Steve Johnson, our contact at Hornady Manufacturing, and my guide for this trip, whispers, “The deer are going to be moving now, I can just feel it. Let’s get you into a blind, then I’ll take Kyle and Tom down to their blind."
Just then, Steve frantically gestures to me. I stare at him, uncomprehending. What does he want? “Hurry” he hisses. “Big buck up here! Let’s get you one right now!” I wasn’t prepared for this. Not now. Not yet. Buck? Now? Already? But…You can do this! I chide myself. Don’t be a princess! Get up there!
“Use the fencepost as a rest,” Steve coaches. “Don’t forget to cock the rifle…”
I take a step onto the snowy field, only to sink up to my thigh into an invisible depression. I lose my balance.
Years of training with guns leap up. Don’t muzzle the people behind you! I scream to myself. And then the other foot slides off into the dip, and I rock back into a crouch on my heels. Stand up, my brain commands my legs. For the first time in my life, a body part responds to my brain. Here’s what my legs said: Nuts to you! I was standing in 30 inches of snow. I finally find the fencepost, lay the gun down and cock it. I look down the scope, and see…the buck’s flag flipping me an insouciant “buh-bye” as he skips off into cover.
That Sinking Feeling (Again)
I sit back. I doubt I’ll see another deer before Steve gets back, but I keep my eyes peeled all the same. Ten minutes go by, then 20. I’m starting to relax a little when two does appear from my right.
I steady my breathing, and bring the muzzle up. I whistle softly, hoping to get one to pause. Sure enough, it does, turning its narrow face towards me, presenting a beautiful broadside shot. I center the crosshair just on its shoulder, let my breath out a little, and squeeze the trigger. Just like I’ve been taught. Ffffff-BANG roars the muzzleloader.
When the gun comes back down, the deer are gone. But this didn’t feel right. Was that a hangfire? I wonder. Did I miss? Oh, no. Did I wound it? I take a deep breath.
I get out of the blind, head over to where the does were standing, and begin to follow their trail. No hair here; no blood. But I know from reading that they don’t always start bleeding right away. I need to keep following these tracks. Half an hour later, Steve appears behind me. Together we retrace my steps, combing the trail the deer made, finding nothing. Steve agrees that I missed the deer clean, and theorizes that my gun did hangfire. He sees my downcast look. “You can blame this one on the gun,” he grins.