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Hunting clichés that need to change

The hunting industry has not been immune from taking meaningful, good ideas and thoughts and turning them into clichés that have seemingly lost the original meaning. This article seeks to take a look at some of these clichés in hopes of returning to the meaningful, rational thought that was intended in the first place.

For the record, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, cliché can be defined as "a phrase or expression that has been used so often that it is no longer original or interesting." Some of the most common examples include sayings like "Give it 110%" or "It is what it is."

Let’s get this clear right from the start: these clichés started as very good things, but then became nearly absurd when too many people started acting like there was only one way to do things. This article is not intended to demonize or disrespect anyone. Instead, I am advocating that we need to have a realistic, healthy understanding of these issues so that they can stop embodying these clichés and can once again be those that help improve hunting for all involved.

In no particular order, here are the most common hunting clichés used today:

The “ethical shot”

Bull elk with tree blocking vitals
Photo credit: iStock

Ethics are paramount to proper conservation and taking a shot that will ethically kill an animal as quickly as possible is equally as important. However, when your definition of an ethical shot is limited to a deer or elk broadside at 60 yards standing completely still with its near leg slightly forward when rifle hunting, then you have taken that idea a bit too far. An ethical shot is a shot with which you are confident you can effectively penetrate the vital area and quickly kill that animal based on your skill, gear and knowledge. I took a very ethical shot on a buck with my bow while he was facing me; he didn’t take a single step and died right where I shot him. There are many other hunters who would have said I should never have taken that shot, yet, my filled tag and well-placed shot would say otherwise. Wanting to deliver a well-placed shot is a great thing that should be encouraged. Understanding how an arrow or bullet penetrates skin, muscle and bone at various angles — and having plenty of practice — will ensure that you can deliver a truly ethical shot from multiple angles at multiple ranges with consistent success.

The “one-shot kill”

Here is another example of a great goal that too often results in a ridiculous mindset. A good example of a one-shot kill is a well-placed bullet or arrow that penetrates both lungs or the heart and results in the animal dying within a very short amount of time. Yet, the desire to be able to say that you made a one-shot kill often results in forcing an animal to suffer longer than is necessary.

If you shoot an animal and it has not died and you are in a position to shoot it again without bumping it and making it run, shoot it again; end its suffering and finish the job. It is not ethical nor is it respectable to make an animal take hours to die when you could just put a second shot into it. Now, I understand that sometimes you cannot get a second shot without spooking and bumping that animal, which would just make things worse. If that is the case, leave it alone and use it as an opportunity to learn for next time. But if you can put another shot into that animal, don’t let pride over a “one-shot kill” be the reason you don’t do the truly honorable thing.

The “mature bull/buck”

Youth hunter with his first mule deer buck
Youth hunter with his first mule deer buck. Photo credit: Brady Miller

Here is one that is a little more touchy because I understand the reasoning behind it. When someone has an opportunity at a bull or a buck and chooses not to shoot him because he is not mature enough, that is the hunter’s decision and he or she has to live with it. There is nothing wrong with this in my opinion. It is a conservation strategy that has been proven effective for those trying to promote big, mature animals in herds.

When this becomes wrong is when you force that conviction on others. I have seen countless young people shoot their first elk or deer only to have people criticize them for shooting a yearling buck or a calf. My first buck was a yearling and I was thrilled as were the people waiting back at camp; however, I might have given up on hunting altogether as a kid if someone had criticized me for shooting that young buck.

When someone else fills a tag, congratulate that person, don’t criticize. Live out your convictions about age and maturity without demonizing someone else who does not share that same conviction.

"Not enough gun"

.338 edge rifle on mule deer
Photo credit: Brady Miller

For years, the .30-06 was viewed as the do all, can't be beat caliber. A .30 caliber bullet flew at velocities that could ethically take even the largest of game at reasonable ranges. But with the advent of the magnum calibers, the .30-06 started to be viewed by many as an underpowered cartridge for elk and other large animals.

With all of the high velocity, high recoil magnum calibers available today, it can be easy to think that such a rifle is required for large game. In fact, many will look at a .270 or 7mm-08 and scoff that it is not enough gun. The last time I checked, a fast-flying bullet that hits a non-fatal area still results in a non-fatal shot (or at least a shot that does not quickly kill your target) while a slower, smaller bullet that hits the vitals still results in a fatality.

Obviously, there is a limit to how small of a caliber you should use on large game; however just because the caliber doesn't have the word "magnum" in the name does not mean that it is insufficient to take down a bull elk. The key is balance and facts, not opinion and theoretical knowledge. I always try to encourage people to shoot the largest, fastest rifle cartridge that they can comfortably shoot accurately and consistently in any circumstance.

Continued below.

