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Saturday marks the opening day of the 2007 Maine firearms season on deer, probably the most-anticipated day of the year for Maine sportsmen. This is the day when things get serious – there are big bucks out there and every one of the nearly 200,000 licensed hunters in the woods hopes to put their tag on one of the legendary “biggest bucks in Maine.”
With only five days to go, there is no time for procrastination. For all the hoopla that goes with the coming of the annual deer hunt, some 85 percent of hunters will go home without a winter’s supply of venison. Year in and year out, the reason is pretty much the same – they missed! A scant few hunters will go the season without seeing a deer (it can happen), but the majority of that 85 percent will have seen and shot at a whitetail at some point during the season. What a shame that, in their moment of moments, they could not thread the needle and put that single bullet where it needed to go.
I have done some guiding and have hunted out of many a deer camp from Montana to Maine to Georgia, and the common denominator is that too few hunters spend too little time making sure that their rifles are properly sighted in. For the sake of argument, I have timed how long it takes to take a new rifle out of the box and get it sighted in at the range. Believe it or not, most modern production guns (not custom models, which invariably are shipped with a sample target showing five shots at 100 you could cover with a dime) can be tuned up for deer hunting in less than 15 minutes! Assuming the gun has been checked for tight screws, has sights (open or scope) that are properly mounted and the ammunition is consistent (out of the same box), any calm, determined shooter should be able to keep all his shots in a 3-inch circle at 100 yards – plenty accurate enough for Maine deer hunting.
What’s odd to me is that most hunters do go to the range before the season opens, but all they do is put a milk jug downrange, open up a box of shells and shoot till they run out of ammunition. Whether or not they hit the targets seems irrelevant to them, and if I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times: “That’s good enough for deer hunting.”
Having spent some 45 years at this game, I will say that missing a target the size of a mature Maine whitetail has to be one of the most inexcusable acts of all because, well, there’s no excuse for it! Those 15 minutes at the range can make any hunter a better, more successful shot, and if you can achieve that 3-inch accuracy level before you run out of ammo, you should have no trouble downing a big Maine buck this season.
Here’s the simple way to sight in: From a steady, stable rest, fire three shots at a target placed 25 yards away. Aim straight, hold steady and squeeze the trigger to ensure that your three bullets hit the target . . . somewhere. Your first group of shots should be touching and anywhere on the target. Make your sight adjustments, fire three more shots, and continue till your groups move into the center of the bull’s-eye. This may take a dozen shots on a bad day, but when you have your three shots centered in the target, THEN you set up a target at 100 yards.
Most modern centerfire deer rifles will perform the same way: dead on at 25, three inches high at 100 and, if you have the room and the inclination, dead on again at 250 yards. This will vary with barrel length, caliber and load, but in general, when you are on target at 25 yards you can kill any deer you see in Maine this season – and with one shot!
You can tinker with this in many ways, restrict yourself to any number of shots (neck, spine, etc.), but hear me now: If you sight in this way, and train yourself to aim halfway up behind the deer’s shoulder out to 250 yards, you will tag any buck you shoot at this season. The caveat is simple: don’t shoot at running deer and wait till you get a clean, clear shot at that shoulder area. Remember that any deer you see in the woods is probably going to be closer than 250 yards, so aim in and wait, if necessary, till he present a clear shoulder shot. He way walk away from you, seem to be getting away and even disappear for a few seconds, but in most cases an unalarmed deer will wander around enough so that, for a few seconds, you can take the shot you’ve been waiting for.
In nearly half a century of deer hunting I’ve seen hunters spot a deer, toss their guns up and shoot without really waiting for a good shot, suffering the classic case of “buck fever,” and the results are invariably the same. Just be patient and wait! That buck is likely to poke around a few more seconds and give you a clean, open shot right behind the shoulder. I do it myself every year and just like that the freezer is full.
There are plenty of deer out there, and no matter if you are looking for a big buck or you want to fill your doe permit, do yourself a simple favor. Go to the range for 15 minutes and sight in your rifle. And, on Saturday, or next week, or at Thanksgiving, wait till that whitetail gives you a clean, open shot.
Or, save yourself some time right now and put yourself on that long list of hunters who should have known better!
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