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.