It’s the 9:30 am day 4 of late season mulies in the high country. You’ve been living out of your pack 6 miles from a road, physically tired and even more mentally drained. You’ve been glassing the same drainage all morning with no action, when out of nowhere a mature 4×4 at 522 yards casually stands up out of his bed to soak up some sun. There’s a very minimal wind in your face, and he has no idea you even exist.
It’s the second evening of the first season on a public land hunt and you’re walking back to your truck from a long day seeing lots of deer, but all out of range. Out of the blue, you see a ‘good rack’ deer trotting up the slope above you. A quick range says 375 yards, 15 degrees up hill, and the wind is quite sporty and swirling. The buck knows you’re there, and he’s agitated but curious….
If you’ve spent any amount of time stalk hunting western game, you can probably picture both of these scenarios pretty easy. Heck, you can probably recall a similar situation you’ve experienced, and all the angst, maybe joy, or maybe defeat that it brought.
At face value, ask yourself this question: What skills and decisions does it take to turn these scenarios into success and not ‘missed’ opportunities? (Terrible pun intended)
Are the skills the same? Does the thought process carry out the same steps? Do you pull the trigger?
Why does it matter
I hear over and over hunters quote the old adage “Pulling the trigger is the easy part. Then the real work begins.”
These sportsmen spend hours and hours scouting the hills, perusing maps, and studying the weather. They plan their clothes, their diets, their entry and exit plans. Yet, when the very last ‘step’ presents itself to close the deal on the months, miles and dollars of prep, they suddenly find themselves reactive to the situation, rather than be proactive about a plan of attack to make that ‘one shot’ count.
In that moment, they realize pulling the trigger was neither the easy part, nor the hard part, but that each part of chasing big game requires high levels of prep to best set yourself up for success.
So what am I getting at here?
Well, it’s simple. If you’re reading this, you’re likely at least interested, if not experienced in, precision rifles and long-range hunting. As such, you must have A PROCESS.
In this article, I will cover a few tips for my process and how I’m constantly being proactive for the moment that ‘one shot’ presents itself.
So first, let’s start with something basic, but under-appreciated: Gear familiarity.
That’s not just saying know your gun but know how you plan to employ your gun. Do you have a plan for managing DOPE? Is it easily accessible? For more tips on that, check out this article .
Have you addressed how your rifle and binos/rangefinder are situated relative to the rest of your gear? There’s a million ways to sling/carry your rifles on the mountain, and most of them aren’t exactly suited for quick deployment, especially when mixed in with a chest rig bino harness, a 40 lbs multi-day pack, a sidearm possibly strapped to your hip, and whatever other accessories you may be toting.
This often gets overlooked, and yet it’s probably the easiest prep you can do. It requires no heart rate elevation, no driving, and can be done in the middle of the living room while your wife rolls her eyes at you for blocking her view of whatever chick flick she has rolling on the flat screen.
The final part of gear familiarity for me is building a shooting position. Once again this is, in fact, something that can be practiced in your backyard if you choose to ignore the judgment passed by your hippy neighbor. And it can pay dividends in the backwoods.
There are things I am very intentional about carrying on most all hunts. The main three are:
- A short bipod on my rifle.
- A lightweight tripod, and
- A small, lightweight shooting bag.
That may seem like a little too much bulk to some, or even not enough gear to others. But when you factor in the frame pack you’re likely carrying, as well as the multiple warming layers, there’s really not a shooting scenario that can’t be managed with a little forethought and creativity. But they’re all useless if you don’t ‘familiarize’ yourself.
Practice going from standing with all gear stowed to a full prone shot very quickly. Practice taking off hand shots with a full pack on your back. Practice sitting behind your tripod with binos and transitioning to rifle clamped onto tripod for an up-angle shot while making minimal noise. Practice removing your backpack full of clothes and laying it over your patio table and where your rifle would balance on it for a proper down-angle shot, where a bipod wouldn’t really work.
Do it over and over again. Figure out what’s comfortable, what’s smooth, what unnecessary motion can be removed from ‘the process.’ You’ll actually surprise yourself with how much this may even change the layout of your loadout. But every ounce of prep is another tool in your toolbox. And when I say do it over and over again, remember this.
