If you have decided to hunt, you will need a method of take.
You may be asking yourself:
“What type of hunter am I (archer, long-range sniper, etc?)”
“What gun do I use for turkey or elk?”
Don’t you worry now.
We will answer all of your method of take questions right now.
If you’re brand new, check out our article on how to start hunting.
First of all…
You need to know what you want to hunt and where you are hunting.
Most states have very specific laws dictating what a legal method of take is.
These laws can vary from one county or zone to another, and are often specific to the species of animal.
For example, one area may say that big game animals must be hunted with centerfire rifles only (that is pretty broad,) while another state may say that elk can only be hunted with a .26 inch diameter bullet or bigger (that is much more restrictive.)
And some states may say that deer can only be hunted with shotguns.
If you only plan to hunt one certain area or species, you can buy a species-specific weapon.
If you plan to hunt many species, you may want to consider a more versatile method of take.
What are my choices for methods?
There are five common methods: rifle, pistol, shotgun, muzzleloader, and archery.
Now let us discuss each method individually.
Rifles shoot a single projectile, which has to be carefully aimed and is usually capable of traveling great distances with good accuracy and power.
Centerfire rifles are most common for big game, while rimfire rifles are common for small game.
Depending on the rifle you get, it could be an effective killer at over 1,000 yards (although the rifle can do this, most shooters do not have the skill to shoot that far,) or it may not be accurate beyond 100 yards.
There are a lot of variables in the type and caliber of each rifle.
If you are hunting big game animals in open terrain (where you will likely be able to see over 200 yards,) a rifle might be right for you.
If you are in the market for a new rifle, consider its versatility.
A small-caliber rifle might be perfect for taking blacktail deer and pronghorn, but would be underpowered for elk or bear.
If you are buying a new rifle, buy the smallest caliber rifle that can take the biggest animal you plan to hunt.
If you’ve decided that a rifle is the right weapon for you, check out our article on the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship.
The pistol, like the rifle, also shoots a single projectile.
Hunting with a pistol is a niche sport.
When we say pistol, we do not mean your home defense 9mm.
That would be irresponsible (under-power and ineffective.)
Pistol hunters either use a large caliber revolver (often equipped with a scope) or rifle caliber pistol with 15” barrel and scope.
Most pistol hunters are hunting in thick terrain where they will likely only have close-range shots.
Learning how to shoot a pistol well takes more skill than learning to shoot a rifle well.
And the pistol is usually inferior to the rifle.
Hunting with a pistol is like driving a three-wheel motorcycle: you have all of the dangers of a motorcycle without any of the advantages of a motorcycle.
But if that is your thing, then master it.
The shotgun offers the most versatility of all methods… although it does have its own disadvantages.
The shotgun can shoot multiple projectiles to include BB’s of all different sizes (in a shotgun, we call the different size BB’s a “shot.”)
These can be used to take small birds, small game, and waterfowl, to larger lead balls (buckshot) which can be used for big game.
A shotgun can also shoot a single projectile (called a slug) that could take an elephant and be accurate at moderate ranges (100-300 yards.)
When hunting with a shotgun, you can choose the most appropriate shot size for what animal you are hunting by simply changing ammunition.
One day, you are shooting quail with a #8 shot.
The next day, you can load some slugs for deer.
The disadvantages of a shotgun is that they are usually less accurate and limited in range.
Because of their limited range, some states only allow hunting big game with a shotgun.
In those states, it is not uncommon for hunters to have a special rifled barrel with a scope capable of 300-yard shots.
If you plan to hunt birds, a shotgun is usually required.
If you are looking for an all-purpose method of take, consider getting a shotgun with two barrels (one smooth bore for shooting shot, and the other rifled for big game.)
Muzzleloader rifles and shotguns are still a thing.
Muzzleloader rifles have come a long way since the days of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.
Today’s modern “in-line” muzzleloaders are relatively accurate and can be an effective method of take out to 300 yards.
These new muzzleloaders often have scopes, they use reliable shotgun primers, can be weather tight, and shoot sabot (that’s a French word for shoe) bullets with pre-measured powder charges.
A few advantages of muzzleloaders is that, legally, they do not count as a firearm.
This makes them legal in any state, they have few travel restrictions and are relatively inexpensive.
Disadvantages are that you have one shot and are limited to about 300 yards (which is considered a long-range shot for a muzzleloader.)
Muzzleloaders require a little more time to load and clean, but can be very effective to those who are new to the game and looking for a new method of take.
Some states have special seasons for muzzleloader-only hunts, but those states may have different restrictions on the type of muzzleloader that can be used in the muzzleloader only season.
For example: in Idaho, anyone can hunt with a modern muzzleloader during the general season (sometimes called rifle season,) but to hunt in the muzzleloader-only season, your muzzleloader has to be loaded with a patch and ball with no optics.
If it is something you are considering, check your laws.
Archery is still alive and well around the world, and people still hunt with traditional bows (traditional archery bows are longbows or recurve bows.)
Archery requires a great deal of practice to attain proficiency, but with modern compound bows, archery can be an effective method of take for anything from small game to birds and big game.
Most states have special tags and/or seasons for archery hunters, which gives archery hunters more opportunities to hunt.
Some states consider crossbows archery, while others do not.
If a state does not consider crossbows archery, you can still hunt with it, but you have to hunt during the general season (when the rifle hunters are out.)
Archery requires a lot more practice to maintain proficiency, but most people find it very rewarding.
If archery is something you are considering, start by consulting the experts at your local archery shop, and plan on regular practice for at least six months prior to hunting.
Many of us who grew up hunting were handed down grandpa’s old gun and we learned how to hunt on that.
Many of those old guns are still just as good, if not better than most of the guns on the shelf at the local sporting good stores today.
Don’t count out that old gun just because it’s old. It may be perfect for your application.
Now that you have a basic knowledge of the methods, it is on you to decide what method works best for you.
If you plan to primarily be a bird hunter, you are most certainly going to want a shotgun.
If you are hunting big game, a rifle or bow is usually the preferred method.
Plus, there is nothing wrong with having multiple methods.
I, for example, hunt upland game birds and waterfowl with a shotgun, deer and pronghorn with a rifle, and elk with a bow.
Whatever your method, master it.
It’s all on you now.