The fall leaves blew gently as rays of sunlight filtered through the dense forest. The woods were waking up. Scavenging squirrels were playing tricks on my ears when a flash of white appeared. A buck emerged, moving silently.
Taking aim, I found him in my crosshairs as he moved broadside through the thick forest, maybe 70 yards away. All I needed was an opening. Time wore on, the gun gaining weight as moments passed, my pulse pounded in my ears.
It was when my crosshairs were no longer steady that I had a shot; however, I didn't feel confident. With his neck exposed, I silently debated: Do I pull the trigger on a shot that I am not 100-percent confident will kill this animal ethically and quickly? Or do I pull off and wait for a better opportunity?
I lowered the rifle and watched as the buck slipped away into the woods.
Have you been there before, crosshairs bobbing on the body of a prized animal? It's a common occurrence in the hunting world. What you do in that instant — and in your preparations beforehand — defines you as a sportsman.
As hunters, we have a responsibility to be prepared. As stewards of the land, it is our duty to care for the places we tread and the animals we hunt. This means it's important to understand three things before heading afield: conservation, proficiency and environmental impact.
It's vital to recognize the importance of hunting and the role hunters and shooters play in the conservation of wildlife. Conservation is defined as the official supervision of animals, rivers, forests and other natural resources in order to preserve and protect them through prudent management. Although a common practice now, a century ago it was not. Through market hunting and unregulated harvest, animal populations slowly diminished, and by the 1800s the nationwide whitetail deer population was as low as 500,000.
A change was desperately needed. The Lacey Act, aimed to thwart illegal animal trafficking, was enacted in 1900 as the first federal wildlife law. Although relating only to whitetails, it soon became apparent that other species also needed help. In 1908, 41 states established departments of conservation, beginning a new era of wildlife protection. Today, through scientific study and constant care, biologists, wildlife managers and conservation groups have facilitated tremendous growth of once-dwindling wildlife stocks. Once on the brink, whitetail deer are now at an estimated 20 million.
How do hunters play a part in conservation? The answer is funding. During the infancy of wildlife management, the firearms and ammunition industry stepped forward in a big way. They asked Congress to impose an excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition to help fund wildlife conservation in the United States. The Pittman-â€‹Robertson Act, enacted in 1937, generated revenue to be apportioned to state wildlife agencies for conservation efforts as well as shooting projects and programs.
Since it's inception, the Pittman-Robertson Act has collected more than $10 billion for conservation.
As responsible hunters, we must know and uphold all laws, to include attaining proper licenses and taking only the allotted species and sex during specific seasons. However, we also have an ethical responsibility to head afield prepared for the task at hand.
It is easy to say, "I've got this" and spend little to no time preparing for your hunt at the local gun range. That's a disaster in the making. Proficiency in your shooting abilities is good. A non-lethal wound on an animal in the field? Not good.
Three words that all hunters should remember: Practice makes perfect. Before heading afield, practice with the equipment you plan to use. Wounding an animal in the field is one of the worst things hunters can do — and one of the worst feelings a hunter can experience.
Prepare for your hunt by heading to the range with Interactive DuraSeal Targets. These non-metal targets are made of a self-healing material that absorbs thousands of rounds while maintaining its shape, allowing for plenty of practice before heading afield. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes, which allows you to practice different shooting positions such as prone, kneeling or sitting. Additionally, practice from shooting sticks or with your gun rested on a pack, and become comfortable shooting at various distances — you never know where your trophy might be.
By the end, you should feel confident enough to hit the vital zone of an animal at comfortable distances. Be sure to set a limit. If you don't have confidence in your abilities at 300 yards, don't shoot. Get closer or pass on the animal. You will gain more respect by not taking a shot than by wounding and losing an animal.
One of the nation's greatest treasures is our vast wilderness, a land largely untouched by human hands. We, as sportsmen, have the privilege to pursue animals, but it's our responsibility to care for the land we hunt to ensure that they will be bountiful for future generations.
Tread Lightly! is a public awareness campaign that promotes responsible recreation through education. Supported by Vista Outdoor, the Tread Lightly! message is simple: Leave minimal impact on the lands you trek to ensure their growth and sustainability.
When traveling afield, do so responsibly by staying on trails and walking single file to avoid widening the paths. Where there are no trails, spread out to disperse impact, comply with all signs and respect barriers.
Do your part by leaving the area better than you found it. Carry a trash bag in your pack and pick up litter. Practice minimal impact camping by using either established sites or camping at least 200 feet from water resources and trails. Plan on packing all of your waste out.
Study before heading afield by visiting treadlightly.org. After all, learning something new is never a bad thing.
Whether you hunt with a bow, shotgun or rifle, for big game or upland birds, it is your moral and ethical responsibility to be educated and prepared. As sportsmen and conservationists, we owe it to ourselves to help preserve the wildlife and the sport that fuel our passion.
The target of choice for generations of shooters and hunters has been the ubiquitous tin can. Plentiful and free for the taking, cans are great targets because they react to every shot. The downside, however, is that they wreak havoc on the environment. Even when the shooter picks up the perforated targets, tiny shards of metal get left behind.
Champion's DuraSeal targets provide all the benefits of tin cans with none of the environmental repercussions. Inexpensive and brightly colored, DuraSeal targets react when hit yet remain intact. Their ability to retain their shape after thousands of rounds makes them ideal and economical targets for hunters wanting to build confidence and practice before heading afield. For many hunters, simply punching holes in paper may be rewarding, but it isn't the most beneficial or realistic practice.
Champion's variety of reactive targets that hang, bounce and move upon impact create the perfect recipe for success, confidence and responsible fun before heading into the wilderness. Responsible hunters should leave a minimal footprint not only in the field, but also when training.