Best Hunting Practices

Best Hunting Practices

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a tremendous surge in outdoor activities in the USA. Some estimates say we generally experienced a 7-10% growth in outdoor recreation, and some say as much as 20% growth in new visitors to outdoor spaces. Judging by the huge jump in traffic and people at our favorite outdoor haunts over the past few years, we believe the latter. Along with that more outdoorsy population, many people have become interested in firearms ownership, shooting sports, personal defense, and hunting. In 2020 alone, there was a 25% increase in new hunters and a huge spike in hunting permits sold. Some states report a 67% increase in hunting permits and a 15% increase in the number of female hunters since 2019.

Man looking through binoculars

As more Americans start venturing into the outdoors to hike, recreate, shoot, and hunt, it’s worth going over some of the ethical hunting practices that contribute to everyone’s enjoyment. Safe and ethical hunting practices also help ensure a healthy population of game animals and keep our outdoor spaces in good shape for generations to come.

So, here are some best practices for hunting that will keep you in the good graces of the law, your fellow hunters, and your conscience.

Learn firearm/bow hunter safety, and maintain proficiency

We’ve all heard stories about hunters who shoot their deer rifles one round a year and never touch them again until next deer season. They are also often the people who complain about missing an easy shot. Before you hit the hunting ground, confirm your rifle or bow’s zero with live fire at known distances with the ammunition you’ll be using. Do this before every season, and especially after the rifle has been dropped or banged against something that can jar the sights off zero.

Be sure to learn the four rules of firearm safety and follow them at all times. If you haven’t had to take a hunter safety course, it’s a very good idea to take one or at least read the materials to familiarize yourself with basic hunting safety practices, such as:

  • Only transport fully unloaded firearms in your vehicle.
  • Before you set your firearm down or hand it to a partner to cross a ditch, fence, stream, or other obstacle, remove the ammunition from the chamber and leave the action open.
  • Familiarize yourself with your firearm and its safe operation, loading, and unloading procedures.
  • Don’t run, jump, or climb with a loaded firearm.
  • Tell someone where you are going and how long you’ll be gone.
  • Wear the required blaze orange clothing, and take survival supplies, warm gear, water, and matches no matter how long you think you’ll be in the hunting area.
  • Don’t point a gun at anything you’re not willing to shoot.
  • Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot.
  • Be sure of your target, and what’s behind it. Never shoot at an animal cresting a hill, for example.
  • Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface, or water. Bullets bounce and skip.
  • Watch for sparks! Several wildfires have been caused by sparking bullets in dry areas.

Learn and follow your local firearms and game laws

Both gun laws and hunting regulations differ greatly across the USA, and often even within the same state. It’s your responsibility to read and adhere to your local laws concerning the legal transportation and use of firearms (or bows/crossbows) as well as all applicable hunting regulations and game laws. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse, and you could be fined or prosecuted for breaking any of your local game laws or firearms regulations.

Your state’s Division of Wildlife Resources (or whatever term your state uses for this government entity) will probably be the best and most accurate source of current hunting laws information. Remember that hunting laws and regulations can change dramatically and annually, so even if you’re a long-time hunter, be sure to check before every season for updates.

No trespassing means no trespassing, and no hunting means no hunting

Some people seem to think that the rules don’t apply to them. Don’t be like that. If you’re hunting in an area that has both public and private land, pay attention to the areas that are posted with no trespassing and/or no hunting signs. Never hunt in an area that has been designated a wildlife sanctuary, unless state law allows certain special hunts, in which case, be sure to obtain any necessary tags or permits.

Plan for contingencies such as shooting a deer on public land and having it jump over a private fence before expiring. Legally, you are not allowed to retrieve that animal without permission in most jurisdictions. Before your hunt, get the phone numbers of all the landowners in your hunting area, as well as the district wildlife manager’s number. Call them and explain the situation and ask for access. This will help avoid conflict and possible prosecution.

