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Killin' Critters - for Dummies

Johnny Reb

Ever since I was a little kid my primary interest in life has been all things out of doors with a particular interest in hunting and fishing. Thus when I started my "lucrative" writing career it was with great hope and severe naivete that I aspired to become an outdoor writer.

After publishing a few articles in some Canadian hunting and fishing rags I sort of lost my lust for this line of work - that was until I discovered I could write about freedom - but I digress. I found that writing about killing deer was akin to prostituting myself - really - there's only so many ways you can tell a hunter to "check the wind" and "look for scrapes". Every time I sat down to write an article I felt dirty. After all - hunting really isn't that complicated - at least not physically. It's the philosophy behind the hunt that is complex. If you haven't hunted there's no sense in trying to understand the "why" of it all. What drives a man to pit his reason against a critter's instinct each fall? It doesn't make sense unless you've done it. In fact talking about it is sort of like trying to explain sex and the vast array of emotions one experiences during a lifetime of sexual encounters to a sixteen-year-old virgin.

Suffice it to say that hunting - like many things we do but don't have to - is a personal choice based on a myriad of reasons too varied to explain in a short essay such as this. Even so - if I had to give one reason to hunt - it would have to be for "freedom's sake". Hunting - or rather KNOWING how to hunt [which can not be learned but through doing] separates oneself from the pack in a way that no other activity - except maybe gardening (ya that's right, I said gardening!) can. It is an activity that is pursued by individualists primarily because it is, for the most part, a personal endeavor. Each of us has his own reasons for going afield and the fruit born from that pursuit is simply this - independence.

Hunting produces food - something we need to exist at our most primal level. It is a harvest of sorts that we few partake in each fall that is - in a roundabout sort of way - a rejection of the cellophane-wrapped, commercial ridden, consumer-based world in which we live. It is our way of saying, "No thanks - I can take care of that aspect of my life on my own."

Don't get me wrong - I do not forego market food exclusively for that gathered from the woods - but I am always left with the choice and more importantly, in difficult times, I've never gone hungry. Indeed, hunting equals independence from the system.

That being said I will now prostitute myself for the last time (Yeah right!) and present for you a list of important things you should know before try to kill some game.

Things have never been better...

No matter where you live on the North American continent (except maybe in major metropolitan areas) you can subsist on a hunter/gatherer diet. From east to west and north to south there is more opportunity to take game than there has been in over a hundred years. That's right folks: there is more game on this continent now (with the possible exception of the buffalo) than there was when our great great grandpappies settled this god forsaken rock. Most of this is due to some sound game management techniques on both private and government "owned" land. Almost all of it, however, is due to the dedication and money of one group of people - hunters (oh - and the taxpayer too).

Good hunting - in my humble opinion - begins first with a sound conservation ethic. It makes sense that if you want to subsist on wild meat then there's gotta be enough of it left at the end of each season to replenish those numbers the year after. After that - everything else is elementary and open for debate. Animals haven't got rights so don't worry about eating them. They do however feel pain, so make sure that no matter how you hunt them you are proficient with the weapon you have chosen.

Of Cowboys and Injuns...

So you think you want to kill a critter, eh? OK fine. First thing you gotta do is pick a tool for the job. Let's concentrate on big game for this part, shall we?

Depending on where you live there is a literal maze of rules for what one may use to hunt and kill one's own food. Some of the rules are simple common sense - you wouldn't want to be firing magnum rifles on the edge of a heavily populated subdivision - thus a shotgun or muzzleloader makes more sense. But in other places the rules are more asinine - whether or not you choose to follow them is up to you. Simply let your conscience be your guide.

But "legally" speaking most of the time you can choose to use modern rifles, black powder rifles, handguns, bows, crossbows and - yes, m'dear - even spears in some locales. My suggestion is this - if you plan on playing by "the rules" and you've never hunted before and you have these choices, then get a rifle. Primitive weapons have their advantages (and they're a challenge to use) - especially if society and its trappings go to hell in a handbag - but your most efficient tool is still the rifle.

What kind of rifle should it be? Depends on who you are. A good sturdy bolt action rifle will do almost anyone - preferably something in 7mm or .30 caliber. Bolt actions have the advantage of having fewer moving parts than lever, pump or semi-auto guns. This means they are more reliable and less likely to fail when you need them most.

[Note: Regardless of what you purchase it is a good idea to have any used guns checked by a competent gun smith before firing.]

Both the 7mm and the .30 cal round offer an excellent selection of bullet sizes, thus making them ideal rifles for almost any type of medium sized or large game. 30 - 06 seems to be one of the most popular calibers north of the border (although I shoot a .308 myself). It's a good straight shooter that offers a variety of bullet types and sizes and, depending on the make of the gun, parts are generally widely available and not overly expensive. Ruger, Remington, Winchester and Browning all make excellent bolt action rifles in this caliber and, if you stick to these brands you will never break the bank doing repairs and maintenance.

