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It's part of my job to listen to sportsmen tell their outdoor stories, and most of them are interesting if not downright funny, often ending in the taking of a great trophy buck or near-record fish. But, I also hear lots of sad stories about missed opportunities. In fact, I meet more deer hunters coming out of the woods shaking their heads in dismay. Most are very mad at their guns, their scopes or their ammunition. In fact, I remember one sport I ran into down behind Boyd Lake in Milo who, after a grand fusillade that included two clips emptied at rapid fire, decided his rifle was a piece of junk. When I met him the guy was hot-footing it back home to get a real gun - and he was dragging his .44 semi-auto rifle behind him by its sling!
“What happened?” I asked.
“This stupid gun just won't shoot where I aim it,” he grouched. For the heck of it, I asked him if I could look at the gun because in most cases its loose sight or stock screws that are the culprit. We set up a piece of paper birch bark at 25 yards and I fired three slow shots at the white square. All three shots hit the bark, touching, and I said, “Well, it seems to be on target.”
“Yeah, well that buck I shot at was no more than 200 yards away up a tote road!” the guy griped, still miffed that he'd missed. “I can't believe I never touched a hair.”
“Ring-a-ding” went the ballistics bell in my head. Had the guy been just a tad more familiar with his rifle, a popular .44-caliber “brush gun” of the day, he'd have known that the fat, slow-moving bullet he was shooting, sighted in to be dead on at 100 yards, would drop over 17 inches by 200 yards - more than enough to miss the biggest buck in Maine! Dead on at 25 yards (as the gun appeared to be) he'd have missed his target by more than 3 feet!
Having been a hunter, guide and shooter for over 45 years, I am amazed at the single common denominator among hunters' lamentations each fall. When that big buck vanishes into the evergreens the hunter knows he's had, and forfeited, his chance of a lifetime, but the blame rarely lies with the equipment he's using.
One of life's important lessons I learned while working at a local shoe factory back in the 1970s. A Lasting Room foreman not noted for his diplomacy came over and watched me struggle with a machine that, quite honestly, I didn't understand or know how to operate.
“This stupid machine!” I barked at no one in particular.
The foreman gave me his best look of disgust, folded his arms and said, “It's just a machine. It only does what it's told to do,” and the inference was clear. Since I didn't know what I was doing, how could I communicate that to the machinery?
It's the same thing with guns. Any modern hunting rifle will shoot well enough to make a good, killing shot on a deer, but only if the shooter does his part. If you've ever missed a deer during the Maine rifle season, ask yourself these two important questions: Did you enjoy the feeling? Do you want it to happen again?
Of course, you didn't and you don't. The solution to the problem is simple, too. Begin with your rifle - are the stock, action and sight screws tight? Make sure they are. And, is all the ammunition you plan to shoot (at the range and in the woods) of the same bullet style, weight and manufacture? It's a mistake to shoot one brand of ammo at the range and then shoot another type (especially bullet design or weight) in the woods. You can be as much as 8 inches off, more than enough to miss or wound and lose your deer.
At the range, get serious. From a solid, steady rest, shoot three shots at 25 yards. Make your sight adjustments and shoot three more shots. When your bullet holes are touching in the bull's-eye, shoot another three-shot group at 100 yards. In most cases, these holes will be about 3 inches high in the target, which is perfect. If you can hold steady and place three shots in a 3-inch circle at 100 yards, you can reasonably expect to be able to kill a typical Maine buck out to 250 yards by aiming about halfway up directly behind the shoulder. (This is for the typical .30-caliber “deer rifle” loadings. Our pal with the .44 will need to keep his shots under 100 yards or do some serious ballistics calculations!)
With your rifle duly sighted in, put it away in a padded, locked case and do not let anyone play with it, fiddle with the sights or otherwise create cause for doubt. It may not seem important now but when you suddenly see that huge buck staring at you across the clear-cut you will appreciate the fact that your bullet is going to go where you aim it.
I know there are hunters reading this that have had bad experiences, who know better and who also know they should head for the range now, well before the season, but for some unknown reason they won't. I can guarantee one and all that if you don't take the time to sight in your rifle you are going to have one of those “I can't believe I missed” events followed by someone asking, “Didn't you read what it said in the Rolling Thunder?”
Each year I encourage all my hunting acquaintances to head for the range well before the fall “busy time,” but I always seem to be alone at the bench. Last year I put five deer (and two bears) in the freezer after hunts in various states and all were one-shot kills. In one camp I stayed in eight hunters missed or wounded their quarry in the same week, and in that camp a wounded animal counts as a kill - your hunt ends then and there.
Make plans to head for the range this month or start working on your excuses now. Someone we know is going to miss their big chance this fall - don't let it be you!
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