Wildlife and the Outdoors

Stages of a Hunter


Daniel G. Toole, Wildlife Biologist


            As people progress through life, they usually learn from their experiences and change their ways to better themselves and those around them. These developmental periods or “stages” also hold true for most hunters. As experience is gained, a personal ethic evolves. Eventually, most hunters develop a love and respect for hunting and for our natural world.

            Most hunters are introduced to hunting at an early age. Children tend to have short attention spans, very little patience, and demand physically active pastimes. When youngsters participate in hunting, they usually just want to shoot. Getting a shot off is more important than waiting for a trophy animal. Hunters at this stage in their hunting life are often referred to as being in the “shooting stage.” This is why dove and other types of small game hunting are perfectly suited for introducing young or new hunters to hunting. These types of hunts allow the adult, whether a parent or just a friend, to spend time with the child teaching him/her to become a responsible hunter. The combination of active shooting, in the field and at a range, along with mentoring from an experienced adult, helps most hunters move quickly through this stage.

            As hunters become better marksmen they are able to harvest more game. Many become more concerned with the number of animals they harvest rather than simply having an opportunity to shoot. Hunters at this stage are usually referred to as being in the “limiting out stage.” Some hunters never progress beyond this stage, and believe they must harvest the most game in order to be happy with their day in the field. Hunters in this stage expend effort and energy to fill their bag limit. Hunters that carry this stage to an extreme can portray a negative image of hunters and hunting to the public.

            Fortunately, most hunters progress beyond the stages of shooting or limiting out. They become more selective as to what they harvest. These hunters are usually referred to being in the “trophy stage.” They tend to be more willing to pass up shots on young immature animals in order to have the opportunity to harvest mature animals. Hunters in this stage are continually learning new hunting techniques and improving their marksmanship and other skills that allow them to become better hunters. They tend to be more focused on harvesting their targeted species and spend countless hours in the field to accomplish their goals. They are usually more interested in applying management and/or harvest techniques, such as intensive fertilization to improve forage quality or limit the buck harvest in a deer herd in order to improve age structure and antler production.

            Some hunters become more interested in how they harvest an animal rather than how many animals they harvest or their size or quality. This stage of hunting is often referred to as the “method stage.” Whether it is harvesting a deer with a long bow, or a turkey with a black powder shotgun, it is the satisfaction of how they harvest the game that really matters.

Fortunately, there are hunters who progress to a step in their hunting career called the “sportsman” or “experience stage.” These individuals realize that hunting is more than just shooting or harvesting an animal. The success of the hunt is measured by the overall experience – the appreciation of the out-of-doors, respect for the animal hunted, the process of the hunt, and the camaraderie shared with other hunters. These individuals realize the importance of introducing and teaching new hunters about the outdoor experience as well as always acting in an ethical and legal manner to help ensure that hunting will be enjoyed by generations to come.

            Not all hunters progress through each of these stages, nor do they necessarily do it in this order. Some progress more slowly than others and some never progress to the next stage. However, each hunter should understand this growth process and help others mature and become a more responsible hunter.

For more information on hunting, visit the Department of Conservation’s Web site at www.outdooralabama.com.