5 Stages of a Hunter Series: The Shooter Stage

This is the second article of a six part series on the 5 Stages of a Hunter, be sure to read the introduction to the Series, What Type of Hunter are You?

Article Contributed by Field Staff Writer S. West.

To state a full disclosure, I’ve never been completely comfortable with the deterministic and arguably elitist tones of the theory even from the day when as a gangly, long-necked 14 year old kid, the theory was presented in my Hunter’s Education class. I find the theory stereotypes those “shooters,” accompanied by a warning that they may be dangerous and prone to ill-advised shots. And in its repetition for nearly three decades, the theory has morphed into a narrative that has become very nearly paternalistic in its social Darwinism. The “onward and upward” progress until the zenith of the hunting experience is attained as a true “sportsmen.” The “sportsman” is of course now idealized as a hunter agnostic of base desires to shoot or perhaps even load a firearm, a hunter at one with their world and in a nirvana-esque peace while mentoring and shepherding forth the next generation, perhaps along lines that would avoid the pitfalls and trappings of the four previous “stages.”

But then again, I’ve always had a distaste for authority. Perhaps I’d have been more successful historically if I’d been more trusting, or maybe the theory has just taken on a twisted life of its own.

Regardless, I’m here to make a further confession. I’m a shooter.

IMGP1047Despite how the meaning of the theory may have evolved, even in its raw form it does do a fair share of waffling, acknowledging that the same individual may move fluidly through the stages and occupy more than one stage at a given time but it still places the aged, experienced “sportsman” at the pinnacle. I’m here to argue that a shooter or a trophy hunter, a limit-out hunter or a meticulous method-hunter, by definition are “sportsmen” in a broader sense unrelated to this greater theory at large. Primarily because in my estimation, the theory misunderstands the sportsman label. At best, it ascribes that term to the last stage too grandly. At worst it misrepresents the four stages it describes as the preamble to “becoming a sportsman.”

Case in point, myself. I own expensive, sophisticated goose hunting equipment, I study decoy strategies, I listen intently to wild geese at the park, and I read reams of magazine articles and online editorials about goose hunting. So “method stage,” right? Now how about I tell you that I still get the same feeling unloading my gun the loud way and I’m just as happy now to see Old Whitecheeks decoying as I was on that first early September hunt in 1996?

That needle has not moved an inch for me. Perhaps I’m poor at evolving.

opening dayAnother real-world example comes from our early November deer camp; we are stationed in a place where you might not even hear a deer for six days on end, let alone glimpse one. What say the trio of brothers who have hunted deer in those woods or nearly fifty years each? How do men that are in every way the greatest mentors and “sportsmen” that I could ask for gauge success that week?

“At least you got some shooting.”

If a deer falls, then that’s all the better. So perhaps they are “limit out” stage hunters, even though between the three of them dozens, and dozens, and dozens of whitetails have ended up at the local butcher.

What about the years of wild turkey hunting in Ontario when there was but one tag allotted a hunter each season? We practiced and studied as method hunters, but we frantically tried every trick to limit out and fill that one tag.

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See how silly this can get?

I could go on for pages like this, but if you haven’t already scoffed at me and moved on to another page here for a delicious recipe or a more palatable take on this theory, then I think you understand. Because despite the baseline approach of the theory, the new-hunter prejudice inherent (although not explicit) in the narrative, and the regressive slant associated with the lower levels, I’m here to tell you that “shooters” can simultaneously be sportsmen.

It’s allowed.

As with most things that are aimed at categorizing and codifying, it is a theory. It isn’t a law, like gravity. So go ahead shooters of the hunting world, come together and unite. If the “Five Stages theory” prompts you to do some self-analysis, then go for it. Also in common with most social/psychological theories out there, value can be found in the overall discourse. But if, like me, it doesn’t speak to you in its finality, then discard it.

Because if you truly have the passion for the hunt, then you are already the sportsman it epitomizes. You won’t need to be made aware of any theory or primers to make you want to improve.

Read more articles by S. West

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