Rifle? Check. Forest? Check. Game? That depends on which hunting strategy you choose, right?
Not so fast. The most important part of rifle hunting strategy happens long before you put on your orange vest. It's called preparation. It means practice -- and lots of it if you're going to make an ethical kill.
Let's take a look at what constitutes an ethical kill in rifle hunting:
- The animal dies quickly.
- The animal suffers as little pain as possible.
- If you wound the animal and it flees, you track it and put it out of its pain as quickly as possible.
- The kill is for a purpose. (Debate continues on whether trophy hunting is an ethical purpose. But whether you hunt for trophies, food or population control, you're not in the business of the wanton destruction of wildlife.)
- The kill is not the result of an unsportsmanlike or illegal practice such as poaching or party hunting. Additionally, some places, such as the United Kingdom, use the rule of "Fair play to the hunted," which forbids shooting a sitting duck or hiding out at a water hole.
At the most basic level, ethical hunting demands precise shooting. This is less a question of equipment than of practice. Of course your rifle should be in good working order, and you should invest in the equipment that helps you shoot well. But the sleekest, fanciest new rifle won't help you fell a deer on the first try if you haven't put in time at the shooting range. You should be thoroughly familiar with the kill zone of your game of choice -- the relatively small area that contains the heart and lungs -- and you should be able to hit it on the first try.
Several hunting experts, such as Chuck Hawks, argue that you're better off with one familiar rifle that you've used so much it feels "like an extension of your arm." A familiar rifle is far less likely to surprise you because you know its typical bullet trajectory, its kick and how to place shots. One expert, Glenn Harmaning, suggests that a .25-06 Remington with a 24-inch (61 cm) barrel is adequate for almost any North American game.
Even if you're only using the one rifle, you have some choice in bullets. The rule of thumb is to suit the bullet to the game, of course. Especially for large or potentially dangerous game, Hawks suggests starting at the maximum recommended caliber, since "there's no such thing as too dead." Also think about why you're hunting. If you're looking for trophies or pelts, use a pelt-saving bullet -- Tom Armstrong recommends a Barnes solid 90 grain -- to make sure your technique isn't at cross-purposes with your goals.
With enough preparation and a sportsmanlike approach, you can enjoy a safe, fulfilling and ethical hunt.