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"Smoked him/her"

Really? You smoked him? How'd you keep him lit?
This is one of those things that people say in their excitement without actually thinking about what they are saying or the connotation that is associated with it. I don't know about you, but when I shoot an animal, my first thought is not how I "smoked" him. Instead, my first thought is that I pray he dies quickly so that he doesn't suffer for too long.

We should convey an immense respect for our prey through the words we say and the attitudes that we exhibit when we place a fatal shot on an animal. I am not saying that using the word "smoked" is inherently bad. Instead, I am asking you to consider if that is a respectful response to the harvesting of an animal or if it is a phrase that we adopted as a result of watching too much outdoor reality television.

Naming deer/elk

Lots of people give names to deer that they spot while glassing or that they have pictures of on their trail camera. There is nothing inherently wrong with naming deer. I have never done it but I know some guys who do and it is often just a way of identifying a deer that they would like to shoot if given the opportunity. Instead of saying, "That five-and-a-half-year-old buck with the odd drop tine that comes off his left side," they can say, "Hook." Seems innocent enough.

When naming animals becomes a little too much is when, by naming that animal, the hunter feels as though he or she has some kind of claim on that animal. Just because you saw it doesn't make it yours. If you feel that you need to name animals, go ahead; just don't assume that you will be the one to shoot him because you named him.

The "weapon choice purist"

The purist is the person who claims that only those who hunt with a certain weapon or in a certain way are true hunters. If the purist is a bowhunter, then rifle hunters are not true hunters. If the purist is a backpacking hunter, than someone who hunts over food plots or water is not a true hunter. It is curious, though, how those who claim to be purists with a modern weapon forget that the earliest hunters used spears…Yet, I don't see many spear purists out there these days. It seems more like whatever one's preferred method of hunting is, then that is the only pure method.

That is ridiculous. 

Here is how I see it: If you hunt with a compound bow, traditional bow, rifle, muzzleloader, crossbow, spear or knife, then you are a hunter. If you backpack for miles before even setting up camp or if you walk 100 yards and sit in a blind, you are hunter. If you glass for days and then take a 1,000 yard shot that you have practiced for months and are capable of consistently making, you are a hunter. Bottom line: if you hunt your prey in a legal way, you are a hunter. To look down your nose at someone who chooses to hunt a different way than you is snobbery in the purist sense (pun intended).

The "too slow" bow

300 feet per second bowhunting bow
Photo credit: Brady Miller

Much like the "not enough gun" cliché, many bowhunters today would argue that if your arrow is not flying close to 300 fps, then your bow is too slow. Funny… I wonder how Fred Bear killed all those animals with his recurve?

A hunter who knows his effective range and shoots a "slow" bow well will very likely be more successful than a hunter who picked a bow purely based on speed. Yes, speed has its benefits; however, it is not the most important factor in choosing a bow and is not the most important factor in delivering a fatal shot. We should be encouraging people to become proficient with the gear they have access to, not spending their money for them by telling them to buy a faster bow.

The "long-range hunter"

94 yard archery antelope shot
Photo credit: Brady Miller

Here is another touchy one because there are long-range hunters who do it right and have repeated success at almost impossible distances. Yet, the term becomes a cliché when too many people buy a high-velocity magnum rifle, throw a 6-24x44 rifle scope on it with a ballistic compensating reticle, download a ballistics calculator to their smartphone, and think that now they are capable of shooting an animal at 800 yards.

Long-range hunting is an art that involves endless practice, testing, load development, more practice, checking data, more practice, learning how environmental factors affect bullet flight, and, then, even more practice. You should never take a shot at a range that you have not practiced and cannot confidently and consistently make. If you do not practice, you run a greater risk of wounding an animal or missing altogether.

In all things, reason and balance

The notions of many of these clichés are rooted in well intentioned thoughts; however, they should be encouraged in a rational, reasonable way. Let’s promote knowledge and understanding instead of merely purporting ideas that we don’t fully comprehend. This will ensure enthusiasm for those who are new to hunting while also ensuring true ethics in the decisions we make while hunting.

This article is not meant to be disrespectful or demeaning in the slightest. Instead, it is meant to shed light on the crazy way that we will take an opinion, blow it up into fact, and then demonize those who go against that grain. This article is not meant to start an argument; it is meant to start a conversation about how to be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Let's seek to encourage one another, support one another and enjoy the lifestyle of hunting that we have all come to love so much. It is a shame to run someone out of the outdoors because his or her opinions differ from ours. Only then can we truly make hunting better for the next generation.


