I read about eighty year grandmas with an old revolver they never fired before defending themselves against thugs intent on rape and pillage, I say to myself, “Wow. They must have had a lot of training!”

    Yeah, training is good for us. But it’s even better for the trainers who make bank on it and who claim, despite all evidence to the contrary, that you can’t defend yourself without their training. Because combat! Or something.

    • Ralph,


      I paid for some one-on-one training which set me on a good path. Purchased e-books, training guides, and a laser kit for training at home. Immersed myself in self-defense reading for a few years (still doing it, but not as much). Made training part of my lifestyle….figured, if I am going to carry a gun, it needs to be as much a part of my identity and my psyche, my reflexes, as my guitar. Make it as natural and smooth as playing a riff.

      Now, I need to schedule some more one-on-one lessons. Hitting a wall on accuracy and need some coaching on move-and-shoot. Personal philosophy of continuous improvement; not everyone has to do it this way. Owning a gun and being disciplined about safety is great place for some folk.

  4. Kat, that is a great article. Most everything you said I agree with. Adrenalin is the greatest trainer. Anyone who doesn’t think they need training is just plain stupid. What, they think their born with gunfighing skills? Learn from those who have gone before. I did.

  5. Skill is not spelled “L U C K”.

    Landing rounds on a bad guy at close range isn’t difficult, a little practice on the range and you have the idea. The difficult part is being ready to be faster and better than the bad guy and stopping him/her all the time, under less than ideal conditions. That imminent defense eye blink moment in time when you need to pull the trigger or die is never ideal conditions. Basically, you have one chance so make it count and the correct training helps a whole lot with that. Don’t screw it up.

    If I had not been trained my wife and I would both be dead.

    • possum,

      Most/all people will get a huge adrenaline dump immediately preceding their first time getting a shot at a deer. Subsequent shot opportunities help to reduce the magnitude of the adrenaline dump as well as helping the hunter to learn how to deal with the adrenaline dump.

      I have shot and harvested approximately 14 deer. I still get an adrenaline dump when a deer simply walks into view toward my shooting lanes. My adrenaline dump is definitely a lot lighter now and I seem to be able to deal with its effects very well at this point.

      I can only hope and imagine that I will have the same mastery over my adrenaline dump if a violent criminal (or animal) ever attacks me.

      • Uncommon. I’ve been shot at and shot back. More than once. Before any of that happened I was a hunter. I believe that the experience as a hunter helped me in those more unpleasant encounters.

        I believe if that moment ever comes for you you will have an advantage over the folks with no such experience.

        • The second deer I shot I was stoned cold calm, the 3rd deer I shot I was thinking of the chore of skinning it.
          Having had the opportunity to hunt for free on private land for 25 years and living with the critters there I’ve kinda lost interest in hunting. Anymore hunting is usually just traipsing around the woods looking at stuff, Wow that’s a tall persimmon tree, looka here where a cat caught a red bird, hey that crow flew over and didn’t even see me, ‘ulp’ well I’ll be damned, didnt know I’d jump a coyote sleeping on top of a hill. That was a nice buck, look at him go. Wonder if I can call in a turkey, , pop, pop, pop, eerk errrrk erk,, not today.

        • jwm,

          Thank you for your encouragement.

          And I am sorry to hear that you have been in a lethal-force encounter more than once.

  6. Retired ER nurse and CPR instructor. I paraphrased your title countless times! Typically a CPR student questions if they’ll just panic when their training training is needed. My answer was that only people not knowing what to do panic. I ask that after the experience they tell me. If I’m wrong you get a refund and my sincere apology. If I’m correct, the buzz of satisfaction, you’ll say the cost was the best bargain ever. never in 30 years refunded a penny.

  7. I will add something to this discussion.

    In terms of self-defense, there are a huge range of threat scenarios:

    At the “easy” end of the scale you have a single slow and dumb criminal who telegraphs his/her intentions 20 seconds before attacking, you are completely dialed-in on him/her as the whole thing unfolds, you do not have any other factors to worry about (such as family members or bystanders), and you have a handgun in a holster from which you can easily draw-and-aim within 1.5 seconds of your attacker announcing his/her attack.

    At the “impossible” end of the scale you have an elite eight man government trained assassination squad who targets you for some reason when you are distracted, have your hands full, have zero advanced notice of their impending attack, and have failed to start reacting until they already have the drop on you.

    And then there are a bazillion possible threat scenarios for everything in between those two extremes.

    Decide which threat scenarios that you may realistically encounter and want to repel, then find and go to training that is applicable for those threat scenarios if you can afford it.

    • Adding to my comment above:

      I believe the threat scenarios that “mild-mannered” people are most likely to encounter are:

      — armed robbery

      — belligerent neighbor or motorist (e.g. road rage)

      — home invasion

      — stalker

      — rapist

      In all of the above cases the attackers could be anywhere from not very motivated to moderately motivated–and there may be one or two attackers where one or both may be armed. In the case of the stalker, he/she could be highly motivated.

      Training for those scenarios (with the exception of the stalker) are all pretty similar and minimal. And ongoing practice would only require drawing and aiming with some dry-fire practice sprinkled in.

      If you want to expand your threat scenarios to include several motivated attackers and suicide attackers (e.g. stalkers, some spree killers, and terrorists), then you will need some advanced training and probably dynamic practice (moving and shooting) at least once a year. How often you would need to practice is likely a function of your innate ability and skill.


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