One of the most influential hunts of my life happened when I was twelve. It was so profound and the lesson so well etched in my psyche that not one hunting season in the past twenty three years has gone by that I’ve not thought about it before donning my gear and heading out for the first hunt of the season.
I remember being woken up early, so early it seemed that I had only just laid my head on my pillow. Dad shook me gently and told me to get dressed and come upstairs to get ready to go. I did, putting on my waffle thermals first and then a well worn pair of jeans, t-shirt and sweater before heading upstairs.
The farm house was still dark except for the kitchen which was lit by a double fluorescent light fixture. Dad had made a pot of stove top coffee and made toast which gave the room a rich cozy feel. We quickly ate our toast and then bundled into our chore suits. I grabbed the trusty Remington 812, a single shot break action 12 gauge, a box of assorted challenger high brass shells and walked out into the chilly October morning.
Outside the old Ford was already running and warmed up. Despite only being twenty meters from the house getting into the truck it was a nice reprieve from what was probably a minus five or ten degree morning. With the old wooden goose decoys already loaded in the back we trundled up the driveway and down the road to the field that Dad had scouted the night before.
The field was one of our own, a wheat field that had been swathed a few days before and where the geese where laying waste to the neat rows of the crop. We setup the decoys and hunkered down side by side in one of the swathes. Although I had done it several times before Dad coached and oversaw me load the gun in a safe manner. Once it was loaded we waited.
It seemed like forever that morning, waiting for the sun to come. Those who’ve seen it know that nothing beats watching the sun rise on a crisp prairie morning, the purples and pinks and growing light is something magical and hard to describe. Those who’ve seen it also know that when that sun is on the rise it is as cold and miserable as you are going to get until the suns warmth finally kicks in. But that morning I didn’t feel the cold I was to excited. As the light grew stronger on the horizon Dad hushed me and I heard the now all to familiar tell tale rapid whistle, “schwirr..schwirr…schwirr,” of fast beating wings. We sat up in the swath and looked around and Dad pointed out a big brilliant green head mallard. It had bought the ruse of the goose decoys and was coming to take another look before deciding to feed. As it got closer I made the gun ready pulling the hammer back on the shotgun. The duck swung into range and I squeezed the trigger feeling the kick of it in my shoulder and its report in my ear simultaneously. Taking the gun from my shoulder I saw that I had hit the duck but only wounded it and I watched it limp away flying roughly through the sky disappearing in the dusk.
“Dammit John!” Dad said. “You wounded it, now it’s going to die somewhere out there. Only shoot at something if you know you can hit it and kill it.” The words were spoke without anger or malice, just a touch of disappointment. It was probably more regret for having wounded such a beautiful and tasty animal than my shoddy aim but in my mind I had commited some sort of unpardonable sin. We waited to see if anymore birds would show up but the frost on the decoys scared off every other flock that came through the area. We drove home empty handed but looking back its hard not to call it a successful hunt from the lesson I learned.
As I mentioned it’s been twenty three years since that fall and my desire to ensure as clean a kill as possible when I hunt is as strong now as it was instilled in me that day. That’s not to say I haven’t shot animals that ended up being wounded by chance; whether through sudden movements, jerking the trigger in excitement, improper bullet expansion or placement. Sometimes it just happens but the goal is to take every step possible is to avoid it like the plague.
So why do I bring this up and how does it relate to my journey to become a broke bespoke hunter? Well firstly it’s because I’m expecting a few of my new classic guns in the mail over the next few days and secondly because as the title suggests I believe it’s not about the gun your using it’s how you use it. If I had been using a pump gun when I fired at that duck all those years ago I would have had two more chances to knock it down and very likely would have. But the truth of the matter is I didn’t and I should have opted not to shoot. For the purpose of my blog, the rifles and shotguns that I am planning to purchase have similar limitations and considerations as that Remington 812 I started out with.
If you’re still reading this and planning to try something similar but haven’t had a lot of exposure to firearms or hunting this is a critical point to understand. In regards to the rifles I want to buy, they won’t be topped with fancy scopes or chambered in big long range calibres capable of cleanly dropping animals at 300 plus yards. Or in the case of the shotguns, which will be single shots or double barrels, will only have one or two shots versus the three you get from a pump or semi-auto. Knowing your equipments capabilities as well as your own personal boundaries in operating it means that it is less important whether you’re carrying the latest gear or an older classic when you go hunting. This philosophy isn’t just applicable to an aspiring broke bespoke hunter it should be something every sportsman planning to go afield and harvest game strives for. Modern gear doesn’t absolve a person of this responsibility like some believe, in fact it may add more responsibilities. Hence my reason for a desire to return to a simpler style of hunting.
I hope you enjoyed the story and my musings. If you’ve already been out hunting I hope you’ve had a good harvest and if you’re about to head out I wish you success.
All the best and until next time.