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Follow these tips, but don't blame me when you miss

Like an armless man offering you tips on how to do push-ups, this week I am going to dispense some unasked-for and potentially dangerous advice on how to shoot a rifle at a deer. Please be informed that none of what you are about to read is in any way sanctioned by any type of accredited shooting sports organization, and may well fall into the category of criminal negligence. Basically, if you shoot yourself or someone else because of what you absorb here, it's your own fault. You ought to know better by now.

So, qualifying me as a rifle expert is not only 37 years of practical experience in the field, but a joke my dad once told. On an old family reel-toreel tape full of authentic static noise and cousins coughing in the background, Dad narrated the one about the old prospector who was going to show a man a trick shot he had perfected. The prospector said he was going to ricochet a bullet off a high canyon wall at just the exact angle to bounce it off another object and hit a rabbit browsing in the distance. Gauging the wind, adjusting his sights, the old man carefully aims and touches off his shot.

'Did you hit the rabbit?' the man asks after the smoke has settled.

'Nope,' the old prospector replied, 'I missed the wall.'

So there you have it, my approach to shooting, in general, is not to miss the wall. I wouldn't exactly describe myself as a crack shot, but I have drilled my share of deer right in the head when aiming at their front shoulder. Before you laugh, ask yourself just how difficult it is to hit something when you're aiming somewhere else. I rest my case.

Many hunters by now have pulled their trusty deer rifle out of safekeeping for the upcoming deer season. Proper preparation for any hunt should include a trip to a shooting range to make sure the weapon's sighting mechanisms are still in place, even after you dropped it in a rocky creek bed last fall, left it on the tailgate before driving down the road, and may or may not have banged it with your bowling ball while it was leaning awkwardly in a corner of your closet. Look, 60 or 70 shells, six shredded targets, two blown ear drums and a shoulder contusion are all you should need to get the ol' crowbar flingin' 'em in a straight line again.

For purposes of the following pointers, I'm going to assume that your gun is accurate. Like a sculptor working with over-watered clay, there is otherwise only so much I can do.

The first common shooting situation we'll cover is proper technique for aiming at a moving target, in this case, of course, a running whitetail deer. You see the big buck coming well ahead of time as he sneaks through the underbrush, but that Ho-Ho that you just pushed down your throat has now made you cough chocolate creme through your nostrils, and you're busted. Instead of that nice, easy standing shot you were about to get, you now have a 150-pound animal hurtling through the timber at speeds of 21-24 mph, with intermittent leaps, jumps, zigs, zags, bounds and hops. In short, it'd probably be easier to throw a baseball through the wheel holes of a speeding Indy car right now, but, what the heck, you waited for this all year, you might as well shoot.

The first thing to do in this scenario is scan the woods ahead of the deer to select an open lane through which to shoot. Yes, I know, the tendency is to point at fur and pull the trigger as fast as your finger muscles will twitch, but you'll be far better off to plan one, patient shot. Besides, bullets costs like a dollar apiece these days; if nothing else, you'll save enough to buy more Ho-Hos for tomorrow.

So now you've spotted an open alley in the trees, and the buck is galloping toward it like an antlered Secretariat down the Preakness backstretch. What you need to do now is pick up the deer in your sights, swing with it as it nears your chosen lane, and then -- and this is extremely important -- continue the swing while leading the animal just a bit and squeezing the trigger in a slow, steady action. Of course, the further away the deer is, the more you'll have to lead it, but if you've trusted your instincts and followed my advice , you sh ... what's that? You just remembered that you left your bullets on the dash of your pickup?

Yeah, sure, you probably should walk back and get them now. And grab an extra pack of Ho-Hos while you're there. It's gonna' be a long day.

OK, the next situation we'll examine is windy conditions. As much as we'd all like to hunt on perfectly calm days, there will be times when cold fronts blow through and the air currents will be ripping through the woods. When this happens, you'll need to use some common sense, think through your shot, and adjust on the fly.

Lets's suppose you're sitting in your favorite tree stand -- the one from which you shot a 12-pointer in 1974 but haven't seen a deer in since, but you keep coming back, 'cuz, well, you know, it's gonna' produce again someday -- and you glance off to the top of the hardwood ridge and there he stands, the king of the forest. It's a perfect situation, he can't smell you, doesn't have a clue you're there, and well, you probably could call the taxidermist first to get ahead on the waiting list, but maybe you just outta' take care of the 320-yard shot first. That's right, 320 yards, with a northwest clipper boiling over the ridge at 23 mph. It's a cross-wind, for sure, pretty steady, that's good, but you're wishing now that you'd have loaded some 150-grain cartridges instead of all 130s 'cuz that extra weight would come in handy about now. So would that toilet paper you also left on your truck dash, but that's a whole other story.

The buck takes a few steps, nose into the wind. It's alright, you're safely at cross current, ducked down behind your camouflage burlap, you haven't made a sound since last night's 8-bean burrito jumped out about 5 minutes ago and said, 'Hey, remember me?'

You steady your rifle on your tree stand shooting rest now, dial up the 9-power scope to 7 -- not too high, not too low -- and settle the cross hairs on the brute's muscular shoulder. Taking into account the wind and the distance, you raise the hairs a bit high, then edge them out a touch, to counter the perpendicular force the wind will exert on your projectile as it screeches toward its inevitable collision with your trophy's vital organs.

A big breath now, inhale deeply, slow exhale. Calculate one more time, 23 mph, 320 yards, 130 grains. The buck stands photograph still. Between heartbeats, you squeeze.

Off on the ridge, a bluejay calls. A squirrel, acorn in mouth, jumps to the back side of a red oak. The wind curls the smell of spent powder from the end of your barrel.

Did you get 'em?

Nope, you reply, you missed the wall.

by TRG Editor Dean Lesar