PAGING ALL HUNTERS! Philip Siddell draws on his background in coaching and training to explain the critical role a hunting journal plays in a hunter’s development
When I first decided that I wanted to get into airgun hunting, I didn’t know anyone else who did it. I had done some target shooting with airguns and understood the basics, and I knew enough to understand that my underpowered second-hand, unbranded air rifle that I’d picked up for £35 at a car boot sale wasn’t suitable for the taking of live quarry. So, I went down to the local gun shop and bought myself a brand-new, budget-line break-barrel in .22 and for some reason that I’m still not completely clear on, a fixed power, fixed parallax rimfire ‘scope. The shopkeeper mounted the ‘scope to the rifle and I think probably zeroed it for me as well; I certainly didn’t know how to set up a sight. Everything about that combo was cheap and difficult to use. I remember the trigger being particularly onerous to let off. I owned that set up for about three months before I was back in the gun shop, ready to part with more of my hard-earned. This was how it went for me in the early years, I learned through my mistakes; it was painful and expensive!
KEEP A JOURNAL
When I came home from that second trip to the gun shop, complete with a second-hand Air Arms TX200 Hunter Carbine and Nikko Stirling scope, I had what I needed in order to start making some real progress. The Internet was still really only in its infancy and wasn’t populated with the wealth of information (and disinformation) that it is today, so I couldn’t turn to professor Google for all my answers. I just had to get out there and have a go.
My saving grace was paper-based; I bought a copy of John Darling’s Air Rifle Hunting and a blank A5-sized journal and the book pointed me in the right direction, but it was the journal that helped me to make continued progress. I didn’t have a mentor, someone who could spot my mistakes and help me correct them, so I needed to do it for myself. This is where the journal came in. After each trip out hunting, I’d scribble down a few details; where I’d been, what tactics I’d tried and how many hits and misses I’d had. I can’t recall exactly what prompted me to start keeping that journal, but I do remember that it wasn’t until I was much older that I realised the power it had to shape me as a hunter.
I understand now, having worked both as a teacher and a coach, that by writing up my
“I’ve observed fellow arigunners miss a shot and immediately look at their rifle accusingly”
exploits in a journal I was giving myself time to investigate and pick over my excursions; to identify errors and to formulate solutions that would help me to improve. I was simply working through a feedback cycle, a technique used across the board in education and training. It’s all too easy simply to breeze past bad shots and missed opportunities, our only response being frustration, and the most obvious example of this can be witnessed at the rifle range. Many’s the time I’ve observed fellow airgunners miss a shot and immediately look at their rifle accusingly, as if the gun is at fault.
Any sports coach worth their salt will tell you that pausing to analyse what happened after a failure is critical, whereas rushing on to load and fire the next shot is actually much more likely to embed bad habits rather than remedy them. As hunters, if we do not take the time to ruminate on what we might have done better we are destined to stagnate in our abilities.
You might be forgiven for assuming that keeping a hunting journal comes naturally to me, as a writer. It does not. Writing up my forays is a discipline I’ve had to learn, and whilst it takes time, it is no more time consuming than uploading images and text to a social media platform, which the majority of us already do. However, I would argue that the time given over to Facebook or Instagram posts might be better spent committing your thoughts to paper. Social media is outward facing, whereas a journal is inward facing. When we construct a social media post, quite naturally we consider the gaze of the outside world. This consideration encourages us to elevate our successes and to conceal our failures. In my opinion, and experience, too, what this ultimately embeds in our subconscious is a tendency to turn away from the things we could have done better and therefore to be less inclined to address deficiencies.
It might also make us less inclined to address avoidable mistakes. I’m thinking here of those bad shots that happen to us all from time to time, when things haven’t gone as we’d expected and we fall short of the gold standard of a clean kill. It is right not to post about these moments on social media platforms because it’s a difficult subject that is easily taken out of context. However, any incident in which an animal is wounded and lost should be reviewed in an effort to avoid similar occurrences in future. The privacy of the hunter’s journal is the right place for this evaluation to take place.
For me, hunting is addictive because no two days in the field are the same. It’s a process of constant evolution and I hope to be a better hunter next year than I have been thus far in 2020. The improvement I hope for is in both skill and attitude. Yes, I want to be stealthier, more accurate and, of course, more successful, but I want to be more ethical, too. I would like to be the kind of hunter that people who are sceptical about field sports might look at and then begin to respect this way of life.
My own hunting journal is the place I explore these themes and more, uninhibited by the ‘optics’ of social media. In short, my hunting journal is the place where I take the time to consider what kind of hunter I want to be.
So, I commend to you the practice of keeping a hunting journal; if you have time to update your social media, you have time to scribble some words in a notebook. It’s the mentor in your pocket and one I’m sure you will find brings myriad benefits. I
When we post images from the field to social media platforms we tend to be selective.
Hunting comes more naturally to me than the discipline of keeping a journal.
Hunting is an intense activity – writing in a journal can help to sort through the highs and lows.