his is the 9th in a series of monthly articles written for opticstalk.com by John Barsness, co-author of the on-line magazine Rifle Loony News (www.riflesandrecipes.com).
Most of us don’t get to hunt as much as we’d like, primarily because the world is becoming increasingly urban, and hunting is a rural activity. Country people can often go hunting every day, even if just for an hour or two, but urban people often only get to hunt a week or two every year, usually while they’re on vacation.
This has had several side-effects. Because we can’t actually go hunting very often, we can’t practice all its arts. It’s hard to learn to track, read sign, stalk, still-hunt, etc., when we’re a long ways from any semi-wild country. So instead we tend to obsess about equipment, whether the latest hunting clothes, binoculars or our rifle. Especially our rifle, because that’s the one thing we can practice with, at least every other Saturday when we make the trip to the nearest range.
We also tend to cram all our hunting into a short period each year, usually traveling somewhere else. Often we even book a guided hunt somewhere, but even if we don’t our hunting is liable to be a lot more expensive than that of a rural hunter who drives 20 minutes to a good hunting spot after work. Even if urban hunters don’t book an outfitted hunt, they often buy plane tickets, rent cars and stay in motels. This means more money is riding on one or two shots.
Now, hunting isn’t supposed to be all about the kill. Instead it’s supposed to be about spending time in the great outdoors, especially with friends and family. But if we don’t get something now and then we might as well be golfing, a much more predictable way to spend time (and money) in the outdoors, with no pressure to come back with physical proof that we actually played 18 holes. The result is that we really do want a successful hunt, instead of just talking about what a great time we had (as golfers often do).
So we research the best rifles, bullets, scopes and other gadgets, and head to the range now and then, mostly shooting off a benchrest. As a result when we do actually get a chance to take a deer or elk or whatever, we’re mostly prepared to shoot a paper target at a range, not an actual animal in the great outdoors.
I have done some guiding in my time, and also simply accompanied many urban hunters, due to the side-effects of my job. (I also get to hunt over half the days of the year, partly because of living in rural
One example is the typical whitetail hunter on a stand. This stand can be up a tree or in a ground blind, or even against an oak. But how many of us take the laser rangefinder out of our pocket and range some nearby stuff so that when a deer appears we can aim instead of range? Even when hunting from a stand the opportunity for a shot is often momentary, especially during the whitetail rut, when all the magazine articles and TV shows tell us we should be out hunting.
A doe may run into a clearing, then stop to look back. The odds are she’s looking back for the buck that’s chasing her. This is what whitetail does do: play hard to get. The thing to do is aim at the doe, even if you don’t want to shoot her, because then you’ll be ready to shoot when the buck steps out. But does the average urban hunter do this? Not exactly. Instead he brings up the binocular he bought a month ago, after spending a Saturday afternoon comparing the tiny differences in a dozen binoculars at The Great Big Hunting Warehouse. When the buck steps out, also pausing for a moment (because in November he’s an optimist, and there might now be two does), our hunter drops his binocular and fumbles for his range-finder. By the time he gets his range-finder out both deer are gone.
Don’t laugh. I’ve seen this sort of thing too often, even before most of us carried laser range-finders. One November morning I guided a pair of mule deer hunters along a ridge in some ponderosa pine breaks. By easing through the pines along the ridgetop we could look down into the open draws below the ridge, and each draw had the potential to hold mule deer. The hunters had already decided who would shoot first (a time-saver itself) so when I glassed the second draw and found a buck along the edge, I picked up my rangefinder and whispered, “It’s just about 200 yards, and that’s a good buck.”
Instead of shooting, the guy who was supposed to go first stood glassing the deer. After maybe 10 seconds the deer wandered into the trees and disappeared. Only then did the guy turn to me and say, “You’re right, that was a good buck!”