How to Become a Better Hunter
- Thursday, 10 July 2014
Can you buy success? Andrew Venables considers the importance of time spent practicing and the value of equipment.
It is often said that “you can’t buy skill.” Many of the best hunters, known in the UK as stalkers, don’t have the best kit, the most accurate rifle, the biggest scope, or the ammunition that shoots the tiniest group. What they have is time served hunting and stalking skills which empower them to get close to their quarry and harvest it.
Their rifle, sights or scope and ammunition enable them to put a killing shot into the thoracic cavity and their tracking skills mean they will find the beast afterward. They may use a bow, handgun, shotgun or even a spear or a knife to make the kill. They are pure hunters, not people buying technical solutions for problems they would not have if they were closer to their quarry.
These people may be aborigines, tribesmen from Brazil or New Guinea, Kalahari Bushmen, or men or women from anywhere who have listened and trained with elders and truly mastered the art of tracking, stalking and understanding their prey.
(Left: Is a hunter defined by his equipment?)
We are often asked, “What do I need to buy for deer stalking?” The honest answer is, you need to buy training from masters of the art of the rifle, you need to buy time with experienced stalkers and guides and you need to buy ammunition to practice with—and a lot of it.
We are then often asked, “But which rifle and scope and what kit and ammunition should I buy?”
Again, the honest answer is, the best you can afford, bearing in mind that the cheapest rifles and scopes, selling second hand for a few hundred pounds actually shoot better than anyone hunting 50 years ago could have imagined. These days, it is actually hard to buy any rifles, scopes and ammunition which are not capable of humanely harvesting deer and other game in appropriate calibres.
(Above: Rifles and Optics - Buy Well and buy once)
Whatever rifle you buy, buy well and buy once. Make sure it is portable, not too heavy and feels right in the positions you will actually use in the field—standing, kneeling and off sticks. If you are going to spend, spend it on a good brand of scope; either a fixed power 4x32 or 6x42 or a 1.5-6 or maybe 3-12 zoom. Magnification does not harvest deer; quick well aimed shots do and a 4x32 scope would harvest 95% of all deer hunted in the UK perfectly well. One good approach is to try different types of rifle and scope before you buy, one of the services we offer.
While having premium kit may make you feel confident, real confidence comes from training and practice. Muscle memory takes over 2,000 repetitions of the same movement to burn the tracks between synapses in the brain to make a reaction automatic, rather than one that is thought about. That is why professionals can reload a bolt action rifle in the blink of an eye while staying on target.
I am unashamedly old fashioned, because most of the best stalking calibres were perfected before the First World War, such as 30.06, 7x57, 6.5x55. Even the .243 Winchester and 25.06 were born out of the principle of the .244 Apex, launched in 1920. When you are reading websites, magazines and trawling through social media looking for answers, remember the best answers have been around a while.
As I said earlier, you can’t buy skill, but you can buy training and ammunition to practice with. If you want to learn to really shoot, that’s where the answers are.