Don’t practice it til you get it right. Practice til you can’t get it wrong.
So now let’s leave the truck and head to the woods. Well, not quite yet. Is your gear ready? Ever been 100 yards from the truck and seen an animal you’re willing to take? I have, and on multiple occasions, I wasn’t ready. And thus, my ‘process’ now starts at the truck.
First and foremost, is gear layout. Is my rangefinder on my chest? Is my tripod strapped to my pack? Is my ammo easily accessible? Is my bipod attached to my rifle? Is my shooting bag where I want it? Most importantly, is my turret set to zero after practicing at the range last week?
This is just my checklist that comes from the aforementioned practice. But if you don’t go over your own checklist before getting 5 feet from your truck, you may find yourself unprepared for a situation similar to scenario 2 at the beginning of this article. Nobody wants that. ‘The process’ starts the moment you step out of the truck.
I’ll admit this next part of the process mostly applies to western hunting, or at least where you’re covering lots of ground and can see a long way. Moving is really where your ‘process’ is most vulnerable. You’re trying to be quiet, you’re trying to cover a lot of ground with your naked eye, you’re probably even moving with a purpose.
A lot of mental faculties are being used, and about the moment scenario 2 above presents itself, you find yourself extremely reactive, and scrambling to make things happen. This is where I’ll admit my “I’m a shooter who likes to hunt” kicks in. If my feet have quit moving, whether it’s to glass a quick meadow, because I saw something move, or even just to catch my breath, I have taken a quick evaluation of a 10 yard radius from me to decide where the best position would be to take a shot if the need were to arise.
I fully admit I have merely laid eyes on a rock and fantasized about taking a shot off of it without ever seeing a game animal. But this need to constantly identify possible shooting positions has made closing on fleeting game opportunities possible.
Another note for ‘the process’ while in motion is the wind. As hunters, we all care about the wind. Some of us literally obsess about the wind, and will sit for hours, uncomfortably, waiting on a change of wind. Some never give a thought to wind speed.
This is such a missed opportunity (great pun). You don’t have to be dead on down to 1 mph. Especially in the realm of practical hunting distances. Consistently evaluating whether it’s a 5mph, 10mph, or more than you care to shoot in can be the difference between a DRT shot vs a long day of blood trailing, or watching the monster of your dreams trot over the far ridge without a scratch. Be aware of wind direction. That’s a must, but remember that wind speed is equally important.
Preparation while glassing can be vastly under-appreciated. What do I mean by that?
Put yourself in scenario 1 at the beginning of the article. It’s been 4 days without seeing a thing. You’re not confident an opportunity will present itself, you’ve been living behind your binos, and you’re almost just going through the motions at this point.
It’s really easy to get to your glassing spot at this point and either not touch your gear at all, or worse, yard sale it.
My ‘process’ at this point is almost militant. As mentioned, I have already evaluated where I anticipate the best place to shoot from based on terrain. My gun is placed as such, my shooting bag made accessible, magazine inserted at minimum, and dope easy to read. This is EVERY SINGLE TIME my pack comes off.
If you are stopping and taking the time to sit and look, it’s because somewhere in your mind, a chance exists that an opportunity will arise.
Additionally, if I’m sitting, I’m likely to take a little more in depth evaluation of the wind. Am I looking down a steep draw?
Do I think the wind funnels down it, or does it ramp across it? Does it look stronger down below than what I’m feeling at my location?
While glassing you’re likely opening yourself up to the possibility of a longer distance shot than while walking. You should, in turn, arm yourself with better data and forethought of taking that one precise shot that may define the whole experience.
At this point, you have one shot; one opportunity. What’s left to do really circles back to what you practiced in your backyard, at the range, or maybe even a shooting match or two.
Get a solid range estimation. Build a steady position. Dial your dope. Take a second to breathe. Pick a precise aimpoint, not just ‘part’ of the animal.
Take one last evaluation of what the wind is doing.
One last deep breath. Slow, steady, squeeze.
However, that is all obvious. Some would even say, “that’s the easy part. Now the hard work begins.” If you haven’t done all the proactive steps mentioned above, if you haven’t carried out ‘the process,’ you may find the easy part isn’t so easy. That may mean there’s no hard work to be done at all.