[Note to the gun nuts reading this: Yes. You are correct. There are many far better cartridges than the 30-06 - but they are not as widely available - i.e., on every general store shelf - and thus not as useful to someone who is interested in hunting for very practical reasons].

Bows are also great tools and have the advantage of longer lasting and ultimately cheaper ammo. Also, if one is far from civilization - and so long as one sticks to using traditional recurves and long bows - repairs can be made afield. But bows also have disadvantages. The major two being: range and shocking power. Arrows do not have the shocking power that a bullet does on impact and as a result they must rely on hemorrhaging to kill their targets. This means you must be well practiced and prepared to do some tracking. The choice, of course, is up to you.


We all know what this means: Keep it simple stupid.

There are more gadgets designed to make getting game easier out there than you can shake a bag of Rattlin' Sticks at. I suggest that before you run screaming from the nearest outdoor store or magazine in confusion you stock up on the essentials.

There are really only a few things you need to own to be an effective hunter. One is a solid rifle. We've covered that. You also need some half decent ammo. Anything made by Federal, Remington, Winchester etc. will do. Make sure you've got the proper bullet weight for the critter. Smaller game = smaller bullets. Bigger game = bigger bullets. Duh...

Now that we've got that straight what else will you need? A good knife is essential. If it's cheap - don't buy it. Get something with a guarantee - for example: Buck has a lifetime warranty on their product and their knives generally retail for between sixty-five and one hundred and fifty Canadian dollars. The metal is hard and difficult to sharpen but it holds a great edge. Also - a good, sharp knife should be able to handle a little bone and should be capable of removing the brisket of an animal without too much trouble. A good knife is a hunter's best friend - believe me - when you're skinning and gutting a 300-pound whitetail five miles from nowhere you'll appreciate a quality piece of steel.

A sturdy, waterproof pair of boots is just as important as a sharp knife. Nothing sucks more than soggy feet in the bush. Your feet, to a large degree, control the temperature of the rest of your body. So keep 'em dry and well protected. If you're in the mountains they should cover your ankles as scree slopes and other rock formations can wreak havoc on unprotected flesh.

Depending on where you are hunting a decent set of optics is a good idea too. Nowadays you can find something that is lightweight, compact, powerful and affordable if you're prepared to do a little poking around. Keep your eye out for "warranty repair specials" - you can find an excellent functioning pair of binocs for a fraction of their regular price by doing this. Be skeptical of anything else used.

A day pack is a good idea as well. Make sure you carry a few essential items in it: First aid kit, waterproof matches, water purification tablets, extra socks, compass - and a roll of toilet paper is a lot nicer than a handful of leaves (trust me on this one). TP also doubles as fire starter.

And for crying out loud - dress for the weather!

Where the Game is...

So now you've got the essentials. Where the hell do you go?

Depending on what and where you're hunting this is a pretty complicated question. I've hunted and fished almost every type of geography from Canadian shield, Rocky Mountain slopes and prairie thickets, to semi-desert and coastal rain forest - all with varying degrees of success. The one thing I've learned through my travels is this: Find out what your critters eat, where they sleep and where the water is.

In drier climates and locales this is a relatively easy task - get some topo maps - find out where the water is and start from there. Follow game trails in river and creek bottoms. These "riparian" zones tend to be rife with game as they congregate in these areas for survival purposes. Deer, antelope, and elk can be found in these spots in the west. But don't think for a minute that this means getting that game will be easy. These critters have adapted to surviving in these pockets of life and have been avoiding the likes of you for eons. So stop - LOOK - and move slowly. Otherwise you might miss something.

More temperate climates with thicker cover will require more work. Learning to call various types of game may help you pull them out of cover. Elk and moose can be bugled, deer can be "rattled" (banging antlers together to simulate fighting bucks) and predators can be called out with the simulated cry of dying prey.

"Drives" (scaring animals out of the woods and into the gunfire of waiting hunters) can also be executed in almost any type of terrain although they are more difficult to use in large tracts of bush where game can simply sneak around the pushers. If you're by yourself follow game trails slowly (ironically this is called "still hunting") or set up a stand over a food or water source. Try and keep your stands a good 20 yards (a least) off of the main trail and make sure you have a shooting lane cleared for when game comes prancing along. A simple twig can deflect your shot and may be the difference between track soup and venison stew.

Trespassing on the king's land...

Most of you may know that in Canada and the U.S. it is illegal to hunt in many of the various parks and "recreation areas" set aside by our great, noble, and absolutely arrogant leaders. This, quite literally, is a huge violation of our ancient Saxon Common Law rights and is, in my opinion, an open invitation for "trespass" and "poaching" (I use these terms loosely). Of course (for the benefit of the thugs who monitor this free press) I don't recommend trying to take game while trespassing in forbidden territory - but if we were to hypothetically suppose what one would need to do if one chose to take this course of action then this (hypothetically speaking) is what one might do.

