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It’s all too easy to think of hunting as just shooting an animal. Of course, shooting your game is the final step in the long process of hunting. But, it’s the quickest part. The longest part of hunting is education.

Reading this is only the beginning of your education on hunting. The overview is a good start but has to be supplemented by the specifics of your game, your location, and so much more. Then you must do your preparation.

Like a good craftsman, you need the right tools for the job. It doesn’t do any good to have great rain gear and a sharp knife if your ammunition doesn’t fit into your rifle. You will be the driest hunter to come home without a duck. Once you have the right clothes and weapons, it’s back to education. In this case, you need to do your scouting. This can take place the day before you hunt, or can require weeks of work in the offseason. Either way, it pays to have as much knowledge of your game and their habitat as possible ahead of time. Then, on hunting day, you track or trick your prey. This is the really exciting stuff, and it’s when your education pays off. If everything you have learned proves to be right, you will be able to fool an animal.

That is no small feat. Game animals survive by not being fooled. To use the tools in your proverbial toolbox correctly and actually sneak up on an attract geese, snag a rabbit, or sneak up on an elk is a momentous event. You will never forget the feeling of outsmarting one of nature’s creatures. Up to that point, you might have doubted, deep down, that it would even be possible. You thought you might have to get lucky. You doubted you would ever have the patience to actually set the deception and find the game. You will see them before they see you. It is truly an amazing moment. Your heart will be pounding so loud, you can’t believe your intended prey cannot hear it. This instant is unforgettable, but it’s not the real key to hunting. At that moment, you are still not sure if you are a hunter. Until you pull that trigger, you are just visiting the sport. You are the golfer who purchased the clubs, the clothes, and the lessons.

You have been to the driving range and even the putting green. Until you show up for a tee time and actually drive out of the tee box on a drizzly Saturday morning, you aren’t a golfer. Until you beginpull the trigger on your rifle, your shotgun or let go of the string on your crossbow, you still have your doubts. Once you fire, all doubt is erased in your mind. You can do it. You can hunt. There is one more hurdle to jump. Firing on an animal is monumental. But killing it is an even greater feat. Hopefully, you will take that first shot and make your first kill on the same day. Having taken the step to fire and being left with nothing to show for it is a lonely and frustrating feeling. Like the golfer who puts shot after shot into the sand and the trees, you may begin to doubt your enjoyment of the sport. Your resolve will be tested. But, you must not give in.

That golfer may spend all morning miserably walking the course, only to hit the drive of his life on the 18th hole. When everything lines up, he will remember why he loves the game and be hungry to play again.

Every kill feels like a perfect golf shot, and the first shot is like a hole in one. Hopefully, your first shot as a hunter will be accurate. If you’re lucky, you will kill the game in one shot. That should always be the goal of a good hunter. It’s not only merciful to the animal, but to you as well. The process of tracking and finishing off a wounded animal is mentally and physically taxing. Whether you take down the beast in one fell swoop or follow it the rest of the day before finally finishing the job with your knife, you will have taken the final step to becoming a hunter. That first real kill will propel you from recreational tourist to hunter. You will have an emotional reaction unlike any you have experienced before. At that moment, you will truly understand what it means to hunt.