Hunting & Heritage  |  12/30/2014

How I Evolved as an Upland Hunter

Various hunters’ education courses and outdoor writers’ columns discuss the five stages of hunter development. They say that as a hunter becomes more experienced, he or she will pass through these stages, although some skip a stage or may move through them in a different order. The stages are these:  
  • Shooting Stage
  • Limiting-Out Stage
  • Trophy Stage
  • Method Stage
  • Sportsman Stage
The shooting stage is described as, “The priority is getting off a shot, rather than patiently waiting for a good shot.”  I recall wanting to shoot when I first started hunting 18 years ago, but I don’t think I was ever overly eager. Instead, like many hunting novices I’ve seen since, the opposite was true. Way too often, I’d pass on a shot because it seemed too far or someone was too close or I couldn’t get my eye on the bird fast enough or the moon wasn’t in alignment with Mars or Jupiter. 
In the limiting-out stage, “success is determined by bagging the limit.”  This one was never an issue for me, being primarily a New England ruffed grouse hunter. It can be done, but not often and certainly not regularly. I’ve never shot a limit of ruffed grouse, so there’s never been any reason to linger in that stage. Give me a day with a dozen bird contacts – shot or no shot – and I’m happy.
The trophy stage is geared more towards big game hunters than upland bird hunters. “The hunter is selective and judges success by quality rather than quantity.”  Nope, not an issue for bird hunters, unless we’re looking for the pheasant with the absolute longest tail feathers. 
The method stage makes the process of hunting the focus. “A hunter may still want to limit out but places a higher priority on how it’s accomplished.”  I interpret this as referring to the challenge of figuring out the variables of the hunt – the weather, terrain, wind, birds’ food sources, etc. It also encompasses the dog work – the search, points, tracking, retrieves – that help put the game in the bag. “Method” also should include the ethics of fair chase. All good, especially as it rolls into the next stage….
The sportsman stage. I can confidently say I’m in this stage (assuming of course, that we can retitle it “sports men and women”). This stage is defined: “Success is measured by the total experience—the appreciation of the out-of-doors and the animal being hunted, the process of the hunt, and the companionship of other hunters.”  That’s the place to be.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.