"One does not hunt in order to kill. One hunts in order to have hunted."
Hunting can be enjoyed without a taking an animal. Returning from a hunt empty-handed should not necessarily be considered a failure. As Ortega pointed out, the experience is more important than the result. Wise hunter education instructors will point these facts to their students.
Unfortunately, this leads to the misconception that because the failure to take home a beast isn't a sporting failure that preparation for the hunt, especially field marksmanship skills, isn’t critical. This is an oft-heard excuse for not participating in pre-season skill-building events. "If I get one fine, if not that's OK, too."
This is a wrong, and possibly dangerous, conclusion. It is important to get our priorities straight. Is the goal to take an animal or not? We can and should accept an outcome that doesn't meet our goals and can still appreciate the experience, but we must make our intentions clear first.
Hunter = Predator
If the goal is to take an animal (i.e., you buy a license and take a firearm or bow with you) then you are hunting. The hunter is a predator. However, human hunters have several distinct disadvantages that need to be overcome.
In the wild predators must come in physical contact to have any effect. When this happens, the prey will either succumb rather quickly as the pride/pack finishes the deed, or escape. If the prey animal does manage to escape, it is because it wasn't mortally wounded and will likely survive the encounter. Plus, it is much harder for prey to elude a predator from contact distance compared to one from hundreds of feet away. Days-long lingering deaths, such as caused by escaped animals with jaw or gut shots that weren't tracked and finished, aren't as likely to happen in the wild.
In contrast human hunters must employ powerful tools to overcome our pathetic natural weapons. We can't outrun our prey but we don't have to because our tools can launch projectiles that will.
This advantage also poses some problems. First, the further the distance the more chances for a poor hit. An edge vital hit up close becomes a wounding miss further back. And because we aren't in close proximity, tracking and following up is less sure.
Second, humans have no natural instinct to utilize these tools as predators. The desire and responsibility to learn rests solely on a conscious decision made by the individual.
Consider your pets. Despite being domesticated, the instinct of dogs and cats to “play” builds their skills as predators. The tools employed by humans came along far too late for us to have any instinct in employing or learning to use them. No matter how much false machismo is displayed by too many (typically male) gun owners, their actual proficiency is the direct result of their success or failure in obtaining quality training, conducting proper practice, and attending organized events on a regular, on going basis to test and refresh skills. Period. We don't posses any instinct to gain skills as hunter-shooters (predators) and therefore must consciously participate in activities if we wish to. Develop your instincts and “play” like all good predators.
The power of our tools coupled with this lack of inborn instinct too often creates an unsafe and wasteful situation. If an unprepared individual shows up in the woods fat and sloppy with only the weapons he was born with his chances of wounding game and damaging natural resources are nil. Hand the same "hunter" a rifle and he has the potential to damage, wound, or at least frighten anything in visual range.
If enjoyment and appreciation of nature is the primary object of the exercise, then carry a camera. Getting in position to obtain good photographs of uncooperative wildlife requires knowledge and skills similar to what's needed to set up a successful shot. A seasoned wildlife photographer, who exchanged the camera with a rifle, would likely be a superb hunter, provided he possessed sufficient knowledge and skill at field marksmanship. And with a camera, there is no chance of wounding wildlife or otherwise defiling wild resources.
On the other hand, if the object is to actually participate in nature rather than merely observe, it is your responsibility to become a worthy participant by becoming an efficient predator.
A hunter is a predator. Have enough respect for nature, your prey, and yourself to prepare like one.