|It’s hard to believe we’re just days away from the opening day of another Maine firearms deer season. There is probably no other day of the year that attracts more income, interest and attention (with the possible exception of Christmas), and it may well be that deer hunting (at least in Maine) has the longer tradition I doubt the native Americans bothered with (or even knew about) Christmas, but I’ll bet they hunted deer every chance they got!
In any case, this is the time of year when I try to help every licensed Maine deer hunter fill his tag. Sad to day, only about 10 percent of the 220,000 hunters who venture out starting this Saturday (residents only day) are going to end the season with meat in the freezer. Even sadder is that far more of them will have a chance to shoot a deer but, alas, they will show up unprepared, unpracticed and unable to fulfill their end of the opportunity.
I have hunted deer in Maine only since the early 1960s, but every year I see hunters come home disgruntled and disappointed because they violated one of the few “musts” of the sport. First, of course, you can’t get a deer if you don’t go, so plan on catching up on your sleep after Thanksgiving week. Right now, your best bet is to rise early (4:30 a.m. is about the norm) and plan to be in the woods where you think the deer are just before the first glimmer of daylight appears on the eastern horizon. At this time of day, deer are leaving the fields, clear-cuts, orchards and other feeding areas and are working their way back to their bedding areas. On a normal crisp, cold, clear fall day, you cannot reasonably expect to sneak up on a bedded deer, so you need to be in place, ready to hunt, as the sun comes up. You may be able to still-hunt on rainy or snowy days, but right now the deer have all the odds in their favor. Do what you must (set two alarm clocks, sleep in your truck or make sure an annoying buddy comes to pick you up), but get out there and hunt!
Perhaps equally important (and ignored), is marksmanship. Even the lamest, luckiest, clumsiest and most ill-equipped hunters eventually stumble upon a shootable deer, but if they can’t line up their sights and put their bullet where it counts, they may as well throw the gun at them! I have harped on this for decades, but the first thing you should do when planning a deer hunt is to spend some time at the rifle range. If you can’t hit a 3-inch bull’s-eye at 50 yards with a rifle, you need to keep practicing. If you can’t hit a pie plate at 25 yards with your bow, keep practicing!
In general, most deer rifles should be sighted in to hit dead on at 25 yards. This makes the average .243, .308, .30/06 or .270 good to go out to about 250 yards. A .30/30 so sighted will be good for about 150 yards, which is about three times the distance you are likely to see a deer in the woods, anyway. (Most of my Maine deer have been taken at ranges well under 50 yards in most cases, 25 yards or less!).
Be serious about sighting in. First, tighten every scope, stock and sight screw before you start to shoot. Use a solid rest, shoot from a bench or table and measure the distance to the target. A target set at 25 yards is easy to see and hit. Shoot three-shot groups and make your sight adjustments until you end up with three holes touching. Now you are ready for deer!
Mistake No. 3 is just tossing your rifle into the back seat or letting it ride in a window rack where every thump, bump and rattle conspires to loosen your sight screws and ruin your accuracy. Treat your newly sighted rifle like heirloom glass keep it in a case, don’t drive it back and forth to work all week and don’t’ let anyone else touch it! I guarantee that some hunter you know is going to say, “I was right on at the range, and I don’t know what happened.” Chances are he let someone play with the gun or otherwise let it jiggle around in a case or rack for a week or more that’s enough to send your bullet a foot high and to the right more than enough to miss the biggest buck in Maine!
With all this preliminary work done, Mistake No. 4 should not happen, but it does. Too many hunters (and non-hunters, for that matter) seem to think that a deer rifle is the Atom Bomb or something, and every deer they shoot at should immediately fall in a heap. The truth be known, it’s very rare for a deer to fall dead at the shot unless you hit it in the head (not recommended), spine (also not recommended) or neck (a tough shot that only an expert should take). Most well hit deer will run off for a short distance, but never so far away that you can’t find them.
My advice is to aim for the area directly behind the shoulder and halfway up the deer’s body. This puts your bullet in the heart-lung area and, regardless of caliber or conditions; your deer will be dead when you get to it. Trick shots at the head, neck or spine can go either way, but a hit in the middle of the chest is going to be fatal you can count on it, as I have for 45 years! You may have to track a deer a short ways, but if you are confident in your rifle and your shot placement, you’ll be whistling a happy tune all the way. Take chances, fail to sight in or fail to put your bullet where it goes and you will likely have some explainin’ to do back at camp!
This year, vow to do it right sight in, get out there every chance you get and put your bullet where it belongs. I can’t guarantee you a big buck, but if you see a deer in range you can tag it, and that’s as good as it gets in this sport. Try it my way one time and see what happens.