Throughout my whole life I feel I have always taken a measured approach to most things. Whether it is cautionary or trying to make sure I understand everything I can before moving on, I do not really know why. It has been no different when it has come to hunting and angling. In fact I am probably more measured when it has come to these new hobbies. I feel I have been especially measured in my growth as a hunter because it involves not only a lot of knowledge and experience but respect for the quarry their life. I am planning on taking a life to sustain my own and my family's. It is serious and should be a very serious thing to a hunter especially a late life one. So when I decided to start hunting for my meat I wanted to start off small and in a relatively cheap and easy manner.
So I decided to hunt small upland game. My first hunts included upland game birds like grouse and pheasant. I also targeted cottontails, snowshoe hares, and blacktail jackrabbits. Like any green hunter I thought it would be easy to fill my freezer with small game and hit the daily bag limits relatively fast. I learned very quick that this was naïve of me to think. I do not blame myself for feeling that way. I had never hunted on my own before then. As I hunted through fall and into late winter, we have a long rabbit season in Idaho. I learned a lot about not only how to prepare for a hunt but it helped me learn more about myself.
Small game often seems to be overlooked in the world of hunting. When people hear or think of hunting they seem to automatically think big game animals like moose, deer, mountain goats, etc. In the hunting world small game seems to be more geared towards the younger hunters. This is usually a good way to teach kids gun safety, basic hunting and tracking, and respecting animal life. For any late life hunter that does not have a mentor to help guide them through hunting, small game can be a key part of a late life hunters development into a successful hunter later in life.
Hunting pheasants and grouse has taught me a couple of hunting fundamentals. The first being it pays to have appropriate gear. The first time I went I just had some regular jeans and my normal hiking boots. I learned quick that my normal waterproof boot may not be the best. I found myself having to cross water that was deep enough to cover my shoes and go up to about my middle calf. I still had a successful hunt and made limit for that day. Pretty good for a solo hunter with no dog I must admit. I remember that day vividly though. And what I remember is not the times I got the birds it is that my feet were soaked and my pants drenched most of the hunt. I later bought appropriate Much Boots and after that pheasant hunting and other small game hunting was a lot easier on my feet after that worthwhile purchase.
Hunting rabbits has taught me many things as well. I first started hunting rabbits with a shotgun. All though this helped me get quite a few bunnies, I found this not to be the best while hunting them in the icy snow. The ice would be loud enough to spook them and allow them to move by the time I would have been near them. They would move just out of range of a comfortable shot with a shotgun. I switched to a .22 rifle and put a scope on it. This forced me to learn how to site a scope properly so I could get the best most effective shot.
One of the more important skills I have learned along this journey has been dressing an animal. Dressing an animal on my own has helped me learn to minimize wasting of the meat by knowing how to break down the animal properly. A lot can be learned while breaking down an animal. By checking certain organs or parts of the animal you can see if the animal was sick or not. I have found that looking at the shot and where it hit the animal has taught me not only how to improve my shot but if the ammo I am using is sufficient for the animal I am hunting.
Not all lessons and skills are easy to learn. A harder lesson that I have learned is that not hitting your daily bag limit is okay. There have been many times where I will be trudging through the snow back to my truck with empty hands. As I am trying to find an easy way through the deep snow, I catch my mind doubting my ability and questioning why I am trying to harvest my own food. These are hard days no doubt, but I always find myself back out in the field trying to improve and learn from my mistakes. Daily bag limits are not requirements that must be reached every time one may go out and hunt, they are regulations to help manage a healthy population of the animals. Yes it is nice to be able to get the most out of a hunt but since I am on my own most of the time, daily limits are a rare occurrence for me. I have learned to appreciate the days I am able to harvest and go home learning on the days where my cooler is empty.
One of the most important things I have gained is a deeper understanding of the responsibility that a hunter and angler should have when harvesting an animal. Maybe I am just an odd ball or thinking to much about it but I feel like taking a life so you can have food is a serious action and topic that should be pondered on deeply. As a hunter it is not only my responsibility to hunt legally but also ethically. I know hunting ethics can be hard to legally define and seem more subjective and personal at times. Personally if I were to go out and just go straight for large game animal without any previous experience, I feel like it would be a different experience then if I had some small game hunting experience under my belt. This is just me personally, but I feel that as I have come to hunt small game and get my meat from them I have gained a greater respect for the animal and their life. My appreciation has deepened as I have gained experience and understanding while small game hunting. These feelings and opinions are what make hunting small and large game a unique experience that is often too hard to explain. One might ask, "If you truly appreciate the animal then why hunt them?" To which I say, "good question". It is a hunter's paradox. One that I will delve deeper into on different blog post.
Overall, when I hunt my first deer I want it to be a unique and special experience. Small game hunting, I feel, has been able to prepare me for that time when it comes. I have not only learned technical skills that help improve my hunting but I have gained greater respect and appreciation for the animal I am hunting and the food that ends up being put on my table. I would strongly urge all new hunters to first try small game hunting as a way to learn on your own. It will help you learn and perfect some skills that will pay off when hunting your first big game.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. I always love to hear them.