Hunting is a very involved sport that requires all of your senses to pursue your game. And, of course, there is always an element of danger when climbing steep mountains, traversing snake country, using a firearm or razor-sharp broadhead, etc. — all of which add to the adrenalin and need for forethought. The difference between a successful and disappointing hunt is wrapped up in preparation and practice. To be successful, you should avoid these basic mistakes when out in the field.
1. Mismatching the ammunition to the firearm – Firearms and ammunition are not all made equal. Even if the barrel or bore has the same dimensions as a cartridge (handgun or rifle) or shotshell (shotgun), that doesn’t always mean it is suitable for the firearm. For instance, a .270 cartridge will chamber in a .30-06 barrel, but you would be making a life-threatening decision for yourself and others around you if you fired it. To ensure that you have the correct ammunition, check close to the rear of the barrel for the manufacturer’s data stamp with the specific caliber or gauge and the required length of the cartridge or shotshell. Even before you enter the field, double check to make sure you have the right ammunition by matching the specific caliber or gauge designation on the side of the barrel exactly with the caliber or gauge on the ammunition. With multiple similar guns in a safe, it’s easy to grab the wrong gun or ammunition. Missing this step can result in injury to yourself or someone else and damage to your gun, so NEVER mix ammunition.
2. Relying on the safety – Whenever you hear about safe firearm handling, using the safety is always mentioned. It is important to remember that firearm safeties can and do fail. Don’t let your guard down even if the safety is on. General wear and tear or accidental movement can release the safety and make you or someone else more vulnerable in the field. There are four types of safeties:
- Cross-Bolt (Hammer and Trigger)
- Slide (Tang)
- Half-Cock (Hammer)
Know where the safety is located on your firearm and how it operates before entering the field. It shouldn’t be released until you are ready to shoot. In the meantime, be sure your muzzle is always pointed in a safe direction in case the safety fails. Keep the four basic rules of firearm safety in mind as an added safety measure.
3. Using the wrong choke for your quarry – Chokes are only used in shotguns. Before you select one, take into account what you’re hunting and the distance you’ll be from your target. A choke does not alter the speed or distance, but it does help with shot pattern. Failing to do this can result in missing your target or wounded animals.
4. Not using the appropriate position or stance – The position or stance you take depends on the firearm you’re using. Become comfortable with your rifle-firing position or shotgun- or handgun-shooting stance to give yourself the best chance of hitting your target. Remember: Practice is key.
Rifle: prone, standing, sitting and kneeling. The safest and most accurate shots are taken from a rest — a log, large rock, or other stable object. Don’t rest the barrel directly on a hard surface, or it will shoot higher than normal — put some padding, such as a hat or a jacket, under the rifle.
Shotgun: always in standing or sitting position with good balance and enough room to swing the muzzle
Handgun: arm’s length, mirroring a shotgun stance. Use a tree trunk, steady limb, or other stable object as a rest. Placing some padding, such as a hat or a jacket, on top of a hard rest helps with your aim.
5. Not telling anyone where you’re going – No one plans to get lost while hunting, but weather and environmental conditions, the excitement of the chase, or the failure of location devices can leave you turned around. Before you set out, get to know the grounds you are hunting, and let someone you’re not hunting with know who you’re with and where you’re going. This will help a search-and-rescue team if you’re reported missing.
6. Not using the right hunting strategy – Every experienced hunter knows that if the game gets your scent or sees you first, it could be a long day out in the field without much luck. Know the habits of the game you’re targeting and pay attention to your surroundings — especially the wind. These factors will help you decide which of these hunting strategies and equipment to combine and use.
- Elevated stands
- Ground blinds
- Still hunting
It may take a combination of these tactics to have a successful trip, so don’t be afraid to change things up. With patience and some help from lady luck, you’ll quickly develop a love for hunting.
7. Not properly identifying your target – One of the worst things you can do while hunting is fire at what you think is an animal you want to harvest, without making sure it’s an animal you want to harvest. Brush, trees and grass do a great job of camouflaging animals, because animals are designed to be hidden by their environment. If you can’t see antlers, and you shoot a doe out of season or without a tag, that’s bad. But, if you see some brown movement and shoot another hunter, you could be ruining the rest of the hunter’s and his or her family’s life, not to mention your own. Be sure you know exactly what you’re shooting, and have a clean, ethical shot before pulling the trigger. Once the bullet leaves the barrel, there’s no bringing it back.
8. Not sighting-in your rifle or handgun – Sighting-in is important in determining the accuracy of your shot at specific ranges. Scopes get bumped and sites can come loose. The practice helps with a variety of core skills — practice makes perfect — and allows you to build confidence in your shooting techniques. You should fire several shots at a target at a known distance before each hunt to make sure your firearm is grouping correctly. Keep in mind that field shots will be different from bench rest shots. It is highly recommended that hunters practice different shooting positions to easily replicate those shots in the field.
9. Not wearing proper clothing – At Hunter Ed, we’re big supporters of blaze orange — the more the better. And in many states, it’s required. You’ll want to tailor your clothing choices for the climate you’ll be in and plan accordingly for changes in temperature. In warm weather, stick to light clothing. During the fall and winter months, layers will keep you insulated and comfortable because you can shed them and add them back as you hike or the temperature changes.
First: Vapor transmission layer (polypropylene material)
Second: Insulating layer (Wool is the best choice.)
Third: Protective outer layer
Don’t forget about your shoes. They need to be reliable, support your ankles and knees, and be sturdy enough to endure the terrain. Also, a hat or cap with earflaps, gloves, and two layers of socks (polypropylene against the skin and a wool outer layer) are essential in cold weather.
10. Hunting negligence – There are guidelines that govern the hunting grounds within each state, and they can change from season to season. As a responsible hunter, it’s important to stay informed about regulations changes, hunting seasons, and enforcement. Game wardens or conservation officers can approach you at any time, and they are responsible for protecting hunters and their resources. They also have the authority to report violations with consequences that vary in severity from citations, to fines, forfeiture of firearms, license revocation, or even jail time. Carry your hunter’s education certificate and hunting permit or license at all times, and respect the land and game to avoid consequences.
Is there a common hunting mistake that you want to add to this list? We want your input, so help us by leaving a comment below. Happy hunting, and stay safe out there!