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

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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.

AN­A­LYSE FAIL­URE

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.

AD­DRESS DE­FI­CIEN­CIES

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.

MYR­IAD BEN­E­FITS

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.

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