Hunting and Shooting Phrases Still Fill Our Vocab

As evidence of the widespread impact hunting once had on our society, many of the common sayings that we currently use in conversation began as descriptions of hunting or shooting-based experiences.

A list of some, followed with their original meaning, and then by their current use in modern conversation include:

Give it your best shot meant to shoot carefully and accuratelyTo do ones best.

Take another shot at it encouraged a shooter or hunter to try again to successfully hit a target or game animal: Try again to succeed.

Like a sitting duck refers to how much easier it is to shoot a duck on the water than one flying: To be surprised or unsuspecting about something that is about to happen.

Set your sights on referred to aiming at a game species: Set a goal or objective to achieve

Lower ones sights meant to lower the gun barrel after a shot or when the game is not in range: Accept lower expectations

Barking up the wrong tree refers to instances when a raccoon or squirrel, while pursued by hounds, are able to elude the dogs by climbing up one tree and crossing over to another. Since the scent leads to the first tree, the dog tracks the quarry to a tree that no longer contains the game and barks up the wrong tree: Someone going in the wrong direction, making a wrong choice or accusing the wrong person

Wild goose chase originates from the time when a type of horse race started with the horses arranged like geese in flight, with no rules on how the winner was determined: A pointless or unattainable search.

Shoot from the hip referred to someone shooting as soon as the gun was removed from the holster without aiming: Speak or act without any planning or considering the consequences.

Getting on the wrong track or off track happens when a hunter switches to a different animal than the original target by following the wrong set of footprints: Going the wrong way, following a false set of assumptions that is likely to lead to failure.

Track down meant to follow an animal until it was caught up to and captured/shot: Pursue someone or something until it is located.

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A shot in the dark meant to shoot at game or an enemy combatant after dark: An attempt with little hope for success.

Flash in the pan is from the days when the gunpowder lit in a flintlock or percussion gun’s pan, without the main charge going off: An event or fad that is short-lived.

Red herring comes from fox hunting, when a red herring, a strong-smelling species of fish, could be used to divert the attention of hounds chasing a fox to a red herring: A distraction from the main issue.

Pot shot is a shot fired recklessly or effortlessly: A careless remark directed at somebody.

A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush refers to the hunting sport of falconry, where the raptor was considered to be more valuable than its prey: The immediate value of what a person has now is worth more than the potential for extra.

Beating around the bush meant to make noise in heavy cover to flush game or an unenthusiastic hunter who puts on a big show to make it look like he is trying to find game: To avoid discussing an issue.

Kill two birds with one stone originates from when one stone from a slingshot kills two birds: To accomplish two things at the same time.

A straight shooter is a gun or a shooter who could be trusted to hit a target: An honest and trustworthy person.

Loaded for bear refers to a gun loaded with ammunition powerful enough to kill a bear: Eager to do something or fully prepared for action.

Scattergun/Shotgun approach comes from the use of shotgun that uses many pellets to strike game: An attempt to solve a problem by using multiple methods or ideas.

A silver bullet was the only ammunition said to be useful to kill supernatural beings, such as werewolves, witches or the Devil and other uncanny bodies: A miracle fix or immediate solution to a problem.

There are a number of fishing sayings too, like, open a can of worms, hook, line and sinker, off the hook, reel ‘em in, hooked on — but I have reached my word count for this week.

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