All of us had to start somewhere. Some folks I know get into hunting and shooting at a very young age, while others — my mother, for instance — don’t get their start until later in life. Each of us has a rookie season to endure before we learn the nuances it takes to become a pro.

I know of no one who claims to be the perfect hunter, and no matter how long you do it, hunting and shooting will teach the truly humble of heart that there is always more to master, more to learn. Everyone has to make mistakes along the way to learn, adapt or change. And boy have I made my share of them.

My first year I was so gangly that even a light-kicking .300 Savage had me flinching now and again. I spent too much time looking for sign, which isn’t a bad thing to look for but ultimately only tells you where the game used to be, not where it currently is. I walked too fast, made too much noise, usually only seeing deer moving out. After missing four or five bucks, I got very discouraged but eventually did it right, shooting a 2x3 buck at about 50 yards. It was the fall of 1997, and I was 13 years old.

Since then I’ve made many more mistakes. Racking a round noisily into the chamber, or struggling to get the safety disengaged has cost me a couple of animals. Equipment failures, poor planning and oversights have been experienced by every veteran hunter I know.

Hastily taken shots, misjudging the range on long-distance shots and ill-advised shots at running game taught me some stomach-sickening lessons over the years. Once in Idaho, I had been hitting it hard, putting in the miles trying to find a mule deer buck. On my way down a steep mountain I took a spill, tumbling like Chris Farley for some distance before landing in a pathetic heap. After inspecting my poor rifle I concluded that it was OK and went about hunting. The next day a nice symmetrical 4x4 muley stood up out of his bed at 150 yards and posed real pretty for me. After shooting at him five times to no avail he simply turned and trotted off unamused. At the range, my rifle was shooting two feet high and two feet to the left. Cheechako.

Lest this be reduced to some kind of contemptible confessional, I digress. There is a point to my dubious disclosure; it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to give up because it seems too hard. But hunting and shooting, like life itself, is an effort. You’ll get what you give. The triumphs I have experienced have far outweighed the tragedies I’ve endured. The friendships forged and memories made last a lifetime and beyond if properly recorded and shared. The most experienced and effective hunter or huntress out there was once a greenhorn. An awkward, stumbling, confused but driven neophyte. Use these mistakes and failures to make a better informed decision next time. Don’t quit, build. Someday you’ll be glad you did.

What was your rookie season like? Write us at shootingthebreezebme@gmail.com!

Dale Valade is a local country gent with a love for the outdoors, handloading, hunting and shooting.

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