If you are lucky enough to be granted permission to hunt on private land, follow the owner’s wishes to the letter, and be better than you need to be. Pick up litter, note the location of any breached fencing, broken gates, or other issues, and offer a six-pack or fresh baked cookies (or whatever else you think would be welcomed) to the owner to maintain that relationship and hopefully keep the land accessible to ethical hunters in the future.

Take clean shots, and know your limitations (fair chase hunting)

The explosion in popularity of long-range rifle shooting, combined with videos on YouTube and other platforms, have unfortunately led to some hunters attempting questionable shots on game. An elk shot at 1,149 yards is probably well beyond the capabilities of 99% of hunters and shooters. In fact, the experienced hunters we know wouldn’t even attempt such a shot, even those who regularly shoot targets at 1,000 yards and beyond.

There was considerable drama relatively recently surrounding an incident involving Aram Von Benedikt and a female hunter, both of whom apparently shot at a Utah deer at over 700 yards, and both felt they had claim to the animal. Considering the circumstances and the results, most reasonable people would probably consider both hunters to have been engaging in unethical hunting practices. Here’s a thoughtful discussion from Ron Spomer involving the incident.

Many experienced, knowledgeable hunters would consider 400-500 yards the extreme limit of an ethical shot on large game. Again, this is an area where you should carefully evaluate your capabilities as well as your equipment. Attempting a kill at longer ranges than needed or warranted by the conditions should not be something to aspire to or brag about. Remove your ego from the equation. Shooting at an animal that’s too far, just to see if you hit is the opposite of good hunting practices.

Additionally, you should understand the basics of terminal ballistics, and use bullets that are specifically designed to expand and cleanly kill at the velocities associated with the distances you shoot. Just because you can HIT an elk-sized target at 1,000 yards almost every time with your 7.69mm LoudenBoomer UltraMagnum, that doesn’t mean the bullet will perform as designed at those ranges. Be smart, and be responsible.

Fair chase hunting has engendered lots of lusty debate in hunting circles throughout the years, and some would argue that humans using any type of tools or weapons for hunting is inherently unfair. Their argument is that attempting to define what fair chase means is pointless as a result. However, it can be useful to consider and discuss what different hunters or organizations consider fair chase hunting.

The famous Boone and Crockett Club (who developed a widely used scoring system for trophy hunting) has attempted to standardize what fair chase hunting means:

FAIR CHASE, as defined by the Boone and Crockett Club, is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the game animals.

THE FAIR CHASE HUNTER:

  • Knows and obeys the law, and insists others do as well
  • Understands that it is not only about just what is legal, but also what is honorable and ethical
  • Defines "unfair advantage" as when the game does not have reasonable chance of escape
  • Cares about and respects all wildlife and the ecosystems that support them, which includes making full use of game animals taken
  • Measures success not in the quantity of game taken, but by the quality of the chase
  • Embraces the "no guarantees" nature of hunting
  • Uses technology in a way that does not diminish the importance of developing skills as a hunter or reduces hunting to just shooting
  • Knows his or her limitations, and stretches the stalk not the shot
  • Takes pride in the decisions he or she makes in the field and takes full responsibility for his or her actions

Can you honestly say you measure your success not in the quantity of game taken, but by the quality of the chase? This is an admirable goal that all hunters should aspire to. We also love the phrasing of stretch the stalk, not the shot. Meaning, we should all endeavor to stalk closer to the game rather than shoot farther than we are capable of making a clean, sure shot.

Be sure of your target and what’s behind it

This is one of the four basic rules of firearm safety and it certainly applies to all hunting scenarios. A partially occluded animal, where the vital areas are not visible and unobstructed, should not be shot at. If you aren’t absolutely sure of your target (if you can’t determine antlers, for example), you shouldn’t shoot at it. If there’s another deer behind the deer you’re shooting at, don’t take the shot. If there are houses behind the animal, don’t take the shot.

Nearly every hunting accident could have been avoided if people strictly followed the rules of firearm safety and positively ID'd their targets before shooting.

