Friday, October 03, 2008

Five Stages Of Hunting

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I spent an hour on the phone today with an old friend. Jim Dabb retired from the DNR years ago, and we’ve been friends for about three decades because of our mutual ongoing interest in Hunter Education.

His job, when he retired several years ago from the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division, was to oversee all of the Hunter Education programs in the state. He was the go-to guy for the newest rules, where training sessions would be held, and much more.

He was one of the greatest friends a legal hunter could have. He’d spent years as a conservation officer in the field, got yanked to Lansing for his final years on the job, and put in his final years riding a desk and doing what had to be done to get as many children (and parents) involved in a Hunter Education class as possible.

We met when I began ramrodding The Detroit News’ Hunter Education Program, and 20 of my 23 years as the paper’s staff outdoor writer were spent honing our two-day program each September. The paper scrapped this wonderful program after nearly 50 years (my predecessor started the program), but training kids and their parents is something that still flows through my body and soul.

Dabb and I discussed what he calls “The Five Stages Of A Hunter.” It is a continuing maturation process that takes hunters through these various stages. Wisconsin has done numerous studies on this, and I shall report more on it again at a later date.

*Shooting is the first step in this process,” Dabb said. “A novice hunter wants to shoot his or her bow or firearm. It can be nothing more than plinking at tin cans or stumps in the woods.”

This shooting can fall into two distinct areas: one is to practice shooting at a target or at game in season. It’s been proven that the more a hunter shoots a bow or firearm, the better their skills become providing they have capable assistance from other caring sportsmen. Kids, in particular, love to hear the firearm go bang but must be taught the responsible use of a firearm and the dangers of careless use. Dabb addressed these issues”

*The second stage in hunter development is limiting out. They want to kill a limit of rabbits, ruffed grouse, woodcock or deer.

This is one stage that many hunters find themselves stuck in, and some feel the purchase of a small game or big game license should guarantee them the right to a full bag limit. What many sportsmen don’t realize is the purchase of a license guarantees them only the privilege of going hunting. It means they can legally hunt, and nothing else is granted.

*The third step in the progression of a hunter is learning various hunting techniques. The hunter seeks out advice from longtime sportsmen, reads hunting magazines or weblogs like this one, watches videos and reads books. This is a learning process that will continue as long as people hunt.

They want to work with bird dogs or hounds, hunt with a center-fire or muzzleloading rifle, and they study various ways to hunt the rut, hunting deer in cornfields, how to call wild turkeys or how to hunt other game-birds, and they are on a quest to soak up knowledge about hunting.

*Step No. 4 is the trophy stage. “This,” Dabb said, “is where hunters want to shoot the biggest buck in the county, the largest bear, the ringneck pheasant with the most bars on its tail and other ways that many sportsmen measure success.”

This stage often becomes the macho period in a hunters life where they want bragging rights. They want to be known as a good hunter, and nothing but the biggest and the best will do. Sadly, some will jump on a plane, fly somewhere on a canned hunt, and shoot the critter within a matter of an hour or two, and be on their way home the same day.

*Last but certainly not the least is the Sportsman Stage. This is where the hunter acknowledges the fact that he/she can become the supreme predator, and the kill no longer becomes the sole reason why we hunt.

The kill is the end result of a hunt, but a true sportsman can have a successful hunt without firing a shot. It means pitting one’s skills against an animal while giving the game the greatest chance to escape. It is ethical hunting, fair-chase hunting, and the hunt becomes more important than the kill.

This final stage often isn’t attained until middle-age, and with some, they never reach this level. It is where the wind on the cheek, spotting a deer, hearing the gobble of a wild turkey—when all of these and many other things become more important than pulling the trigger. It’s when we start caring about and respecting what we hunt.

Take a long look at this issue, and ask yourself: which category do I fall in. If you’ve read this blog for very long, you’ll know that I’m in the fifth stage. Killing is no longer why I hunt.

I hunt to have hunted. I hunt to have spent time outdoors, and have been at it long enough to learn that the deer that got away will be remembered long after the deer we’ve killed have been forgotten.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/03 at 03:29 PM
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