My Hunting Philosophy

by david on April 25, 2012

My Hunting Philosophy

            I have never been one to enjoy the journey when I travel.  I want to get from point “A” to point “B” as quickly as possible, and with as few bumps in the road as possible.  Don’t get me wrong – I love traveling, seeing new places, and experiencing new things.  I simply want to instantaneously be there, experience the adventure, and then quickly return back home.  I’ll stop and smell the roses when I get where I am going, and not before.  One of the few exemptions to this self-imposed policy is when I am hunting.

This would seem counterintuitive to what most people think about hunting.  To most people, hunting is going out and killing something and little more.  They have part of that correct in that you do go out, and the intent is to kill something, but, more often than not, the intent never comes to fruition.  If the end result is not often achieved, you pretty well have to enjoy the journey or the whole thing is just a big waste of time.

While on most journeys, a bump in the road is an inconvenience at best and a trip breaker at worst.  Bumps in the road on a hunt simply change things.  For better or or worse, it doesn’t really matter.  Facing the change is the important part and overcoming any adversity placed in your path often becomes the most memorable part of the trip.  One Thursday evening, before a Saturday quail hunt, the bottom dropped out of a snow cloud and I ended up with 8 to 10 inches of fresh snow on the ground by the time the storm finally wound down Friday afternoon.  That much snow might not matter with a big old pheasant rooster, but it makes things extremely difficult for the much smaller bob white.  Not to mention how my guest would possibly get through the snow to start the hunt on Saturday morning.  After some quick phone calls, all parties decided to suck it up and go for it anyway.  The result was one of the most enjoyable hunts I have ever had, and it is the subject of one of the stories in my next book.  On another occasion, while stalking gemsbok in Africa we encountered a whole family of warthog.  It took several hours of trying to get around the warthog before we were successful.  The hard part was getting around them without spooking them, and thus
spooking the gemsbok.  We had to do this without letting the wind carry our scent to the warthogs or the gemsbok.  Either one would have resulted in a blown stalk and unsuccessful afternoon of hunting.  In the end, I don’t even remember if I got a shot at the gemsbok or not, but I do remember the complicated dance with the warthog.

History and nostalgia are also important to my hunting philosophy.  I absolutely love old guns and equipment.  They allow me to feel a kinship with all of the hunters that have been down the paths I wish to travel.  I do not know what it is about easing down a hunting trail carrying an antique firearm or one that uses an antique cartridge – but, if I try, I can easily transport myself back in time and almost visualize myself hunting with my favorite authors and heroes no longer among us.  Using the old stuff makes me feel like I am giving my quarry a little better odds, as well, and, when I am successful, the accomplishment is just a little sweeter.  In fact, my two favorite safari rifles are chambered in cartridges over 100 years old.  All of this is not to say that I forsake all of the newest and best, because I don’t.  I just use them under special circumstances where their performance is mandatory for a successful outcome.  After all, I would never think of freezing my tail feathers off in a duck blind when some of the modern wonder fabrics would keep me warm and toasty.  As I said, I am nostalgic, but not crazy.

I enjoy sharing the hunt with others.  Their company makes the outing more memorable and pleasurable.  I understand the lure of solitude and stillness that so many hunters appreciate, but I am not one of them.  When in Africa, there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from your PH (Professional Hunter) and tracker.  All you have to do is express an interest and the library will be open.  If you pay attention and ask the right questions, you can learn more in a few days with your hunting team than you could in six months on your own, including what the spoor of your targeted species looks like, what foods they prefer, what time of day they are most active, and on and on.  The same goes with upland hunting, except, instead of a PH and tracker, you have a few close buddies and a good dog.  Each hunter adds bits of knowledge from past experiences, but the dog is the one with the Ph.D. in hunting.  If a
hunter lives long enough and has any powers of observation, his eyes will eventually be opened to the things his dog can teach him.  After all, the dog has centuries of knowledge bread into their very being, and all the hunter has to do is let it come to the surface.  The social aspect of this type of team hunting allows me to enjoy the hunt to the fullest.  The quiet swapping of old stories and planning of new adventures while traversing the fields is what I enjoy most.  Watching a good bird dog work is better than any ballet or theatre performance ever seen, and this is the reason I keep setters and have my own preserve.  The last and, perhaps, best reason behind sharing my hunts with others is the opportunity to relive the event with friends that were there when it happened.  The details and memories that come back when someone else is telling a story you shared with them is incredible, and always leaves me with a smile on my face.

