Hunting & Shooting Idioms

The West has captured the imagination of Americans as well as the rest of the world. From the Spanish vaquero emerged the American cowboy, men and boys who herded and maintained large herds of cattle on the free range with the help of ropes and horses and the inevitable cook wagon. Guns and pistols were used for protection, to hunt for food and for recreation. Cowboys came from all strata of life, including former slaves and aristocrats. They were men who went west in the second half of the nineteenth century for adventure and work.

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As the old West changed with the diaappearance of free range, the advent of fences and advanced modes of transportation, the cowboy adapted but the image of the old West remained imbedded in the consciousness of the world as a glamourous occupation, rather than the dirty hard job it was. The cowboy may do his job now with trucks and airplanes, but we still see him riding herd on the free range with a gun in hand and “shooting from the hip” in a battle at the “OK Corral.”  He may not have to “grab a bull by its horns” except as recreation and a chance to earn a little extra money in a rodeo, but the images remain with Americans as idioms used in everyday life.

The colonist to the new world and the pioneers on the western frontier of the Americas needed guns to hunt game for food and for protection. Almost every man and boy and some women learned to shoot and to hunt for game. Recreation for the physically active young men on the frontier were extensions of work, just as the rodeo was for the cowboy and vaquero. There were shooting matches, as well as the inevitable foot races and gambling.

Guns may not be a necessity for protection and for food now, but shooting and hunting continue to be popular sports. It is not necessarily a gentleman’s sport in the United States and Canada, as it is in Europe. The sport grew out of ordinary person’s work. Because the activity of hunting and shooting was so necessay and is so popular today, there are many idioms derived from these activities. Today to “set one’s sights on something” usually means to set a goal or objective rather than to sight an object with one’s gun.

Shrink

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
the dog is not barking at the animal the hunter wants
Sentence 1
Jim's dog didn't tree the racoon. The racoom jumped to another tree and the dog barked up the wrong tree.
Meaning 2
to make a wrong choice
Sentence 2
The FBI agent didn't find the criminal. He was barking up the wrong tree.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to order dogs away from the chase
Sentence 1
Call off the dogs. They have found the fox.
Meaning 2
to stop pursuing something
Sentence 2
Call off the dogs. I don't want dectectives on that case any more.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to shoot a gun quickly
Sentence 1
Wyatt Earp was quick on the draw.
Meaning 2
to be fast
Sentence 2
The chairman of the corporation was quick on the draw in answering the stockholders questions.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to fall into a pit dug for hunting game
Sentence 1
The tiger fell into a trap which had fresh meat in it.
Meaning 2
to be caught in a situation, to be trapped or ensnared
Sentence 2
I fell into a trap. I didn't read the contract carefully.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to shoot the best one can
Sentence 1
He gave his best shot at the target and made a bull's eye.
Meaning 2
to do one's best
Sentence 2
See what you can do. Give the assignment your best shot.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
Hunting dogs barking at game or prey until the hunter can arrive
Sentence 1
The dogs held the stag at bay until the hunters came.
Meaning 2
to keep something or someone stopped awhile until something else can be done
Sentence 2
They held the drug dealer at bay until the police could come.

Derivation

From a French medieval sports term, "abai", meaning to bark at game and hold it for the hunter.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to run hounds or dogs after something
Sentence 1
Slave owners hounded runaway slaves to try to bring them back. They considered slaves property.
Meaning 2
to urge continually
Sentence 2
Please don't hound me about getting the house painted. I'll do it when I can.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
as a duck sits on water
Sentence 1
That target practice was easy, like hitting a sitting duck.
Meaning 2
to be unaware of something about to happen
Sentence 2
The ememy's troops were like sitting ducks. They did not suspect an attack.

Derivation

A sitting duck is easier to shoot than one that is flying. A stationary target is easier to hit than a moving one.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to put the gun barrel down
Sentence 1
I lowered my sights as the clay pidgeon dropped.
Meaning 2
to take or accept less
Sentence 2
I have to lower my sights about my career. I am not going to get a Master's in Business Administration.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
The part of the year when there is unrestricted hunting of a particular animal.
Sentence 1
It's open season on deer now. You can kill doe.
Meaning 2
a time when one is criticized
Sentence 2
There was open season at the City Council meeting, when the mayor talked about raising taxes.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
not visible
Sentence 1
The birds are out of sight now and I missed a shot.
Meaning 2
too high
Sentence 2
This bill is out of sight. I won't pay it.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to shoot quickly
Sentence 1
He was quick on the trigger and lived through the fight.
Meaning 2
to respond quickly
Sentence 2
He was quick on the trigger on that game show. He answered all the questions.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to ride a horse with rough shoes on its hooves over something
Sentence 1
The cowboys rode roughshod over the trail in order to get the cattle to market on time.
Meaning 2
to treat someone poorly
Sentence 2
Please don't ride roughshod on the new employee. Be nice.

Derivation

When cowboys took cattle a long distance to market the shoes on their horses became rough and would tear up the trail.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to be riding fast and/or dangerously
Sentence 1
He's riding for a fall in the steeplechase.
Meaning 2
to risk an accident or failure
Sentence 2
He's riding for a fall putting all his money in high risk stocks.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to line up the sight of a rifle or bow
Sentence 1
I have set my sights on that deer over there.
Meaning 2
to want or desire something
Sentence 2
I have set my sights on that job at the bank.

Derivation

A sight is a device for aiming a gun or bow.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to shoot a duck or bird down
Sentence 1
He shot down the Canada goose. It won't fly anymore.
Meaning 2
to stop something because it won't work
Sentence 2
John shot down Fred's proposal. It just won't fly
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to shoot another person's mouth off
Sentence 1
The term is not used in the literal sense.
Meaning 2
to talk too much
Sentence 2
He wouldn't keep quiet. He shot his mouth off about his quarrel with Emily.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
a shot made by jumping in the air over the basket and throwing the basketball into the basket
Sentence 1
Michael Jordan slam dunked the ball to win the game for Chicago
Meaning 2
a decisive action which was easy to accomplish
Sentence 2
We got the merger. I slam dunked the deal.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to pull the gun slowly from the gun's holster
Sentence 1
He was slow on the draw in the gunfight and was shot by the sheriff.
Meaning 2
to be slow to understand
Sentence 2
Bill didn't understand the joke. He's slow on the draw.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to hold a gun up at the shoulder and shoot it
Sentence 1
Hold the gun and shoot it straight from the shoulder.
Meaning 2
to be frank
Sentence 2
I want to hear the news, good or bad. Let's hear it, straight from the shoulder.

Derivation

The usual way of shooting a gun is to hold it level and pressed to the shoulder.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to throw a ball into something; to shoot at something with a gun
Sentence 1
I' ll take a shot at that basket. Take a shot at at that deer.
Meaning 2
to try to do something
Sentence 2
I'll take a shot at taking the murder case, even though it's difficult.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to try and divert or confuse pursuers
Sentence 1
The fox crossed the stream to throw the dogs off his track.
Meaning 2
to confuse someone
Sentence 2
The questions threw the speaker off the track.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
not on target or the bull's eye
Sentence 1
I aimed my arrow, but it went wide of the mark. I aimed the bombs at the munitions factory, but was wide of the mark and didn't hit it.
Meaning 2
to not achieve a goal or objective, to do less than expected
Sentence 2
I was wide of the mark on that contract. I thought we would get the bid.