Once July rolls around, the deer near my home all turn to that buckskin color. My dad called me one July morning quite excited that he had seen three big bucks, and one was a monster. The big ones almost had their horns clear out. I guess Mother Nature was still right on schedule doing what she does best, and it was time for me to do what I like to do best-hunt for big muley bucks!
There are three things one must do to bring home the big one. Let me remind you of them: first, go where a big buck is; second, when the hunt starts, you must find him; and third, when you find him, you have to kill him.
All three are a must. Leave one out and you come home with just another hunt. I remember Lindsay, one of my hunting buddies, telling how he killed his 43-incher years ago. He had scouted and found where two or three big bucks were running, and on opening day he jumped Mr. Big. Immediately, the big buck ran down the hill. He got one snap shot. Then he got two off at 200 and 300 yards. Finally, he got one last shot at 400- plus yards just as the big buck went over the hill and disappeared.
Not knowing whether he had hit him or not (thank the Lord he had), he said to himself, “Crap! I did numbers one and two, but I blew it on number three!” Now I’m sure that most of us have all been there and done that. If you haven’t missed a big buck, you, my friend, haven’t shot at very many.
More and more often I’m seeing a different type of shooter in today’s hunter. They have a bigger heavier gun to pack; they shoot a more powerful bullet with a heavier grain lead that goes faster and flatter; and they shoot most things that are standing still. And most of them need some kind of a rest.
Now this type of sniper hunting works good in some types of hunting and with some kinds of animals. It really works well on a rifle range punching paper. However, as the great Jack O’Conner said, “Shooting from a prone position with a sling and with a heavy-barrel target rifle at short range is a different thing than shooting at big game at unknown ranges under hunting conditions.”
The target shooter in a long range match knows how far away his target is, he knows how much of an adjustment he needs to come up with, and he has the time to make those adjustments after he has made a few bad shots. He can judge the wind drift and, by changing his scope, compensate. Yep, the target is black and white and still right there, he is still in a comfortable position, and he isn’t winded from running over a hill.
The big game hunter, in contrast, does not shoot at a conspicuous black and white target from a good comfortable position at known ranges. Instead, he has to shoot at unknown ranges, at grayish and brownish animals often partly obscured by some tree, bush, or grass, and he must take his shots in all types of shooting positions. He must be able to shoot fast and hit what he’s shooting at, on the run, even if he is winded and excited. I call this type of hunting ‘running and gunning’.
You show me a hunter who can shoot good ‘running and gunning’, and I’ll show you the man who brings home the bacon most of the time. If you think that a big old muley buck is going to run up on a hill at 100 yards, stop and wait for you to get a dead rest, get in a comfortable position, take a deep breath and squeeze the trigger slowly, dream on! Well, I guess this does happen now and then, but then so does someone winning the lottery at odds of 10 million to one.
There are probably as many rifle experts in the world of hunting and shooting as there are hunters. Every man or woman has an opinion on what is the best rifle and bullet to shoot. Everyone has guns that they like-their caliber, their load, their scope, their auto, lever, pump, or bolt. To them this is the one that gets the job done. I have found that all this information is free. There is no way, not by a long shot, that I’m going to get into all that. I would have to write a thick book just to cover a part of what the experts think. But, I will tell you what has worked for me and some of the things you could do and need to keep doing, to be the best shooter you can become.
1. Shoot a gun weight and caliber that you can handle comfortably. Don’t shoot a gun that doesn’t come up smooth and clean. If it’s too big and heavy for you, bag it. Don’t shoot a caliber of bullet that will make you flinch or get shaky because of the kick and massive blast. You will kill more things hitting them with a .22 than missing them with a 375 mag.
2. You must know your gun by heart in the dark. Everything about that gun, when it comes to shooting, must be a reflex action from start to finish, no questions asked.
3. You must be able to judge distance in a hurry and at all angles. Know that if you are shooting down at a steep angle most of the time you need to hold low, no matter what gun you shoot. Most of today’s guns will shoot flatter than you think. When in doubt on how far away an animal is, make sure the cross hair is on hair. Only hold over when there is ‘NO’ doubt you need to.
4. This one is a biggie. You must be able to shoot ‘running and gunning’, off hand, at a moving target in any given situation, and hit what you shoot at. Now, I don’t care what you do to achieve this, but you must be able to hit it if old Mr. Big is to be yours. One of the best things to do that I have done all my life is hunt Jackrabbits. One learns in a hurry how to lead and pick a time to shoot and how to shoot at every kind of angle. Know your gun inside and out. I have also killed over 500 coyotes. I remember when the fur was worth $50 and I was talking to a young college student telling him how much I made hunting coyotes. The most I ever killed in one day was nine out of 10. I remember him saying, “Wow, it must be easy to kill a coyote!” My answer was, “Yea, it is if you can hit a moving six-inch target at 30 mph in thick brush on a zig-zag pattern”.
5. Make sure before you hunt anything that the gun you are shooting is clean and in good working order. Most of the time in the heat of the moment there is no room for errors and a jammed gun can’t and won’t get the job done.
6. Never, never, take for granted that your gun is sighted in. Make sure it’s sighted in with the bullets you are going to shoot. Know in your mind that it will hit where you aim it.
Now, like I’ve said before, there are hundred of ideas and ways to cover all of the many things one can do and must do to become a better shooter. I also think that today we make it awful hard on ourselves because we get a little carried away on all the ‘stuff’ we hear and read about. I think we need to get back to basics. Get great at the basics and you will be the one bringing home Mr. Big.
I know I’m not an Olympic paper shooter, but when it comes to shooting off hand at a six-inch target at 30 mph in two feet of brush in a zig-zag pattern, count me in