Time to shoot straight

A recent morning found me on the telephone planning a hunt for
the fall of 2002. When we had finished our business, the outfitter
and myself got talking about hunting and hunters in general. The
outfitter of course got to telling me about all of the hunters who
have come into his camp who simply cannot shoot. I say “of course”
because I have yet to know a whitetail outfitter who does not have
an endless litany of botched-shot stories. This may surprise you,
but good outfitters want you to shoot straight. They want you to
make a good shot and go home with the trophy of your dreams, then
tell all of your friends about this place that they must hunt.
Hunters go home with the memory of a miss fresh in their minds,
even though the outfitter has done everything in his power to put
the hunter into position for the shot, rarely speak favorably of
the outfitter or his skills.

“Why would anyone spend a couple thousand dollars on a hunt and
then show up with a bow or a muzzleloader or a rifle which they
cannot shoot accurately? I just don’t understand it,” he said.

I don’t either. And I’m not just talking about those who pay
outfitters to hunt deer. Each year I hear dozens of stories of
missed opportunities by hunters who hunt near home. Some were not
hunter error. But most are.

Have I ever missed? You bet. Painful misses, too. Sometimes I
think I will remember the misses far longer than those which
connected. And most of the misses have been my fault, too. Most
misses can be attributed to one or more of these three causes:
equipment, practice or emotions.

Equipment

When it comes to bows, arrows, muzzleloaders, rifles, shotguns,
and optics, you get what you pay for. That does not mean that you
cannot use less expensive models, but don’t expect them to perform
like the top-of-the-line models. I would rather spend my money on a
used top-of-the-line whatever than on a brand new cheapie.

Use of archery shop pros and gunsmiths. When it comes to tools
like screwdrivers and wrenches, I am a klutz. But I have seen many
hunters shooting bows with sights, or rests, or peeps, or whatever
which were not suited to their bows or were incorrectly installed.
No matter how much they practiced they never would be able to shoot
accurately. Ditto for arrows. If the arrow does not match your
draw-length and poundage, you’ll never shoot a decent group. Buy
your equipment at a shop, then let them help you select and install
the accessories. They will help you paper-tune your bow so that you
know that everything is right. It will cost a little more than if
you buy from the local discount hardware store, but it’s money well
spent.

With firearms it is not as critical that you have a gunsmith set
you up, but if you are unsure about how to mount a scope or adjust
iron sights, a good gunsmith can save you grief.

Practice

Practice now. Every good bowhunter is shooting right now. Those
bowhunters who each year bend my ear with sorrowful stories of a
missed opportunity or worse, a wounded deer, are the same ones who
start practicing a week or two before the season opens. A common
comment from this group is, “Hey, I picked up my bow last week and
darned if I wasn’t shooting just as good as when I put it away last
fall.” That would be great if they had been able to hit what they
were shooting at last fall.

Becoming proficient with a bow demands lots of practice. Period.
There are no shortcuts.

Hitting what you are aiming at with a rifle, muzzleloader, or
slug-gun is not as difficult as with a bow, which is why half of
the deer hunters in the country don’t practice at all. Most of the
other half take Old Betsy out to the range or out behind the barn a
week or two before the season, get a good rest on some sandbags,
put a few rounds through the old girl, admire the nice group and
proudly declare themselves and the gun ready. When they miss, they
wonder why.

In all of the places I have hunted deer, I have never
encountered a shooting bench or sandbags. When I sight in a new gun
or check the zero on one of my old standbys, I do so from sandbags
or a shooting vice. But once I am happy with the zero, I forget the
bench and start the real practice. Can I hit my target from the
kneeling, sitting, and standing positions? That’s the real
test.

Controlling your emotions

You’ve been sitting on stand for a couple of hours, or maybe a
couple of days. Suddenly you hear hooves crunching dry leaves. Your
first glimpse takes your breath away. Your heart kicks into
overdrive. Blood pounds in your temples. You need oxygen but are
afraid to breathe. All of a sudden your legs feel like rubber, and
your mind is screaming “Shoot dummy, shoot!” If you don’t feel some
of those emotions when a big buck, or maybe any deer approaches,
odds are you are not a deer hunter. When I quit feeling that way,
I’ll give up deer hunting and take up badminton.

Don’t stop feeling these emotions; learn to deal with them.
Hunters have different ways of doing this. Some guys get mad at the
deer. This focuses them on making a good shot. Others remind
themselves that the approaching deer is just a target like the one
at the range. If they shoot the same way, the bullet or the arrow
will hit home. For some bowhunters, competing in 3-D events where
they find themselves shooting under the pressure of competition
makes it easier to keep it all together when Mr. Big appears.

Me, I talk to myself. “Pick a spot, pick a spot,” is my mantra
when a shootable deer appears. For me, repeating those three words
in my mind focuses it on helping me pick that spot.

Start with good equipment, practice, and work at controlling
your nerves at the moment of truth arrives. Do three of these
things and you will rarely miss.

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