Hunt during legally recognized daylight hours only

Your local hunting laws will inform you when it’s legal to begin shooting in the morning and when it must stop in the evening, but as a general rule, for big and small game, the regulations usually specify one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset for hunting/shooting activity. There may be exceptions for waterfowl, pheasants, or other situations, so be sure to check your local wildlife division’s website or hunting regulation publication. Also, watch the weather report or check your phone to learn when sunrise and sunset will be on the day you hunt, so you can be sure to stay legal.

And regardless of whether it’s within the legal shooting period, if it’s too dark for you to positively identify your target with 100% certainty, don’t take the shot.

(In some states, hunting feral hogs or coyotes is legal at night, often using thermal scopes, so be sure to confirm your local hunting regulations.)

Don’t be a jerk

If you’re on public land, the other guy has just as much right to that tree or bluff as you. Just because you’ve hunted it for 30 years doesn’t make it yours. In some states, even if you put up your tree stand the night before and leave it empty, legally other hunters can use it if they get there before you do on the day of the hunt. This may seem preposterous, but is the nature of the law in a few states. Know your laws.

Additionally, being petty about someone getting to your favorite spot ahead of you, or tampering with someone else’s tree stand, or hiding or taking their stuff is certainly not cool. Be the adult and just generally don’t be a jerk.

If conflict arises, keep your cool, and don’t worry about leaving the area and calling the police or Division of Natural Resources officers if you’ve witnessed something sketchy or dangerous. It’s not worth a possible violent or deadly confrontation with emotionally immature people.

Don’t use drugs or alcohol when hunting

Having a cold one or partaking of a fine single malt around the campfire after the day’s hunt is up to you, but no hunter should engage in hunting (or any activity involving firearms or weapons) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Clean up your mess, and respect fragile ecosystems.

It pains us to have to keep reminding people, but littering is both illegal and unethical. Unfortunately it has gotten so bad that many public shooting areas have been closed, and recently the Ute tribe has enacted a rare prohibition against issuing permits to outsiders to fish and hunt on tribal land: Piles of garbage — food wrappers, soda cans and toilet paper — left behind at campsites. All-terrain vehicle tracks marked across the fragile desert dirt. Evidence that people had trespassed through private areas and on roads clearly labeled closed.

Pack It In, Pack It Out is a handy mantra to adhere to. Try to leave all outdoor spaces you visit better than you found them. Never, ever litter. Pick up your shotgun hulls. If you’re hunting in desert areas with cryptobiotic soil crusts, be mindful of them.

Avoid headshots

A headshot (if you and your gear are capable) may be appropriate for squirrel or groundhog hunting from closer ranges. For stationary feral hogs shot at known distances, a headshot might be appropriate. However, for medium and large game, it’s a more ethically sound choice to take the more sure shot to the vitals/lungs. You’re not ruining any meat by taking the proven shot through the heart/lungs. Taking headshots on these animals isn’t something you should apply your ego to or aspire to. It’s not smart hunting, and it’s nothing to brag about.

And it should go without saying, but a three-quartering away or full rear-profile Texas heart shot through the backside and intestines of a deer is not only unethical, but wasteful. Don’t do it. Wait for a clean shot, or don’t shoot at all.

Respect the animal, respect the hunt, and be thankful

Taking the life of any living creature, particularly beautiful, mature game animals, is not something that should be done casually or thoughtlessly. Experienced, ethical hunters often feel the thrill or rush of an exciting stalk coming to a close as the shot is taken, followed by a bit of sadness for the life of the animal and a deep gratitude to nature (or our creator) as well as to the animal for giving up its life for our sustenance and enjoyment. All animals deserve to be respected and treated well in life and death.

Along with this goes the understanding that if you have enough squirrels or ducks or grouse or trout or whatever, and you’re legally allowed to keep taking more, you don’t need to fill your bag limit out of some kind of pride. If your freezer is full of venison and you’ve filled a couple of tags this season, consider offering any remaining tags to other hunters where legal, or just waiting until next year. You don’t have to kill every animal that’s legally permitted.

