The guns are stored in the closet with care, your freezer sets empty with nothing to bear. Every year hunters miss deer. I conducted an informal survey one season and discovered about 80 percent of all the shots you hear on opening day are misses. There are lots of reasons for this. Here are a few and how to avoid them.
You Weren’t Ready Sitting on stand fondling your smart phone is not hunting. When that massive 10-point chases a doe by, you’ll only have seconds to react. Your rifle should be in your hands. Text your buddy and do the Facebook thing after you get your deer. Being ready also means you need to have a cartridge in the chamber. Unloaded rifles kill nothing.
Wrong Magnification High magnification riflescopes are all the rage but look at a deer 50 yards away with a 14X scope and he’ll appear to be in your lap. And, your field of view will be about three feet wide. If that deer is moving you’ll have a devil of a time getting a shot. Also, with most scopes ballistic reticles only work right on the highest magnification. Shoot at a deer at 300 yards with your 14X scope on 7X, and you’ll miss by a foot.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: 1X magnification for every 100 feet of range (3x for every 100 yards). If a deer is 150 yards away, you should have about 5X magnification. If time permits, you can fine-tune. If it doesn’t, you’re set for the shot. Adjust accordingly as you hunt or when arriving on stand.
Twigs and Brush Bullets travel at high velocity. When they hit a twigs or brush they veer off course. The deflection can be minimal or as much as a foot only a few feet past the obstruction. It’s unpredictable and there’s no such thing as a brush buster. Don’t shoot through brush unless you can plainly see a clear and unobstructed path for your bullet. You might not miss but a wounded deer is even worse!
Too Much Gun Deer are easy to kill but inexperienced and insecure outdoor writers have convinced hunters that magnums kill better. This puts lots of hunters behind slobber knocking rifles that cross their eyes every time the trigger is pulled. The dreaded flinch is easy to get and hard to cure. Out to 300 yards a .243 Winchester will do all the deer killing you can handle. Shot placement and the bullet matter most.
Your Trigger Sucks Hunters often only shoot from the bench because they cannot shoot well off hand. Its not necessarily lack of skill holding them back, it’s a bad trigger. A good trigger is not just about pull weight; it will have minimal take-up, no creep, and break the same every time, without lots of over travel. It used to be a gunsmith had to fix your trigger but now Timney offers DIY drop-in triggers, for most every hunting rifle.
You Just Can’t Shoot Hunters often argue about long-range hunting but rarely condemn the guy who misses or wounds his buck at 50 yards. I know hunters who can shoot better at 500 yards from the prone position than some can shoot at 50 yards while standing on their hind legs. Unethical hunting—shooting—is taking any shot you’re not confident in.
The solution is practice. If you cannot hit an eight-inch paper plate four out of five times at any distance from a certain position, you got no business taking that shot at a deer. Start practicing in the spring with a .22 and by late summer step up to your deer rifle.
How do I know these things? Humans learn by doing—by making mistakes. After 40 years of deer hunting I’ve made just about all of them.