First thing - no fires unless absolutely necessary.

Second - use temporary/camouflaged shelters. Something with pine boughs strewn across the roof so that it cannot be detected from the air.

Third - do so far away from any populated areas and only during the low point of the tourist season.

Fourth - Stick to cover.

Fifth - Don't talk about this with your hunting buddies or anyone else in the hunting fraternity. Most of them were brainwashed long ago into thinking that "no-access parks" are a noble idea and that the government and environmental groups are perfectly within their right to restrict the access and use of resources within a given tract of land to specific groups (of which hunters do not belong). Most of them can't see the connection of this way of thinking to our current predicament - where the government is buying up and shutting down public land faster than you can spit. Most of them have never thought about how hunters have always been a part of the natural landscape. They forget we are as a much a part of the natural cycle of the universe as anything else, plus we can think too. It's great being human.

Sixth - If you can, have a friend load some ammo for you with less powder in it. This makes your shot quieter and you're less likely to be detected when shooting your meat. Disadvantage is you may have to stalk closer to your quarry.

And finally - always remember rule five.

Oh ya - unless you plan on getting killed - always, always, always ask permission to trespass on private property. It's a matter of respecting the rights of others.

Great Green Gobs of....

Grimy Gooey Critter Guts. Ahhh... the reality of hunting. My father always used to say, "When the shooting's done the work begins." This is why I prefer to hunt deer and grouse over moose any day - less work. Learning how to gut and skin game is a stinky chore and, what's more, it takes practice to get good at it.

Most people (including myself) start at the belly and work up to the throat. Careful - don't cut the guts or you'll have a mess on your hands. Remove the brisket and cut the windpipe as close to the chin of the animal as possible. You're going to use this (windpipe) as a handle. Grab the pipe and start skinning backwards through the brisket and chest cavity. You'll need to eventually cut the diaphragm in order to work back to the anus (can I say that here?). Cut around the anus and pull the guts out by the windpipe. Some folks find it easier, when dealing with larger game like moose or elk, to tie a rope around the windpipe to keep it taut. The windpipe is pretty tough and this will work but is not necessary with deer. Also, if you are skinning a male animal it is sometimes a good idea to tie off the penile tract. This will prevent any spoiling of the meat due to urine spillage.

To remove the cape cut along the inside of the legs starting at the knees (do not cut the rear tendons as these will be used to hang your meat) and join up with the main incision. The rest - well it ain't rocket science. Get the cape off as soon as you can and get the carcass to a cool spot if it's warm out - otherwise your meat may spoil.

If you have to pack an animal out in pieces remember to bring some game bags (the hunting industry's term for cheesecloth) and some pepper. This should keep the meat fresher longer. If you cover your meat in branches most animals will leave it alone. Depending on where you are, watch for bears. In some places (like the north where I live) bears think of a gunshot as a dinner bell - so watch your back.

Did ya see anything?

Hunters are a nosy bunch - they always want to know where you've been and what you've seen. So, unless you want your favorite stomping grounds invaded by hundreds of other eager game getters (this is not as much of an issue while on private land) then keep yer trap shut.

My response to this age old question? "Zipper Mouth Creek". Or even better - "None of yer damn business".

In short - be friendly but firm.

A thousand other things...

A wise man once told me, "Just do it."

Or was that a shoe commercial? I can't remember - I must be getting old.

Anyway, the same applies for hunting. You don't need all the latest gadgets - hell, you don't need any of them. You just have to do it. Guys (and gals) have been hunting and killing game for as long as we've existed as a species and, aside from the technology things haven't changed much. The game is still there and it still tastes good. The only thing you need to know is the area you're hunting, where the game is in that area, where your rifle shoots and who you're going to get to help you haul that monster six-point bull elk out of that 800-foot-deep canyon. After that it's all lunch meat.

All other things will follow. Track identification, reading rub lines and all the other little things that help us to get game can only be learned by going afield and doing it. By the time I was 18 I'd spent more time in the woods than in school and I still don't know squat (about hunting ). Great thing is I've still got lots of time to learn.

If you're so inclined pick up a few hunting mags and give them a read - you can learn something from them - but don't get bogged down in the "I gotta get it" culture of techno hunting. It never ends and, in the end, gadgets are no substitute for time spent afield.

But more than anything - have fun. And remember:

A Hunter's Blessing

I hope
Some day
You find yourself
deep in the woods
on a mountain side
with the smell of gunpowder thick
in the autumn air.

I hope you feel the wet,
warm sticky fat
of a ripe bull
between your fingers and
the weight of a winters
feed on your back.

May God watch over you.
May the stars light your way
and may the state be
ever far
from your hunter's heart.

Cheers & Happy Hunting!

(c) 2000


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