Another reason to enjoy the journey is simply looking at God’s wonderful canvas of nature.  From the mountains of North America to the bushveld of southern Africa, it is all breathtaking.  I am not talking just about the big picture, but the little things as well.  The birds, flowers, grass swaying in the wind, the little swirl on the water created when a trout gently plucks a fly from the surface – all of these things can be part of the hunting experience.  To be so focused on one’s quarry that you miss all of the wonder God put out there for you to enjoy would be a shame and a waste.  I always believe in taking the time to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature whenever I am outdoors.  Hunting gives me the opportunity to enjoy
nature much farther off of the beaten path.  I find that the further I am away from civilization, the closer I feel to nature simply because I am in the middle of it and, therefore, a part of it.

Choosing to shoot is a question all hunters must ask themselves before pulling the trigger.  Once the trigger is pulled and the bullet is on the way to its intended target, it is too late to ask questions.  Choosing to shoot is a question made up of several parts, the first being: is this the right animal for you?  The answer to that question is different for each hunter, so I’ll limit my answer to my personal list of qualifications.  First, is this a mature animal?  If not, I immediately move on.  If the animal is mature, is it past its prime?  I want to take only animals that are past their breeding prime.  I would much rather a trophy animal be out there passing on its genetic code rather than hanging on my wall or filling my freezer.  If the animal meets those criteria, I have to decide if I will be happy with it.  While there are some animals I will hunt over and over again, for the most part, once I have one trophy, I am done.  I’d rather someone else have the opportunity to take a trophy than for me to have multiples.  With this in mind, the question if it makes me happy is much more important.  I have spent what seems like an eternity studying an animal through my scope before deciding to pull the trigger or not.  I can’t tell you exactly what the definition of what makes me happy; I just know it when I see it.  I do not necessarily seek out record-book animals, just something a little better than normal.  This does not mean I would not take a shot at a record-book animal (I would in a heartbeat); it is just not a necessary qualification.  In the end, all I want to be able to look at my trophy and have a smile come to my face at the memory.  The last criteria in choosing whether to shoot or not is: can I shoot safely and ethically?  “Safely” means checking to see what is behind the animal if I miss.  Is there another animal or someone else’s property on the other side of the ridge top on which my animal is?  These are questions I must know the answer to before I take the shot.  “Ethically” means: can I take this animal’s life cleanly and neatly?  Is the shot distance and degree of difficulty within my skill set?  If not, I would never pull the trigger.  I am not saying I have never made a bad shot, because I have.
I am saying that it is my moral responsibility to do everything I can to make sure I minimize my chances of a poor shot.

The last subject I’ll cover before I get down off of my soap box is what to do after you harvest the animal.  I believe in using as much of the animal as possible.  It is my personal belief that only the lowest of the low and the sorriest of the sorry take only the trophy parts of the animal and leave the rest behind.  I personally do not shoot what I do not eat and all anyone has to do is check my freezer to verify that.  I love the taste of game and, with all of the drugs and things that go into domestic meat production; I think wild game is the healthier alternative.  I will admit to a learning curve on cooking game.  I know early experiences with cooking game have turned some people off, but it’s good to keep trying.  I promise you the
first time you get it right will be the start if a lifelong love affair with game meat.

What do all of these pieces of the puzzle mean?  Does taking game make a hunt successful?  Can I enjoy the hunt if I miss or do not even attempt to pull the trigger?  Is the trip enjoyable if Mother Nature has a tantrum, leaving me with no opportunity to try for game?  The answer is a resounding yes to all of the above.  Hunting is about the journey and the path less taken.  It is about all of the bumps in the road that make you change plans and strategies.  It is about seeing the wonder of God in nature.  It is being respectful of the game you harvest and not being wasteful.  It is about matching wits with the wild, coming out on top and being able to relive the story with friends.  Hunting is about the wonders of being alive with 100% of your senses working on overload, even though the result is the death of a living animal is the intended outcome.  If everything is done correctly, all of nature benefits, and the hunter has the trophy, meat, and memories.  The game animal dies a quick and merciful death rather than starve or die some other slow and possibly painful way.  The species benefits by
allowing a new dominate male’s genetic material to benefit future generations.  To me, this is a win, win, win situation.

I realize this abbreviated version of what I deem a hunting philosophy might cause more confusion than it provides answers.  In hindsight, a little confusion and a few questions might not be such a bad thing.  A philosophy is a unique thing for each of us, and, if I can get someone started thinking along these lines, I will consider this a good start.

Hope to see you in the field or in the veld,

David B.

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