Where Hunting Happens, Conservation Happens™

Five Stages of the Hunter - Hunt Fair Chase



Regardless of our motivations for hunting, studies show that all sportsmen evolve through, or are currently in one of five identified stages in their hunting careers. As we age and our experiences accumulate, what we give and get back from hunting changes over time. What defined success or accomplishment at age 14 can be very different at ages 24, 34, and 54. As careers in hunting evolve, so too are the hunter’s attitudes and commitments to conservation.


For many who are introduced to hunting at an early age, our satisfaction can be as simple as just being able to see game and get a shot. Our skills in the woods, recognizing and interpreting sign, and knowing game behavior, when and where are just developing. Seeing game and getting shots are what matters most, and misses are of little concern. Our skills are being tested and refined, including field shooting skills and whether or not to take a shot. The number of shots taken or opportunities missed can be the measure of a good day.


The satisfaction of just seeing game and getting a shot is now not enough reward. These are replaced with the need to bring home game, and not just one, but a limit of birds or filling a tag. Limiting out is in the conversation as hunt stories are told. This stage is very much more than just being a hunter, and more about proving oneself as a skilled hunter who get his or her game every time out.


Shooting opportunity and quantity of game are replaced by a self-imposed selectivity in the pursuit, and the quality of game taken begins to trump quantity. Prior successes tell us we can get game, but what kind of game has become more important. Mature male specimens—“trophies”—are fewer in number and harder to come by. More planning, preparation, skill, patience, and persistence are required to be successful.

The notion of conservation enters one’s thinking. We have seen enough and hunted enough to now realize wildlife, and quality-hunting experiences don’t happen by chance. Trophies in particular are a result of age, good genetics, and a life spent on quality habitat. Finding a trophy therefore begins with hunting where proper wildlife and land management are taking place—where older age-class animals exist. This takes purpose, and being part of this purpose is now also important to the hunter. Getting involved with conservation organizations and being vocal about issues offers it own rewards, as giving back and caring for the resource now adds to the hunting experience. Thought is now given to, “If I take this animal, how will he be replaced so I can hunt here again next year?”


While a trophy may still be the benchmark, “how taken” has become more important than “what taken.” With all the technology at a hunter’s disposal, what is really necessary to be successful is employed, and what is not necessary is left behind. Self-restriction now adds to the challenge and rewarding aspects of the hunt. An example of a hunter within this stage is the handicapping of his or her affective range by hunting with short-range weapons such as a handgun, muzzleloader, or bow and arrow. In some instances the mechanical advantage of a compound bow is left behind for the simplicity of a recurve or longbow. These methods take practice and discipline, and both are cherished as part of the process.

The chase and a lasting experience move to the forefront over just taking game or only a trophy. The easy route to a quick kill means much less than a hard-fought, tough pursuit. Going home without game increases in frequency and is understood and accepted. The reward now becomes very much proportionate to the challenge and effort expended. An animal taken by more skill than a technological advantage becomes a memorable trophy, regardless of size.


All stages are remembered fondly, but the urgency to take game or a trophy fades to the background as the total hunting experience now offers its highest rewards. Planning, practicing, and honing skills are still important, but just being outdoors, reconnecting with family and friends, and taking the time to “soak it all in” happen more and more. Filling a limit or a tag means the hunt is over, as is the experience. Photo memories now include more than just that of game taken. Camp, scenery, old buildings, and other wildlife now appear in the portfolio. Macro becomes micro as every aspect of the hunt is cherished. Trophies taken in the past mean more and are converted from a prize for the wall into memories for a lifetime.

By now, activity in conservation is at its peak. Mentoring young sportsmen, seeing that they enjoy and experience what you have experienced, can replace even your own opportunity at taking game. For many, this the greatest reward in hunting.

Not all hunters experience each stage completely or necessarily in this order. Some may enter motivated by the trophy stage. Some are completely satisfied stopping at any one of these stages, and some progress all the way through. There is no right or wrong.

It is also true that many sportsmen seek to experience the hunting of different species in different locations and habitats. This can either lead to reverting back or jumping forward in stages depending on the species or hunt itself. For example, knowing that a hunter may only have the chance to hunt for one particular species in their lifetime, a trophy stage hunter may choose to take a younger animal he or she might not have taken otherwise, or a bowhunter might opt for a rifle for a particular hunt.

Regardless of the hunting stages, what originally brings most hunters to hunting remains a constant—an appreciation and fascination for wildlife. Even within the earliest of these stages, all sportsmen are participating in conservation because of their participation in hunting. Thankfully, for many the minimal commitment to conservation from the purchase of licenses, tags, and supplies extends much further.

Which stage are you?


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt