A comprehensive big-game hunting guide, perfect for hunters ranging from first-time novices to seasoned experts, with more than 400 full-color photographs, including work by renowned outdoor photographer John Hafner
Steven Rinella was raised in a hunting family and has been pursuing wild game his entire life. In this first-ever complete guide to hunting—from hunting an animal to butchering and cooking it—the host of the popular hunting show
MeatEater shares his own expertise with us, and imparts strategies and tactics from many of the most experienced hunters in the United States as well.
This invaluable book includes
• recommendations on what equipment you will need—and what you can do without—from clothing to cutlery to camping gear to weapons
• basic and advanced hunting strategies, including spot-and-stalk hunting, ambush hunting, still hunting, drive hunting, and backpack hunting
• how to effectively use decoys and calling for big game
• how to find hunting locations, on both public and private land, and how to locate areas that other hunters aren’t using
• how and when to scout hunting locations for maximum effectiveness
• basic information on procuring hunting tags, including limited-entry “draw” tags
• a species-by-species description of fourteen big-game animals, from their mating rituals and preferred habitats to the best hunting techniques—both firearm and archery—for each species
• how to plan and pack for backcountry hunts
• instructions on how to break down any big-game animal and transport it from your hunting site
• how to butcher your own big-game animals and select the proper cuts for sausages, roasts, and steaks, and how to utilize underappreciated cuts such as ribs and shanks
• cooking techniques and recipes, for both outdoor and indoor preparation of wild game
In addition to being an expert chef known for working with wild game,
Steven Rinella is an outdoorsman, writer, and television and podcast personality with an exceptional ability to communicate the hunting lifestyle to a wide variety of audiences. The host of the television show and podcast
MeatEater, he is also the author of two volumes of
The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game;
Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter;
American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon; and
The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine. His writing has appeared in many publications, including
Outside, Field & Stream, The New Yorker, Glamour, The New York Times, Men’s Journal, Salon, O: The Oprah Magazine, Bowhunter, and the anthologies
Best American Travel Writing and
Best Food Writing.
Gear is like booze. As you get older, you realize that quality is more important than quantity. I’d rather own one reliable, straight-shooting rifle than an arsenal of cheaply built guns. But a painful fact about high-quality hunting gear is that it tends to come at a high price. When you’re considering your gear budget, it’s important to step back and take a wide-angle look at your spending habits. I was once hunting elk in Montana when a guy pulled up to a trailhead in a shiny new $40,000 pickup in order to study a distant mountainside through a pair of $20 binoculars that would do little more than impair his natural vision. Of course, there’s no way of knowing if that guy actually owned that truck, but you get my point: a serious hunter would have sacrificed the status car in order to afford a set of hard-core binoculars that could tear the mountainside to shreds.
That said, it’s certainly true that gear does not make the man (or woman). If you don’t have the discipline and drive to become a good hunter, no amount of high-dollar equipment is going to make up for that. But my theory on gear is that the hunter should be the weakest link on a hunt. I expect my gear to outperform me, so I have only myself to blame for my hunting failures. If I bail on a hunt early, it better be because I couldn’t hack it, not because the sole of my boot peeled off or my rifle scope started making rattling noises after getting dinged on a rock.
When it comes to selecting hunting gear, I’ve found that personal recommendations from experienced hunters are far more valuable than any insights you might glean from reading descriptions about a product in catalogs. When a hunter tells me that he’s been using a piece of gear for three seasons and has logged dozens of days in the field with it, I start to listen. In fact, most of the gear that you’ll encounter in the following pages came to my attention in just that way: as recommendations from folks I trust. I then put the items through my own series of tests. The opinions that you’ll be reading in this section come from decades of serious hunting, years that have been punctuated with many moments of great triumph—and many more moments of misery and frustration.
Don’t be intimidated by anyone’s experience, including mine. There have been and still are a few good writers with vast experience in the firearms field. There are also plenty of plain old fools writing about guns and shooting and plenty of younger fools, as well. Gun writers, especially those who have to produce a regular column, love controversy. That column becomes a beast that must be fed every month, so the columnist is always hungry for something to write about and controversial ideas generate reader interest and response. Perhaps it is understandable if they sometimes go overboard. Just don’t go overboard with them.
Hunters take the subject of rifles so seriously that arguments about calibers can literally end friendships. People are willing to go to blows in defense of their favorite gun’s reputation, and I suppose it’s for good reason. Your rifle is one of your most important pieces of big game hunting gear. If you lack faith in your rifle’s ability to shoot straight and true, it becomes hard to perform all the necessary work that goes into a successful hunt. While there are many styles of rifles on the market, including a rapidly increasing array of AR-format weapons, the tried-and-true bolt-action rifle is still the standard go-to weapon for serious big game hunters. Properly tuned and outfitted, and with a disciplined and well-practiced shooter, a high-caliber bolt-action rifle topped with a variable-power scope can meet 95 percent of the big game hunting challenges that this continent has to offer. For maximum versatility and ease of finding ammunition, stick to common, time-proven big game calibers such as .270, 7 mm Rem Mag, .30-06, .308 Winchester, and .300 Win Mag (plus the short magnum versions of these same calibers). These might seem a tad heavy for a North Carolina whitetail deer hunter, and some might be a tad light for an Alaska hunter who’s itching to tangle with a coastal brown bear. But they are all superb guns for a generalist hunter who wants to be ready for anything without having to burn up his paychecks on an arsenal of weapons. After all, the North Carolina hunter might eventually run into one of that state’s 500-pound black bears, and the Alaska hunter might get tired of trimming around fist-sized exit holes blown through his game meat by a mule-kicking elephant gun.
Cartridge nomenclature is some very tricky business and manages to baffle the majority of firearm owners. The American system is particularly vexing, though the majority of American cartridges do provide the caliber (the diameter of the rifle bore) first in the name. For example, a .30-06 is a .30-caliber round, meaning that the bore diameter is 0.3 inch. The remainder of a cartridge’s name isn’t so formulaic. In the case of the .30-06, for example, the name comes from the fact that it’s a .30-caliber round that was first designed in 1906. The .300 Savage is another .30-caliber round, though “Savage” comes from the name of a rifle manufacturer. Adding to the confusion is the fact that so-called .30-caliber rounds actually measure 0.308 inch. Thus, a cartridge called the .308 Winchester is in fact the same caliber as a .30-06; like the .300 Savage, it carries the name of a rifle manufacturer.
Things are a little clearer with cartridges that were developed in the days of black powder, as the name carries the caliber and the original grain weight of the charge. A designation such as .45-70 would have indicated a .45-caliber bullet with a 70-grain charge of black powder. Sometimes you’ll see an additional number on the end. For instance, a .45-70-405 would be a .45-caliber bullet weighing 405 grains and charged by 70 grains of black powder.
The European stuff is simple, which should be expected from a continent that embraces the metric system. A 7.62×39 is a 7.62 mm bullet with a case length of 39 mm. Across a wide variety of European cartridges, there is little or no variation in their system.
And then there are the “wildcat” cartridges, which find their genesis as experimental cartridges designed by tinkerers and ammunition manufacturers who blended available cartridges to make Franken-ammo. For instance, the 7 mm-08 comes from loading a 7 mm bullet into a .308 Winchester casing in a process known as “necking down” (reducing the neck of the case to accommodate a smaller bullet). Some of these wildcat experiments were successful in filling gaps between standard cartridges and are now produced by major ammunition companies.
CHOOSING A RIFLE SCOPE
The one thing to remember when considering the price and quality of a rifle scope (yes, there is a direct correlation) is this: better scopes buy you time. That is, a high-quality scope will function better in low light conditions than a cheaply built scope, allowing you to shoot effectively earlier in the morning and later in the evening. Staring through scopes while you’re inside your favorite big-box sporting goods store will rarely show you the differences that you’re paying for.
For a great do-it-all rifle scope, get a good-quality 3–9×40 mm scope with adjustable parallax from a reputable manufacturer such as Leupold, Nikon, or Vortex. Plan on paying at least $350. Never buy a scope that doesn’t carry a warranty. There are many alternatives to the 3–9×40. For close-range shooting, say out to 200 yards, a 2–8×30 mm is all the scope you need. The smaller magnification allows for a huge field of view, making getting on target a breeze. When hunting in the West or anywhere else that requires longer-range shooting, a scope with a 50 mm objective and a top end magnification of 16× or even 24× will help pull those critters in close for exact bullet placement. The 50 mm objective lens also draws in more light, buying you time during low light conditions.
Common Reticle Types
What the Hell Is Parallax?
Imagine an old-fashioned speedometer in a car, where the needle sits in front of a fixed circular face printed with numbers. Now picture that speedometer when viewed from the passenger’s seat. From there, it’s hard to get an accurate reading on the needle’s position. While this isn’t a perfect analogy, it helps explain a vexing problem that many people have with rifle scopes. Scopes with a fixed focus (that is, any scope without an adjustable objective or an adjustable parallax knob) are prefocused at the factory. Typically, fixed-focus scopes meant for center-fire cartridges are focused at 100 yards; fixed-focus scopes meant for air rifles or rim-fire cartridges are focused at 50 yards. This doesn’t mean that these scopes are out of focus when looking at objects at other distances—your eye does the work of correcting the focus. It could mean, however, that you’re looking at the crosshairs from the passenger seat. In other words, it might seem that the crosshairs drift around on the target with slight movements of your head. To correct this, make sure that your fixed-focus scope roughly corresponds with the distances that you’re most likely to be shooting at. With a .22, that’s probably going to be a 50-yard focus, and with center-fires, 100 yards. But if you’re going to get serious about shooting accurately at longer ranges, you’ll want a scope with parallax adjustment.