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It’s tough to be an outdoor columnist at this time of year. For one thing, you have to stay in one afternoon and write your column (easy most of the time but sometimes not!), but the worst of it is when you offer great, based-on-experience advice and no one takes it!
Already this season I’ve heard from hunters who have told me, “I should have listened,” or, “You were right!” The truth is, I don’t want to be right in hindsight – I’d much rather have every reader go out there and tag a nice buck. My goal is to help everyone avoid the common mistakes that hunters make so we can, one day, have the greatest season ever – when everyone gets a deer!
So far I’ve heard sad tales of hunters who failed to go out, failed to sight in their rifles or failed to wait long enough for a sure shot. I think the best story of all came from another outdoor writer (who should have known better). He came up with every excuse why he didn’t go out to hunt (cold, rain, tired, kids, wife, etc.), even though I told him that you can only get a deer if you’re out there. Hunt now, while you can, because real life can wait!
Well, he didn’t go on opening day, he didn’t go the first Monday and he didn’t go the first Saturday. He finally did go out one afternoon for a hasty hunt at his favorite spot, but when he got there he found a huge gut pile, blood all over the leaves and a nice, clear drag trail where some other hunter had pulled a nice buck out of the woods.
That, to me, would be the ultimate kick in the shins – going to your “secret” hotspot only to find that someone else had gotten there first and had tagged “your” deer. Please don’t let that happen to you!
Another hunter called and said, “You were right about sighting in. I didn’t bother with it because I put the rifle away last season and it was right on. I took it off the rack, drove to my spot and had a great chance at a big 8-pointer on opening day.
“I took very careful aim, right behind the shoulder, squeezed off the shot and . . . missed! I shot again – I missed! I shot again and again – and missed!” he mourned. “I have never shot at a deer that many times without hitting something, but this buck just stood there while I emptied my gun and then he just walked away!”
The hunter said that he walked dejectedly back to camp, set up a target and found that his sights were off by nearly a foot! He was shooting 11 inches high at just 50 yards, which is more than enough to miss a 200-pound buck at that range. Of course, he tightened his scope screws and re-sighted his rifle to be dead on at 25 yards (a good, average technique), but guess what – he hasn’t seen a deer since! Murphy’s Law or what!
A third hunter called me to say he wished he’d followed my advice about waiting for a good shot. He has seen several deer this season but he was waiting for a buck. Well, a few days ago a nice 9-pointer came through just at dusk. The deer was walking quickly but stopped for a few seconds in a thick stand of jack firs. The hunter could see the deer’s head and feet, and just decided to guess where the shoulder was. He aimed and fired, and the deer simply stared straight ahead. The bad news is that the hunter was using a muzzleloader, one of the new in-line models that require about 20 seconds to reload.
As the hunter scrambled to recharge his rifle, the buck stepped into the logging road and stood there, broadside and wide open, while the hunter dropped in his powder pellets, rammed a saboted bullet home, and then rooted around in his pockets for his 409 primers. Just as the hunter found his capping tool, the buck jumped off the road into the brush and was gone. Three more seconds and he would have had a nice, clean shot at a wide-open buck just 40 yards away!
The lesson here is simple enough: Wait for a good shot! Most deer rifles (and modern in-lines) are accurate out to 150 yards and more. There is no reason to rush your shot! Let the deer stop and hide, let him meander in and out of the alders, let him stand for 20 minutes behind a blow down. Keep your focus, keep your sights on him and wait for him to present a clean, clear right-behind-the-shoulder shot that, when it comes, will seem so easy to make.
I know it’s not easy to control yourself when a great buck is only a few yards away, but stay focused, lock in and wait! Sooner or later the deer will step into a clear shooting lane, pause for a few seconds and then move on. Keep your sights on target, safety off, and wait! When you get your window of opportunity, take the shot and then go over and tag your deer. It really is as simple as that!
We are just two weeks away from the end of another long-awaited Maine deer season. Please, sight in your rifle, and protect it from bumps and bangs on the way to the woods. Get out there and hunt as often as you can (mornings and evenings are prime time), and when you see your buck, wait for a clean, clear shot, even if he’s getting farther away with every step. If you can hit a pie plate at 250 yards (and you can if you are sighted in to hit dead on at 25 yards with most .25- and .30-caliber arms) you can make your shot count.
Now I want to hear some success stories. Send me a brief paragraph about your successful hunt and we’ll mention it in a future column. Send your stories to
Hunt hard and good luck!
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