Monday, October 19, 2015

Hunting or Shooting?

     One of the things I love most about Wyoming – in fact, the rural West – is our “live and let live” attitude. We recognize that we aren’t all alike, and that’s OK. Maybe it’s a product of low human density or maybe it’s about the fact that most of our families – shoot, ALL of our families unless your last name is Her Many Horses or Standing Elk – came from someplace else. There’s nothing like being a short timer in a new place to help you be pretty tolerant of other folks.       
     So I try never to get real judgmental when it comes to the way other folks hunt or fish. I’m mostly a fly angler, but I don’t care if you want to fish with gear. That’s your call, not mine. As long as you’re legal, I’ll fish with you any day. Like my buddy Dave says, “If you want to fish, bring your fly rod. If you want to catch fish, bring a Zebco and some nightcrawlers.” Same goes for hunting. If you want to shoot some prairie dogs, go for it. For me, it’s about as exciting as watching grass grow. But if you want to vaporize some rodents with your .223, I’m not going to get in your face about it. The last thing hunters or anglers need is to be fighting among themselves these days. There are plenty of folks who view us as an embarrassing anachronism and would love to see hunting and fishing go away entirely.
     And I guess that’s why I’m up on the 3EM soapbox today. I want to suggest that we need to think about something a bit. Here it is: long distance shooting. An outfitter friend tipped me to this trend at least a decade ago and it’s grown like a cancer since then. He said that he was getting clients every year who weren’t really interested in hunting, per se. They just wanted him to get him within 1,000 yards or so of a game animal so they could set up like a military sniper and kill that animal from some amazing distance. These Chris Kyle wannabes have even spawned an entire niche of expensive weaponry to do their thing: 6.5 x 284, .30/.378, .338 Lapua - heck I’m sure there’s somebody out there looking down the barrel of a .50 BMG at some unsuspecting antelope as I write this. Just Google “long distance shooting” and see what you get.
     But let’s be real clear about what this is: It is shooting. It is dang cool to be able to hit a milk jug at 1,500 yards. Never having been much more than an adequate shooter on the best day I ever had, I’m impressed with someone who’s willing to learn to hit a target almost a mile away. The evolution of both rifles and optics has enabled regular people to achieve amazing accuracy at amazing distances, given a willingness to shell out a lot of cash for the appropriate technology and a lot of practice.
      But let’s be equally clear about what it is not: It is not hunting. Hunting is much different than shooting. Hunting is about a deep knowledge of and a deeper reverence for wildlife. It’s about understanding the history of hunting in America and the conservation miracle that hunters and anglers brought forth in the last century. It’s about knowing where these critters live and how they live and sharing a bond with them and with the wild country they live in. It’s about having an attitude of gratitude for the opportunity to be there and a willingness to work very hard to get close enough to make one, clean humane shot. It’s about feeding the people you love with the meat when it’s all over. All told, being a hunter isn’t something you buy, it’s something you earn.
     So if you’re into target shooting at ultra-long ranges, God bless you. By all means, shoot a lot. Buy some real expensive guns and reload a lot – the excise taxes on all those guns and reloading components fund a lot of cool conservation work. Get good at it. I want you on my team if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse. But if you’re out there shooting at an elk at 1,100 yards, shame on you. You’re not a sniper – you’re a lazy slob, and you’re certainly not a hunter. Don’t post your kills on social media – I don’t want the rest of society to confuse you with someone I care about. Those are not targets, they’re wild, free-ranging animals and they deserve more respect than you’re ever going to be capable of giving them.



  1. Amen Walt! This phenomenon or whatever it is has been bothering me more and more each year. It went beyond the pale recently when I talked to a very upset hunter (yes, he was a hunter) who had spent time and effort to get within a couple hundred yards of an elk and some knucklehead started shooting (yes, a shooter) at the elk at over 800 yards. No telling if he hit any of them but his blasting blew the elk out of the area and ruined an entire day's hunt. We used to brag about how close we could get to an animal before taking a shot, didn't we?

  2. Thanks, buddy. I know way too many folks who think this stuff is cool. It's not, and it gives folks who hate hunting the opportunity to paint us all with the hypocrisy and breach of hunter ethics involved.

  3. Walt, you're a true piece of work in the best way. I've witnessed this, and it bothers me a great deal. I graduated with a guy in Cody who is now the long-shot master of America. That kind of thing may be for those unwilling to put forth the effort, but not me. My type of hunting involves wandering through the elk woods, smelling that smell, and making my blood pressure rise. It's about seeing the cow elk's head watching me, freezing in my tracks, then attempting to squeeze off a shot without spooking her. The shot is secondary to the feeling, to being part of something greater than yourself, to being one with nature. Keep writing my friend, and I hope the 'long-shotters' run out of ammo.

  4. Long range shooting is not my cup of tea when it comes to hunting. But, I don't fault the hunters who become proficient and can consistently hit their targets at long range. Unfortunately, in my experience only a small percentage of the people who buy these guns take the time and effort to attain proficiency. I'm not willing to lump these hunters into the ranks of shameful lazy slobs - I'll reserve that judgement for the violators, and for all hunters with all weapons who try to kill game beyond their level of proficiency, be it a traditional archer with a longbow taking 35 yard shots, or Joe Sixpack shooting 300 yards at an antelope who won't shoot at a 300 yard target in front of his buddies for fear of ridicule.

  5. This is excellent! When you're hunting, you're shooting with respect.


  6. The basic factors of accurate field shooting are sight picture and trigger squeeze. But alone they are not enough. Source