While people have certainly done stupid and irresponsible things since the dawn of man, it seems the advent of social media has really brought out the worst in some people. Idiotic behavior, somewhat common on social media, such as people posing nude with their kills, wearing game birds as bras, joking about or demeaning the animal, or similar behavior has no place in ethical hunting, or in a civilized society, really.

Also remember that what you post online could be used to damage ethical hunters’ reputations and potentially be used in anti-hunting movements. If your behavior online is reprehensible, it may come back to haunt you later in life as you apply for a job or run for office. Be thoughtful, considerate, and respectful in your hunting behavior.

Do I have to use the meat if I hunt? What about trophy hunting?

There are people who enjoy the sport of hunting but don’t actually enjoy eating game meat. Some may argue that if you don’t eat it, you shouldn’t be hunting at all. However, most hunters and observers would agree that best hunting practices allow the ethical harvesting of legal game as long as the meat from the animal is utilized as much as possible (apart from vermin). Hunters who enjoy the hunt can still ethically harvest and clean the kill, and then either give the meat to family/friends, or donate it to local organizations set up for the purpose. Recent survey data shows that American hunters donate nearly 10 million pounds of game meat annually, providing around 40 million healthy meal servings to help battle food shortages for families in need.

The term Trophy Hunting has acquired multiple meanings over the past century, but at its heart is the original term coined by the founders of The Boone and Crockett Club, which is the prioritization of harvesting mature, male specimens who have already contributed their genes to the herd. Ethically this is arguably perfectly sound, and has substantiation in science and ongoing conservation efforts. B&C has published their position on trophy hunting and it’s worth a read. There’s also a helpful video presentation as well. The fact is, without trophy hunting (and hunting generally), both the health of any game species and its overall survival would be significantly hampered. It may seem ironic, but hunters are by far the most vocal and effective contributors toward conservation efforts to establish and maintain game laws to protect these key species from extinction.

Along with the question (or misconception) of trophy hunting, there are ethical questions associated with all types of hunting and fishing. For some animal rights or anti-hunting groups, all forms of hunting are considered unethical. But even among people who participate in these activities, there is constant debate over what hunting/fishing practices are right and wrong. Is catch and release an ethical imperative? How about hunting bears over bait (where legal)? Do you consider deer hunting using a feeder unethical, or is it standard practice in your part of the country? Is hunting deer in a corn field left standing for the purpose effectively the same as using a corn feeder?

Local laws can provide some insight into how the concept of hunting ethics is shaped, but local traditions and practices will also shape perceptions. Depending on your perspective, some hunting laws may not be ethical, and not all ethical hunting practices may be legal. Use your brain and follow your good instincts, as well as adhering to your local laws and regulations.

After the hunt, secure your firearms in a quality safe

Your hunting rifle or handgun should be secured when not under your direct control, and the best way to do that is in a quality, US-made gun safe from Liberty. A good safe, properly dehumidified, will protect your valuables from theft, fire, unauthorized access, and environmental damage due to moisture and corrosion. Check out our interactive online catalog to see all the available types, sizes, and colors, or click the dealer locator to find a Liberty showroom near you.


*Made in the U.S.A. from U.S. and Global Parts.


Subscribe

Sign up to our newsletter and stay up to date!

Related Articles

Best Shotguns of 2024
Best Shotguns of 2024
As we’ve said before, shotguns are the most versatile firearms ever made. You can use them for hunting anything from the smallest upland birds and squirrels to big game. You can shoot a wide variety of different types of shotgun ammunition. Y...
Read More
Understanding the Dual Fusion™ 2-Piece Body of a Liberty Safe
Understanding the Dual Fusion™ 2-Piece Body of a Liberty Safe
When it comes to safeguarding your firearms and valuables, the integrity and construction of your safe play a pivotal role. Liberty Safe has a range of innovative features designed to protect your possessions, and one of the most significant ...
Read More
Best Pistols of the Year
Best Pistols of the Year
Firearms manufacturers, like all companies selling things for sale in a free market, need to come up with new items every year to maintain consumer interest and stir up industry buzz. Sometimes, this is little more than what is known in the a...
Read More