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Hunter H. - posted 1 year ago on 08-18-2016 08:25:20 pm

Very Good! This whole naming animals etc. is a new phenomenon. The world wide web has connected us in so many ways. We just can't help ourselves as we see the hunting guides post more, brag more, self indulge more.
There's a hire-a-guide frenzy that we see now with internet/social media. If you draw a coveted tag here in Arizona, people will say that you better hire a guide, as if your hunt and life depended on it. Its an eye roller. Why do we care?......
The pressure on the monster muleys has become excessive in recent times. Making it harder and harder for the DIY guys (majority of hunters) to locate a 190+ buck. Simi-local guides with very local helpers live on-top of the deer year round. They are like the paparazzi taking thousands of pics and giving them names. The bigger bucks can't stand this pressure forever and the hunt quality is worse now than ever. Its TRUE. The catalyst has been the online world that can stoke a flame.

Here in Arizona, we see the impact of guides greater than most states. Arizona's famous big mule deer bucks are located in a small percentage of the state north of the grand canyon. In comparison to other states, the area is much flatter and easy to hunt. In Colorado for instance, you can find big bucks from the very north border to the south border of the state. Far east to far west. Not so in AZ. Paid Hunting Guides have saturated our 'much smaller area' with hundreds of paid helpers and trail cams.

We applaud the tag holders who made a decision to earn their buck no matter the outcome. Not thinking 100% success on a 200" buck is something to be purchased, but rather earned. Res & non-res hunters who woke up on their own without someone slapping their tent door. Who made their own coffee. Who jumped into the driver seat of the truck, not the backseat... and who set out to do something significant each day...and left the outcome to GOD.

Go DIY next time. The inner you will thank you.

Dan D. - posted 1 year ago on 07-14-2016 12:31:06 pm

Damn good article, unfortunately the people that need to learn from it won't read it. (I'm a pessimist)

Jay V. - posted 1 year ago on 05-16-2016 01:48:36 am

You "Smoked" that subject!!

Ryan W. - posted 2 years ago on 03-19-2016 11:53:39 am
Edmond, OK.

Thank you, couldn't agree more....

Robert H. - posted 2 years ago on 03-03-2016 06:23:21 pm

I cannot agree more! What a great article.

Travis C. - posted 2 years ago on 03-03-2016 09:17:18 am

I agree that the rigidity of these clichés needs to be slackened. The reality is that sometimes the outcome of hunting is not picture perfect. A hunter's reverence for the animal and responsible approach to hunting is paramount. As long as those attitudes remains intact and a hunter is not intentionally reckless, then there should be some forgiveness for straying from the outdated mindsets like those that you highlighted.

Joseph H. - posted 2 years ago on 02-28-2016 08:48:19 am

Great article! Well stated. Please forward a copy to the Eastman's editor and B&C club.

Joshua P. - posted 2 years ago on 02-27-2016 06:38:39 pm

I would add the word "harvest" to the list. I get so tired of hearing people saying "harvest" like you just picked an apple or a tomato. It's killing. let's just call it what it is. I pulled the trigger and something died. I hate it when people soften the blow of death by calling it "harvesting" when referring to animals or "passed" when referring to people. I think this language does just as much to add to the lack of respect and weight given to the death of something as anything else. When I take my kids hunting I want them to know when they pull the trigger, something will probably die and that isn't to be taken lightly. And it is altogether different than "harvesting" vegetables from our garden.

brian m. - posted 2 years ago on 02-24-2016 09:40:58 am

I agree with the other posts here. In some ways we may all be guilty of one or more of these things a little.Nice to have a wake up call to keep us all united. Great job on article.

Matthew S. - posted 2 years ago on 02-22-2016 06:52:55 am
Parker, CO

Good stuff, I agree wholeheartedly. Thanks for sharing the well thought out article. I would love to see this posted in a broadly distributed hunting magazine.

Stefan Wilson
Stefan W. - posted 2 years ago on 02-21-2016 11:14:29 am
Gilbert, AZ

Thanks for the comments everyone. I am glad to see that I am not the only one who felt this way.

Daniel B. - posted 2 years ago on 02-20-2016 12:32:02 pm
Flagstaff, Az

This article hits it right on the head. Great job.

michael a. - posted 2 years ago on 02-18-2016 07:23:40 pm

Hunters should shake hands with hunters. Fare chase and respect for the animals should be pushed, especially to the new crop of hunters. Those against hunting would love to see division among us. Stay united.

adams s. - posted 2 years ago on 02-18-2016 04:04:16 pm
Elburn, IL

in all seriousness...I second Garrett's comments!!

adams s. - posted 2 years ago on 02-18-2016 04:01:34 pm
Elburn, IL

Right on the Money ; )

Stefan Wilson
Stefan W. - posted 2 years ago on 02-18-2016 02:50:22 pm
Gilbert, AZ

Thanks guys! This is a subject that gets me pretty fired up so I enjoyed writing this article.

riley w. - posted 2 years ago on 02-18-2016 09:11:35 am
Littlerock, WA

I love this article. Great read!

Garrett G. - posted 2 years ago on 02-17-2016 09:42:25 pm
Grand Jct, CO

This is the best article I think I have ever seen on the site!!!!!! Well said and dead on!!!!!