|It’s hard to believe, I’m sure, but another Maine firearms deer season is about to begin, and if past seasons are any indication, most of the hunters I know are not yet ready for Opening Day. Some hunters don’t make their final decision to attend the greatest moment in deer hunting in the Northeast till, let’s say, the Friday night before the season opens. Rushing around just hours before dawn of the first day is no way to prepare for a deer hunt, and the odds are these last-minute Charlies are going to have a bad experience as a result.
There is about two weeks to go before the annual gun season for deer begins, which is plenty of time to prepare if you get to it right now. The most critical aspect of any hunt, I believe, is marksmanship. If you can’t place a bullet in the right place in the few seconds you get to make the shot you are going to go home empty-handed. Most hunters don’t realize it but the success or failure of any deer hunt is decided between the time you spot your quarry and pull the trigger.
I have seen hunters do everything under the sun to get ready for deer season except practice at the rifle range, and their seasons usually end on a sad note. You can purchase all the nifty new clothes, gear, tree stands, binoculars, range-finders, trail-cams, scents, lures and calls you want, but if you can’t hit the deer you see when you see him, you’ve wasted your time and money.
Most disturbing to me is the “good enough” crowd, the guys who rattle off a clipful of ammunition at a cardboard box, milk jug or paper plate and call any hit anywhere on the target “good enough.” If only that were true! In many cases the best opportunity you’ll get will be a 6-inch square of vital area exposed for just a few seconds, and if you can’t find the target, aim and shoot accurately in about as much time as it takes to say it, your tag will go unfilled.
I learned how to shoot accurately about 45 years ago when my father would take me out to the range every weekend to shoot his various deer and varmint guns. He was a perfectionist who would not accept anything other than one-hole accuracy. We’d spend hours loading groups of three shells, shooting and checking for accuracy, load and shoot, load and shoot until I was just about worn out from running back and forth from the bench to the 100-yard target. We also moved back to the 200-yard line when targeting our various varmint rifles, but our diligence paid off many times. I saw him shoot a red fox at 400 yards one summer (back when foxes were considered unprotected varmints) and he’d routinely shoot woodchucks with his .220 Swift at ranges that required me to use a 20-power spotting scope just to call the shots! When you can put your bullets where you want them on a 5-pound rodent at 300 yards, hitting a 200-pound Maine buck at 40 yards is not much of a challenge! One year in Vermont he put a .44 Magnum slug through a buck’s eye at 50 yards try doing that with your once-a-year practice session!
Of course, it is not necessary to demand pinpoint accuracy from your favorite deer rifle, but with today’s modern guns and ammunition you should be able to put all your shots into a 3-inch circle at 100 yards. To get the most out of your rifle, shoot from a solid rest (using sand bags, a sleeping bag or a rolled-up coat) and start with a three-shot group at 25 yards. Adjust your sights as necessary so you end up with three shots touching at 25 yards. Now, move back to 100 yards and shoot another three-shot group. Most modern “deer rifles” so sighted will put their bullets about 3 inches high at 100 yards, which means you’ll be able to hit any deer you aim at out to 250 yards. Of course, the heavier calibers (.44, .444, .45-70, etc.) will drop much quicker and should not be fired at deer much beyond 175 yards, but the standard .30-caliber loadings will keep you in the black as far as you’re likely to see a deer in the Maine woods.
To be prepared for any situation that can occur, practice shooting at 25, 50, 100 and 150 yards and see where your bullets actually hit at those ranges. Then, when you’re confronted with an unexpected situation while hunting, you’ll know how and where to shoot and your season will be a success!
The second error hunters make is... not going hunting! Go when it’s cold, wet, rainy, snowing or blowing, and go at dawn, at noon or an hour before sunset you never know when a deer will appear, but you won’t see anything if you stay home. I have shot deer in the rain, on windy days, on bare ground and in snow, and I’ve shot them on opening day and on the last day of the season. You can’t predict with certainty when you’ll have your chance, but your odds increase exponentially if you are in the woods and ready to shoot when the opportunity presents itself.