Take your time, but hurry up.
This is perhaps the most important of them all - and yes, it does make sense. Most times, chances to shoot at game are fleeting, and it's easy to get in a hurry and rush the shot. That's where the "take your time" part comes in. Be careful to aim (I have forgotten to do this myself on occasion), and pick the spot on the animal where you want to hit it.
Don't just put the crosshairs or sights on the whole deer - place your shot. Then, follow through. Don't jerk the trigger, and do hold the gun or bow steady until after the shot. Then, immediately get ready to fire a follow-up shot should it become necessary.
This same method applies to target shooting as well - take your time steadying and getting on your target, but do it as quickly as you can and then fire. Taking too long usually only causes you to lose the "zone," and then you'll have to start over.
Watch where you put your feet (and hands).
This one has saved me countless miseries. It's one of the first rules of hunting that Dad drilled into my head, after teaching me the basics of gun safety. More than once, both while hunting and while working as a land surveyor, I have come uncomfortably close to stepping on rattlesnakes - often, big ones. So far I have avoided that by looking where I'm walking.
I have even caught myself in the classic position, one foot raised and descending towards the snake when I spot it and freeze, then backpedal. Snake bites hurt, I don't need some of that. Watching the ground when you walk also helps you spot tracks and other spoor from the game you're hunting. It also keeps the ol' feets out of stumpholes and other ankle-breakers.
Use enough gun.
This is where many hunters disagree, but the most experienced, conscientious hunters gravitate toward cartridges that offer enough "oomph" to ensure a clean kill, even when shot placement isn't the greatest. And if you hunt long enough, you will make poorly-placed shots - it's a matter of fact. Law of averages and all that.
Having enough gun for the game you're hunting helps ensure the quickest, cleanest kill possible, and much reduces the chance of wasting the animal you're pursuing. After all, you can't kill 'em deader than dead.
Take care of your gun, and it will take care of you.
Keep your gun or bow in the best shape possible, and the chances of it malfunctioning are greatly reduced. For instance, a friend of mine hunted deer for many years exclusively with a Remington 742 rifle. These rifles can be problematic and undependable, mainly when they're not properly maintained. My buddy takes care to keep his gun nice and clean - including the all-important chamber - and lubricated, and it always does its job when he does his. The same is true of any gun, bow, or other piece of equipment.
When you think (or know) game is coming, get ready.
This was mentioned to me by an older hunter decades ago, early in my hunting career. It's good, simple advice, and it works. Get yourself turned in the direction of the game so you can shoot if you get the chance. Get the gun to your shoulder and pointed in the general direction of the game (but keep it safely pointed at the ground or sky until you know you're not hearing another hunter in the brush).
If you're a bowhunter, the same rule applies. When the deer or other game gives you a chance for a shot, you need to be in a position to take it, because such chances are often measured in scant seconds.
When shooting upward (or downward), aim low.
This applies to conventional sights such as scopes and iron sights, not to automatically-compensating tree stand sights as used on bows. It's also only necessary if the angle of the shot is particularly steep and precise shot placement is required, as in the case of a small target such as a squirrel's head. For deer hunting, this is usually not applicable because steep shots usually mean a close target and hence a large kill zone, but for small game hunting with a 22 rifle it can be very helpful.
Expect the Unexpected
Yeah, I know you can't be ready for everything that comes your way - but stay flexible. Things have a way of changing when you least expect them to, and you've got to be able to roll with the flow. So keep a large trash bag or two in your pack, in case the bottom falls out and it starts to monsoon. Keep a butane lighter in your gear, along with paper towels, a light saw, and at least one sharp knife. A good length of light but stout rope or cord is often indispensable for dragging a deer or other chores. This is not a complete list, but you get the idea - and everyone's list varies.
Think about what might happen out there, and what you might need to deal with it. And, when something does happen that requires action, jump on it. Quite often, he who hesitates is indeed lost... or at least has more reason to kick himself later on.
Stay a While Longer
Whenever you get the urge to leave your stand or blind early, think again. Staying a while often provides you with good opportunities - but leaving early usually offers little or no benefit.
It's been more than twenty years now since I started to leave my stand early one Thanksgiving morning, but then realized there was no place I'd rather be, and nothing for me to do back at the cabin other than wait for eatin' time. So I stayed. A short while later, a nice little eight-point buck sauntered up and posed. That buck came home with me, and there's not much chance I'll forget that hunt anytime soon.
I hope you've found these hunters' life lessons helpful. I know they have served me well over the years.
- Russ Chastain