Writing Tips

Seven Tips for Writing about Hunting

Three Things Writers Tend to Get Wrong: Forests, Fainting, and Hunting

I remember watching Hunger Games for the first time and getting goose bumps as Katniss stalked the deer. Then she suddenly she was not patient enough to wait for it to move out from behind a tree (because apparently, she was not good enough with her bow to take a head shot?) so—not only did she throw a rock at it—but she launched the rock using her bow. And what was that with her crumpling a leaf into the wind?

Writers rarely write a proper hunting scene—honestly, I have never read a book which got it right, though perhaps I am not reading the right books (if you have read a book with a good hunting scene, please comment below, because I would definitely want to read it!) Anyways, I have been hunting for the past three years and just killed my first elk this October (2014). So I know a little bit about hunting large game (don’t ask me about birds because I won’t have an answer.)

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So here are seven things writers don’t know about hunting.

  1. Hunting with a Bow: Though I have never hunted with a bow, my neighbor is very successful and has taught me a little bit. There is this terrible thing called “string jump” where deer hear the bow string when the hunter releases the arrow, and the deer jump instinctively making the arrow miss them completely. It sounds like fiction, but it is completely real. To combat this, hunting bows have these two things which look like balls of feathers on their bow strings (I am sorry I don’t know what these are called; I riffle hunt—not bow hunt.) I’m sure if you want more information you can look this up.
  2. Frightening Animals: One of the more experienced hunters in my group taught me this wonderful rule about animals: one warning and they freeze, a second warning and they are gone. Now a “warning” can be them seeing you (which will probably only happen if you are moving; deer and elk are color blind,) smelling you (watch the direction the wind is blowing,) or hearing you move (fabric rubbing against anything, a twig snapping, a candy wrapper unfolding.) Once they get a first warning, they won’t move until they are sure you are gone. After the second warning, they don’t just walk away—they flee at high speed, and unless you are an expert sniper, you won’t get a shot off. One more note: sometimes only one warning will scare away the animal like throwing a rock at a deer, snapping a larger branch, waving your arms, etc.
  3. Finding Animals: Now, of course, this will vary for the type of animal and how you are hunting, but if your character is hunting big game and just going into the forest for a day, then here are some tips. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the first sign of an animal coming toward your character will not be them seeing it. In fact, in my experience, I’ve always smelled the elk before I saw them (phew! do they smell bad!). But it could also be a sound because, contrary to popular belief, animals are noisy! You can hear them thudding against the ground, breaking twigs, and brushing against trees. Also I’ve found it is best to find a good spot and just wait for an animal to come by instead of romping all over the forest. As mentioned in my previous post, forests are loud, so it is most likely that you would scare off animals before they came close enough for you to shoot (though this is not always the case).
  4. Long Range Shots: It is pretty rare to find a longer (100 yd +) shot at an animal while you are hunting in a forest. Now if you are hunting antelope on the plains, then you will most likely have a to take longer shot. Just be aware of the area where your characters are hunting. If it is a forest, then most shots will be only 50 yds or shorter because of the trees which limit how far you can see.
  5. Field Dressing: If your character has killed a big game animal, then they will want to field dress it before they carry it out (I mean, who wants 100 pounds of gut lying around in their backyard?) Now, a lot of people think there is a ton of blood which it squirting everywhere when an animal is being field dressed. While there is some, typically there is not much blood (unless the shot hit the heart or a major artery.) It is mostly gray, yellowish organs which tumble out. Also your character will need to skin the animal which is a lot different than many people imagine. I won’t go into detail, but if you want to write a scene like this, you should really research it (or you can ask me directly for some help on the Contact Me page).
  6. Shooting the Animal: So different shots affect the animal in different ways, and some shots are more difficult to take than others. So here is a little chart below to guide your writing once your character shot the animal (you can also shoot the animal from behind or in the head, but I am not covering that below):
Where? What organs were hit? How quickly does the animal die? How does this affect field dressing?
Neck (this is where I hit my first elk) You probably hit some major arteries or veins (I hit the jugular vein) It will drop within seconds This makes for wonderful field dressing! Some of the neck meat is ruined, but most people don’t collect that since it is tough. There might be some blood depending on where the bullet went after it passed through the neck.
(Front on) Chest Most likely the lungs, but there is a chance you hit the heart A few minutes tops before the animal dies. The animal will bolt, but then quickly lie down to die. If the heart was hit, then the field dressing will be really bloody. Otherwise, it should be pretty good.
(Side shot) Just behind the front shoulder. Lungs A few minutes tops. The animal will bolt, but then quickly lie down to die. Field dressing should be pretty good. Some rib meat (brisket) will be ruined, but most people don’t take that.
(Side shot) front shoulder Lung and perhaps heart A few minutes tops. The animal will bolt, but then quickly lie down to die. You will probably lose the meat from the entire front quarter which you shot through, but field dressing should not be very bad.
(Side shot) Anywhere on the body more than a few inches behind the front shoulder Congratulations. Your character got the gut (ya know, the intestines and stomach and such?) It could be anywhere from an hour to several days before the animal dies. Your character will have a long chase ahead of you. This will be nasty. You will have all that liquid from the stomach or the feces from the intestines to deal with. The intestines would probably ruin some meat, and it would be completely repulsive. (Unfortunately, I have experienced helping someone with an animal shot like this…)

