By: Bruce Speidel
Do hunting and fishing make you a better person? They should.
The list of the benefits of hunting is long. Very long. Carefully navigating the waters of the outdoor lifestyle can lead to enjoyment and the enrichment of many lives. Chasing the outdoors with a foolhardy, selfish approach, though, can leave you empty and hurting the people nearest you.
Hunting and fishing are like no other sports. Golf doesn’t fill your freezer with lean, healthy protein for the coming year. Basketball is great until you’re 30 and the knees say no more jumping, and football is fun until the third concussion and a permanently messed up shoulder.
Hunting and fishing, however, will provide you with a lifetime of adventures, successes, failures, wonder, and thrill. These outdoor pursuits can also be a source of motivation to exercise and take care of your body, especially when you’re fond of mountain adventures out West that require physical conditioning.
Hunting in improper balance, though, just like any activity, can lead to angry wives, upset parents, lonely kids, bad relationships, and a lot of guilt when you fire up your pickup to head out. It is our responsibility, then, as outdoor enthusiasts, to include the non-outdoorsy types properly, so that, it is our wish, they will be inspired to partake in our crazy obsession with wilderness and adventure.
With much success and a touch of failure (more failure than I’d like to admit), here’s a short list of some do’s and don’ts I’ve learned for introducing friends and family to the outdoors:
Include Family. This means buying them quality equipment like bows and fishing poles. Including family might mean a little less rock climbing and body brutalization at first. Like fishing for little sunfish at the town pond instead of a 20-mile mountain trek for golden trout in the Wind River mountains. It might look more like hunting rabbits on grandpa’s 40 instead of Marco Polo sheep in Kyrgyzstan. Sure, the grand wilderness adventures are amazing, but don’t lose your family along the way.
Include your friends and family on the mission. What is the mission? Develop one with your family. Is the mission to fill a family’s freezer with sausage and deer meat? Is it to share your catch with that old couple who loves to eat trout? Involve your loved ones in whatever you decide together will be the goal of your trip.
One of the most important parts of starting novices in hunting is practice and fitting the rifle to the user. Make sure you start beginners with rifles that have light recoil. Flinching is a very hard habit to break.
One of the worst disasters I had was guiding a scrawny 13-year-old whose dad had handed him his ultra-heavy 7mm Mag. The boy had a nice .243 that fit him and which he could shoot well, but when I called in one of the most beautiful 7x7 bull elk into 40 yards away, the boy could not hold up the ill-fitting rifle! I still kick myself for not seeing that one coming. He could have easily shot the elk with his little .243.
Practicing with the rifle is also vital to good hunting. Experienced hunters tend to forget all the years they spent shooting pellet guns and 22s at small game when they were young. They hand their kid or their wife a rifle they shot twice at the range and then expect them to be Daniel Boone or Quigley Down Under when there’s a monster buck in front of them. Shoot 22s and shoot and shoot and shoot.
I can tell you that I’ve seen this story so many times it’s embarrassing: Man takes wife hunting, rifle doesn’t fit wife properly, HUGE buck walks casually in front of them, wife cannot find buck in scope because it doesn’t fit her right and she hasn’t practiced enough, man freaks out because it’s the biggest deer he’s ever seen, man is very intense, wife feels he is mad at her and loses her concentration, deer gets away. Wife is then mad at husband, man is frustrated and doesn’t understand her problem, and then they have issues for years over the experience.
DON’T be these people! This WILL happen if you do not prepare for it! Trust me, it WILL.
So, do get a rifle that fits the hunter. Make sure the scope is adjusted specifically to the individual. Make sure anyone under 150lbs or who is not experienced is shooting a lighter rifle for big game, like a .243, .270, 308, 7mm08, or 22-250.
Do practice – often with pellet guns and 22s so that shooting is a joy and flinches don’t develop.
Do start on small game before you go on big game hunts with more pressure and intensity.
Do decide to exercise and take care of your body so you can enjoy the mountains and the outdoors without pain and suffering because you’re out of shape.
Do include someone new to the sport often. When you learn how to catch trout, teach others so they can enjoy it, too. You don’t need to post all the goodies on Facebook, but show a kid your special trick to catch big rainbows. Introducing new people to hunting and fishing is far more enjoyable than greedily keeping these wonderful hobbies to yourself.
Do your chores! The people in your life will be much happier when you leave, if you leave “right.”
Do share, but share the good stuff. So many people give away five-year-old freezer-burnt stuff out of the bottom of their freezers. Not good. When you give, give the best of your catch and harvest so people enjoy it. I have been part of introducing many people to hunting and fishing because they ate good elk steak and trout. It can be a little painful sacrificing a hard-earned elk steak, but so worth it!
Do make it about the friends and family around you. A Boone and Crockett trophy deer is meaningless if you have no one to share it with when you get home. Sometimes my biggest and best animals came when I hunted the “easy” country, because I knew my friend couldn’t get to the wilderness. So, was it really a sacrifice after all?
Do put others first. I can’t tell you how many times God has blessed me with larger animals because I was patient and let others squeeze the trigger before I did. Even if I didn’t get bigger animals, a generous heart is fuller and more content than a selfish one.
Do be classy about how you portray hunting. A head shot deer with blood all over should not be posted on social media.
Be unpracticed and expect experienced results - this bears repeating!
Don't make it about how big the animal is. Sure, try for a trophy, but if inches of antler are your only goal, you will have missed much better goals along the way. Most people don’t walk into a house and think you’re a great person because you have large trophies on the wall, yet somehow, we can believe that. Use your skills and abilities to bless others, and you will win the hearts of many to this great lifestyle in the outdoors.
Don’t use hunting to escape responsibility. It will only get worse if you stuff your head in the sand.
Don’t exclude people because their method is different from yours. We need to unite as outdoorsmen, not divide.
The outdoors will fill the heart with wonder and adventure; take someone along for the ride!
The author and one of his trophies.
Bruce Speidel is a professional artist and hunting guide writing from Sundance, Wyoming. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.brucespeidel.com.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock