What stage are you in as a hunter?

Hunting is a life-long passion for many people. It’s an activity you can start when you’re young, continue as you grow, and pass on to the next generation after scores of seasons have come and gone.

There are plenty of reasons many people never hang up the hunting hat. The meat that fills the freezer every fall is a big draw. If you sit down and put a pencil to paper, you’ll realize that meat’s not exactly cheap. But it’s lean, and it’s tasty. And you know exactly where it came from.

Of course, there’s the excitement of hunting itself— the thrill of the chase, if you will. No two hunts are exactly alike, so even a hunter’s 30th elk hunt can seem fresh and new.

If the annual hunt starts feeling tired, there are countless ways to freshen it up. If you’ve always been a rifle hunter, you could take a crack at muzzleloading. Maybe try your hand at hunting with a handgun. Or you might want to give it a shot with a bow and arrow.

Hunter education instructors will tell you there are five stages a hunter goes through. The progression through these stages keeps things interesting and helps hunters set new goals, though they may not set them consciously.

The first stage is the shooter stage, where it’s all about the shooting. The more shots a hunter gets in this stage, the better, even if no critters are brought home. The second stage is the limiting out stage. For this hunter, the important thing is to fill the tags or come home with the bag limit. In stage three, the trophy stage, the bigger the critter, the better. Then comes the fourth stage, the method stage, where how you hunt is more important than what you bring home— if you bring home anything at all. And finally, in the fifth stage, the sportsman stage, the enjoyment comes simply from being outside with friends or family, and the hunt is just a good reason to get everyone together.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re in. The important thing is that you get outside and hunt. Hunting is a vital part of wildlife management, and fewer people are taking up the sport as the years roll by.

If you’re in one of the early stages, good for you, and thank you. If you’re in one of the later stages, especially the sportsman stage, take someone out with you this year who’s never hunted. It’ll increase your enjoyment of the hunt, and it’ll help keep our sport going.