Finding your (dead) animal: WAIT BEFORE YOU GO CHASING AFTER IT! This is a major issue. Your characters should wait before they go chasing after their animal. If they don’t, then the animal will know it is being chased and will keep running. If they wait, then the animal will lie down and die close by. Once the character is ready to go after their animal, they should first look for blood where they shot it. They may have to look hard, but there will always be blood if your character hit the animal. If they can’t find any blood, then they need to start looking for another animal to hunt.

I like to list exceptions, but unless you character is a magical, animal enchanting fairy who lures animals to their death or can magically control blood, then you probably shouldn’t break these rules. Of course, you don’t have to write in a field dressing scene in your novels and can just skip over these details, but hopefully, this information helped you if you do want to write a hunting scene.

Did I miss anything or do you have questions about the tips? Please feel free to comment below with either your favorite hunting scene from a movie/book or one that made you wince!

God bless,

Gabrielle

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19 thoughts on “Seven Tips for Writing about Hunting”

  1. Thanks for writing this really helpful section– it’s informative and also practical, especially since you yourself hunt.
    I think the balls of feathers on bow strings are called dampeners.
    I don’t know if you have archers in your novels or not, but you may want to research something called ‘The Archer’s Paradox’, which is a really neat problem archers run into when firing a bow.
    And didn’t it strike you as odd how Katniss was able to leave her bow in the forest all the time? I know it was protected by a sleeve of sorts, but I’d think the bow would have lost tension/warped with the changes in humidity and temperature.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad it was helpful!
      Thank you; I will add that to post.
      I just watched the video that Zane posted, and it was really interesting. I have never thought about that before, and I think it makes it all the more impressive when you think about the accuracy of the Native Americans and other ancient peoples when they had no idea about the physics behind it! Thanks for bringing that up!

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      1. This is a fantastic article! Great points! I’m an archer that shoots traditional (solid piece) instinctive (meaning no sights or balance weights, etc.) recurve. My father and I bow hunt and rifle hunt.

        The balls of feathers are actually typically either beaver or bear hair, and are called string dampeners or string silencers. You can also now find them in many different man-made materials.

        I wanted to add that when you are bow hunting, another good killing shot is at an angle from right behind the shoulder nearest you. If you hit it right you will go through both lungs and possibly the heart (depending upon vertical location of the shot), and wedge into the shoulder bone of the opposite shoulder. At that point, once the animal starts running away, they will shatter the arrow shaft, working the splinters through the lung tissue and hastening their death. (Like you mention in your chart, some of the rib meat will be ruined.) This is why Cedar shaft arrows (or arrow shafts of another similar wood) are commonly referenced in historical sources. Wooden arrow shafts are not, however, the best choice for target practice because you will have to constantly check and/or correct their straightness. I use carbon fiber arrows for this reason (they’re more resilient than wooden shafts, plus they’re still pretty cost effective). So, if you have an archer as a character, don’t have them constantly reusing arrows – unless you want to lace the arrows with magic or something. Just something to remember.

        And great point, B. Tyler Lowe! I do remember that she had a weatherproof wrap for the bows, but they most likely would have warped as old as they were (like you said, humidity and temperature fluctuations), and the fact that they were self-made (meaning they probably didn’t have any sealant to put on the bow to help preserve the wood). I’m glad I’m not the only one who cringed at the hunting scene from the Hunger Games. Another thing to point out (and I’ve seen it done in countless movies) is having the bows creak when drawn. If your bow creaks, don’t use it! It means that something’s wrong with the bow itself, and you most definitely shouldn’t be shooting it (unless you want to hurt yourself).

        (And love the video. Great resource! 🙂

        Again, fantastic article and it’s so nice to meet another Christian teen writer! Keep up the great work! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks so much for adding your expertise on bow hunting, Nicky! I learned a lot by reading your comment about archery– I will have to go back and reread it when I write more with my archer character.
        I thought I had mentioned the behind-the-shoulder shot, but I guessed I missed it. Thank you for bringing it up. I had never thought about how arrows would shatter inside the animal if they hit like that (being a riffle hunter), but that is a really good point.
        I am glad you enjoyed the article, and it is great to meet you, too! Good luck with your writing!
        God bless,
        Gabrielle

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  2. I actually just found out about The Archer’s Paradox in this video, where he explains it very well. This guy has a bunch of videos like this about physics-y stuff, and I would really recommend looking at his channel.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi! I just want to say that I love the fact that there is another teen Christian writer to meet.

    I have never gone hunting, but I may have a scene later on about it. So thank you! I also saw your other two posts like this, fainting and forests. Those will help much more. And if the character is in the canopy with their heads poking up (and the branches being very strong) then it would be able to see the sun set.

    Nice to meet you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is nice to meet you, too! That is one of my favorite things since I have started this blog! I love meeting other Christian teen writers! So what do you like to write? Are you working on anything right now?
      Good luck with your hunting scene. Personally, I find them fun to write, so I hope you do, too 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, I’ve been following your blog for a little while now, but I’m catching up on all the past blog posts I missed. I just wanted to say how much I appreciated this post! I’m a fellow hunter (shotgun, not bow) and it bugs me too when writers get it so wrong. Like the whole “Let’s just march into the woods, find a deer within two minutes, shoot, and get out of here.”

    Forests are surprisingly loud! My friends look at me strangely when I tell them that you can hear snow falling when you’re hunting, but it’s totally true. All the deer I’ve seen I’ve heard before I saw them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Tricia! It is great to hear from you again, and I am glad that you liked the post. That is so cool that you hunt, too! Ugh, that bothers me so much. My first two years hunting elk, I only saw one elk in total, and it was a bull (and I had a cow tag.)
      It is really crazy how loud forests can be, and how loud animals can be. All of the elk and deer that I have seen, I either smelled or heard them first, too.

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  5. Try C. J. Box’s great ‘Joe Pickett’ series. It’s a Crime Fiction series whose main character, Joe, is a game warden in the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming. There’re many hunting references and Box seems to know what he’s writing about; the sounds and smells of elk, for example, but it would be good to know what you think. There’s always artisitic licence to be taken into account – these are works of fiction, not ‘how-to’ guides – but I think this series may be less frustrating for you than those you’ve come across so far. Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I will; that sounds like a book that I would enjoy. Good point about artistic licence, but I find that “mistakes” are often the result of the author’s ignorance (not artistic licence) and pull readers out of the writing. So I make these posts for writers who want to be as accurate than possible.

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  6. I was reading this article after a Google, thinking it seemed familiar. Then I realised I’d already bookmarked it some time ago in case I ever needed to write a hunting scene. Now I’m opening a story with one. Your tips are super useful, especially in combination with your forests article, so thanks for sharing your knowledge. 🙂

    There are some very useful comments too – particularly the Archer’s Paradox video.

    Now I have to figure out how 3 people carry a deer carcass through a jungle, without much of a worn trail (thanks for that advice too – something I knew, but might not have thought of). It’s not particularly set in any time period, though there definitely isn’t any technology from the last 1000ish years available, so no trucks or helicopters or anything like that…

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