Hunters change through the years, and the factors used to determine “successful hunting” change for each hunter as well. A hunter’s age, role models, and his years of hunting experience all affect his ideas of “success”.

In 1975-1980, a group of over 1,000 hunters in Wisconsin were studied, surveyed, and reported on by professors Robert Jackson and Robert Norton of University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The results of their studies now form a widely-accepted theory of hunter behavior and development. Check out the 5 stages below and see for yourself:

Shooter Stage

At this stage, satisfaction with hunting is closely tied to being able to “get shooting”. Oftentimes, the rookie duck hunter will say he had an excellent day if he got in a lot of shooting. The beginner deer hunter will talk about the number of shooting opportunities he had. Missing game means little to hunters in this phase. A hunter who is just starting out wants to pull the trigger and test the capability of his firearm. Unfortunately, this can sometimes make for a dangerous hunting partner.

Limiting Out Stage

The hunter still talks about the satisfaction that comes from shooting, but now measures success mainly through the killing of game and the number of birds or animals shot. “Limiting out”, or filling a tag, is the absolute measure here. Be careful — don’t let your desire to limit out be stronger than the need for safe behavior at all times.

Trophy Stage

In the trophy stage, satisfaction is described in terms of selectivity of game. A duck hunter might take only greenheads. A deer hunter looks for one special deer. A hunter might travel long distance to find a real trophy animal. Shooting opportunity and skills become less important.

Method Stage

This hunter has all the special equipment. Hunting has become one of the most important things in his life. Satisfaction comes from the method that enables the hunter to take game. Taking game is important, but second to how it is taken. This hunter will study long and hard how best to pick a blind site, lay out decoys, and call in waterfowl. A deer hunter will go one-on-one with a white-tailed deer, studying signs, tracking it and its life habits. Often, the hunter will handicap himself by hunting only with black powder firearms or a bow and arrow. Bagging game, or limiting, still is perceived as necessary part of the hunting process in this stage.

Sportsman Stage

With age and many years of hunting, the hunter begins to “mellow out”. He now finds satisfaction in the total hunting experience. Being in the field, enjoying the company of friends and family, and seeing nature all outweigh the need for taking game.

Categories aside, not all hunters go through all the stages, or go through them in the listed order. It is also possible for hunters who pursue several species of game to be in different stages of hunting with each different species. Some hunters feel that role models of good sportsmen, training, or reading books or magazines helped them pass more quickly through some stages.

What about you — what stage are you in right now? Where would you like to be?