SAFETY PRECAUTIONS AND PREPARATION WHEN HUNTING DANGEROUS GAME

This is an article about several different types of hunting scenarios, but mostly it applies to scenarios where you will be around dangerous game while hunting or hunting safari game that are considered dangerous game. There are components of each hunt type mixed into the article. The overall goal here is to help you understand the facets of hunter safety with regard to the animals themselves and the surrounding environment while on dangerous game hunts or in dangerous territory.

Whether you are hunting for elk or moose in the wild Alaskan Wilderness where bear encounters are somewhat commonplace, or you are on a once-in-a-lifetime hunt for hippo or cape buffalo in South Africa, the same rules apply for basic hunting safety with regard to being in close proximity to dangerous animals.

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The overall baseline of safety is to be focused on the task at hand, and understanding that environmental changes (weather, etc.) are important indicators of heightened danger, and that you must be aware of your surroundings are almost forgone conclusions. But these ideas are perhaps not always seen as important, as the fun of being on such an exhilarating hunt can often derail focus. It is crucial that when you have a realistic chance of encountering a deadly animal, be it a mountain lion while hunting crag-loving sheep, or a bear while stalking large game in the northwest states, you must be aware of what is happening and prepared to take a shot to preserve your life if needed.

It’s common to find stories of hunters coming face to face with a charging bear, having never had contact with humans in the deep, untouched wilderness of the Kodiak, or even in remote areas of large preserves in the Pacific Northwest. Southern hunters going after smaller game also come face to face in the mangrove swamps of Florida with massive crocodiles that can turn violent quickly with the uninitiated. How will you handle yourself if you are not aware of the situation around you?

Here are some tips to help you avoid concerns when hunting in dangerous game territory:

  • Never hunt alone

  • Take enough firepower to get you out of trouble in case of a dangerous game encounter

  • Take a backup gun or a sidearm for last-ditch efforts

  • Understand how to communicate with peers on the hunt

  • Strongly consider taking a local guide with experience in the area

  • Don’t try to do too much, or exert yourself to a point where you won’t be fully functional

  • Save the drinking for after the outing

  • Understand the changes in weather conditions, which might make it interesting for the dangerous game to come out and play (Salmon runs, changes in water or food supplies for predators, etc.)

  • Know the local laws regarding your hunt

  • Have a plan for the worst-case scenario

Staying focused and understanding when it is too late to make an impact on a charging animal or in an unusual situation will help you to avoid having to take a shot and leaving an area instead, to preserve the hunting environment properly. This is not a substitute in a dangerous situation to not take a shot. If you are in danger, do what is necessary to preserve your ability to get out alive. The most immediate previous statement is also not an excuse for disregarding smart planning and adhering to best practices for a given area.

For safaris or “Big 5” type hunts the rules get even more specific. There is however, also an underlying rule of thumb when stalking dangerous game in Africa: Make sure you are able to take responsible, lethal shots. Most hunts like this are guided and adhere to very specific engagement rules. Many require oversight shooters to ensure the animal can be dispatched properly in a timely manner. Your job is to understand how to put down the animal efficiently and make responsible shots with an aim to do just that. You will do no favors by misplacing a shot or being unable to stop the animal with your single shot. You likely will not get a second chance on target for any number of a hundred reasons – so make your first shot count.

Don’t bring just the minimum caliber. Prepare well for the setting and spend the money and time to ensure you have adequate gear and tools to perform as needed.

Some quick reminders about safari animals and the “Big 5”:

  • Know exactly what is expected of you on a hunt that is guided

  • Have some extensive practice under your belt – muscle memory and safety training are key here as adrenaline and excitement can take over in big situations

  • Know the vital zones for the game being hunted – do not hesitate to ask your guide again before you leave for the hunt. Hides and size differences can make standard organ placement a bad indicator for certain animals.

  • Do not be afraid to take a second or third or more shots – even if you are expecting your guide to assist, be ready to help

  • Take your time – this is a once in a lifetime shot in many cases, so do not rush the shot, but be decisive and ready to make it happen so you don’t miss your opportunity

  • Maintain adequate distance on the hunt from the target

  • NEVER take a shot you are unsure of

Regarding North American venues, when in bear country, ditch the 10mm and carry the .45-70 (or similar), regardless of what you believe to be true about stopping-power minimums. Taking nothing away from the 10mm, the .45-70 is capable of taking down anything that North American game can offer. The 10mm is unproven relative to the .45-70. It’s an exercise in reality to bring enough gun.

Some other basic safety tips for hunts of any type:

  • Give your game enough time to bleed out if they have taken off after a hit on target – wounded animals can be exceptionally dangerous – distance should be maintained

  • Absolutely be ready to fire on a downed animal as you approach until you are sure the game is dead – take appropriate safety precautions for such a situation

  • Some animals you don’t think are dangerous, are. Be ready to take a secondary shot if needed before the animal starts charging you

  • Beware of your environment, especially in the country where predators exist and where fresh kills might have interested them in their own stalking opportunities

  • Be efficient with cleaning/harvesting and packing out animals to avoid incidents after the fact

Hunting in dangerous territory or specifically hunting dangerous game is inherently dangerous. Make no mistake about the importance of preparation and know-how. You should be well versed in the theory of the area from a geographical and terrain perspective. You should be well versed in the animal you are stalking and any natural predators that accompany the area. More than anything, you should be focused on what is happening around you and be situationally aware, sober, and ready to take a shot at any given time. With good coordination and solid hunting companions, come great hunt results.

As a final piece of food for thought: even though it adds considerable expense, consider utilizing local guides to help make your hunt a success. After all, your continued enjoyment in hunting comes down to successful hunts, and a guide can make all the difference. This is especially true for an out-of-towner on a strange piece of land up against an animal they are unfamiliar with.  

-Benjamin Wortham