THE EVERYDAY HUNTER: One Good Shot

“Bang” After the echo died away, “Bang.”

“That must have been Steve,” Dad said to my brother Andy. A little while later I crossed paths with Andy as I was dragging an eight-point out of the woods.

“Why’d it take two shots?” Andy asked.

I said, “Well, he went right down with the first shot, but when I walked up to him I grabbed an antler to hoist his head. He twisted the antler out of my hand and got up running, so I had to shoot again.”

True story. That was many years ago. When we were young, Dad and my brothers kidded me for always taking two shots. I connected on most of the first shots, but for one reason or another had to send another bullet deer-ward. Usually it was because the deer didn’t go down quickly enough. A heart-shot deer can run a hundred yards.

OK. Maybe I did miss a few of those first shots. Like the first shot on one of my two 10-points last season. (Yes, you read that right. I got the first one in New York on Thanksgiving Day and the second one in Pennsylvania on opening day. Probably a fluke.)

When you miss a deer, it’s never a good thing but not necessarily the worst thing either. Often, they don’t know the meaning of a rifle shot, or they don’t know where it came from. They hear other loud noises. Thunder comes to mind. Trees snapping. Deer don’t recognize a loud noise, by itself, as a threat.

But when you miss that first shot, the second shot isn’t easy. The deer is alert. He might be confused. And he’s ready to take off like an Olympic hurdler.

Several things can go wrong with first shots. I was still-hunting last season on opening day, and when the buck got up about 70 yards away I had just stepped over a log and squeezed under the limb of a beech tree, rustling the dried leaves that still clung to it. He heard it, but he wasn’t sure where the sound came from. So, he froze while his eyes and nose gathered information to confirm what his ears heard.

It should have been an easy shot, but I was wearing a backpack with wide, padded straps. The straps prevented a good anchor into my shoulder, which affected my cheek weld against the stock. I was holding the rifle too loosely, and the crosshairs in the scope were wandering around on and apparently off the deer’s chest.

The second shot is a difficult mental and physical challenge. You’re not just cycling another round into the rifle’s chamber and pulling the trigger again. You’re watching the deer to see how he’s sizing up the situation. You’re trying to cycle the bolt as quietly as possible. You’re thinking about wind direction. You get tunnel vision, and become oblivious to any other deer that may be there. You’re trying to figure out what went wrong kind of a post-mortem analysis without anything being dead yet. And you’re trying to correct what went wrong without even being sure what happened.

And the urgency of the moment tends to jolt you with an extra squirt from your adrenal glands not what you need while you’re trying to remain calm.

On top of all that, when you’re trying to change your reputation as Second-shot Steve, you’re giving that ages-old monkey another piggy back ride.

Fortunately, my second shot connected. I prefer a high shoulder shot because it usually drops the deer in his tracks, but I hit him low. The bullet ruined his heart, and he had one last 80-yard sprint left in him.

When we hear other hunters fire off two rounds, we usually think, “There’s a deer that got away.” But not always. And for me, fortunately, not usually. Most of the time I make one good shot, but it’s not always the first shot.

When the “Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell him exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com. This column and others can be accessed online at www.EverydayHunter.com.