Every hunter has done it — missed a shot.
No blood, no hair or any sign the bullet or arrow connected with the target. It doesn’t matter the length of experience or how many hunts have transpired. We as hunters sometimes miss.
How is it possible with an animal as large as a deer to miss a shot? The excuses and factors can be many. And we are quick to shift the blame or try to give reason why we miss. With human nature it’s never easy to admit we missed the shot. And we must take the trash talk and ragging from our hunting buddies and friends.
Analyzing the miss and understanding what happened can help hunters on the next hunt have the confidence to make another shot. Instead of agonizing over the miss, research what lead up to the miss and take the steps to make corrections and adjustments as needed.
Old buck fever
One thing that has saved many an old buck from their demise from hunters is buck fever. It’s not the type of fever you can measure with a thermometer. Rather, it is the intensity of having a large buck in your sights. Your heart races as sweat drops bead on your forehead in below freezing temps and almost uncontrollable shakes take over your body.
Yes, buck fever is real and can infect any deer hunter instantly when a bruiser buck suddenly appears. There is no medicine available to control it, but there are methods a hunter can take to minimize the effects to buck fever.
“Rushing the shot can lead to a miss, said longtime deer hunter, David Lockridge, of Lineville. “Pick a spot and aim small.”
Lockridge advises hunters to understand the anatomy of a deer. Know the kill zone and proper shot placement. Often hunters will rush and take a shot at the whole deer. While the deer is a large animal, hurrying through the aiming and firing process can result in a complete miss.
One thing some hunters suggest is not to think about the size of the buck’s rack. Sure, you want to make certain the buck is legal or fits within the confines of any club rules or regulations but, spending too much time focusing on the rack can increase the symptoms of buck fever.
Taking too much time aiming and watching through your scope can cause muscle fatigue and contribute to a missed shot. Using a pair of quality binoculars to judge the deer can help get a better overall picture of the buck and shooting situation.
Buck fever can also cause rushed shots. Hunters shoot without getting the deer in the sight picture. They forget their breathing and proper shooting form. This can be cause for a complete miss and frustration.
Brandon Brown of Ashland said, “Don’t jerk the trigger. Remember to squeeze the trigger and hold the gun steady after the shot.”
Some hunters may move the gun to quickly after firing to look for the deer to fall. Subconsciously a hunter can move the gun off target in anticipation of the shot and kill, resulting in a miss.
Know your firearm, hunting situation
Another factor that can cause a miss is not being familiar with your firearm and how it shoots. Sure, you may after practiced some punch holes in paper at the range to get the scope set on “zero”. But have you become familiar on the complete operation of the firearm.
“Shooting at the range target is different than shooting at a deer in the woods,” said Brown. “Practice shooting from actual hunting situations.”
A shot at a buck is not always from sitting in a chair or a bench. Shooting from an elevated tree stand can be a completely different experience. Holding a 7-pound rifle and scope to your shoulder for a few minutes can cause muscle fatigue. Practice holding your firearm in shooting position on a target and see how soon it is before the cross hairs in the scope start to dance.
A monster buck may not always appear when your seated in your stand. A trophy deer could appear while venturing to or from your stand. Wise hunters will want to practice form different positions. Kneeling or sitting on the round with legs crossed are two stable shooting positions.
Also, practice aiming and shooting with a tree as a prop. Station yourself with your firearm against a tree with your arm to steady the shot. Make sure your feet are in the proper potion and you are not off balance.
Also, the rifle sling can be used to steady your aim. Place your arm through the sling and behind your elbow to secure a firm grip on the rifle. Leather slings will not stretch. Nylon slings will work too, but they can slip.
“Know your firearm, how it functions and the features,” Lockridge said. “Know the limits of your firearm and your shooting limits.”
Lockridge mentions some hunters may have too much gun. They often go with the popular hunting calibers. Some firearms and certain calibers can have too much recoil. The heavy recoil can cause the shooter to flinch resulting in a missed shot.
One option to reduce flinch is change to a caliber that has less recoil. There are many hunting caliber options available today that have little recoil. Some ammunition manufacturers offer rifle cartridges in reduced recoil for many popular calibers.
One option to help reduce rifle recoil and flinching is add or replace the stock recoil pad. LimbSaver and Pachmayr offer premium recoil pads. A more expensive approach to reducing recoil is a muzzle break or porting.
Lockridge said the times he has missed is when he was out of his comfort zone. Unfamiliar terrain and unknown yardage were the two factors he mentioned. Not only being familiar with your firearm is important but knowing your hunting area can also be critical in preventing a miss.
“Some hunters may turn their scope up to full power,” Lockridge said. “A buck runs up at 20-yards and all they can see is a patch of hair.”
A lower scope power or wide-angle model may prove more effective in thicker brush. Even open sights may be an option if the shots are around 50- yards or less. Big, powerful scopes don’t always result in an accurate hit.
Lockridge uses three different rifles in various calibers and he is intimately familiar with one’s shooting characteristics. He will choose the one that fits his hunting situation for that day.
All shots at a buck are not across open terrain. Brush, limbs and small trees may obscure the line-of-sight of the hunter and bullet. Most of the time these objects are not seen when focusing through a scope on the shoulder of a buck. The smallest twig can deflect and cause a miss.
Weather can also cause a hunter to miss a shot. Rain and fog can obscure the target. A heavy rain can change the trajectory of the bullet. In these cases, waiting it out may be the only option.
We can use some methods to minimize missed shots. But, as long as hunters hunt and take shots at deer, there will be misses. And of course, this will give us plenty of excuses to talk about around the campfire.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org.