I am going to open this conversation with one of the most embarrassing moments that I have had while hunting. I was out by myself while my husband was working on a Saturday morning. Utah only has about 10 days of rifle deer season, so I wanted to go out and get a deer. I also was just super excited that I got to borrow his Ruger 300 WM rifle since he wasn’t going out with me.
I started out on the ridge looking out into the edge of a finger and down into a sort of flat bowl. I got into position and waited for sunrise. I sat for several hours and watched, knowing that the deer loved that area. None of the deer that I usually see there are trophies, but I wanted meat (and I wanted to have success while hunting solo). I put several dumb expectations on myself and made some critical errors. I do believe that every component of making a good shot was screwed up that day because I was impatient and did not train in any position other than a bench at a range. Let us take this moment to learn from my lapse in judgment. Let me share with you why we all should train from a variety of shooting stances and positions.
First of all, we know that there is a split second from when you see an animal that you wish to hunt and your decision to pursue it. You have to choose whether you post up right away or if it would be better to try to get closer and make a better shot. There are trees, scrub, limbs, rocks, etc that could limit your ability to make a simple shot. We need to have the capability of finding what is around us to provide the support and stability to get a quality shot.
I had the amazing opportunity to teach the Advanced Pistol Courses with the Utah Ladies Hunting Camps for several years. During one of the time slots that I did not have a class scheduled for, I was able to sit in on the rifle Instruction. The R&K Hunting Lodge had targets set up covering the mountain side for rifle shots. It was an amazing opportunity to begin shooting and learning. Weatherby had provided Camilla 6.5 CM rifles to every participant for the event so that they could learn while attending. Rob Gearing of Spartan Precision was also on site and was teaching how to shoot from a variety of positions and how to utilize a tripod or bipod for maximum support. We went through shooting from prone, sitting upright, kneeling, and even standing with the tripod. It was a fabulous learning moment, as he provided scenarios such as this: “Make the shot on the steel target at 350 yards. The target animal continues to move so you have to chamber another round and follow up with a shot at the 400 yard target up the mountain side”. This was supremely helpful at making sure that you maintain your sight picture in your scope and be ready to follow the animal until you are sure it will go down.
Another major reason to be capable and practiced at making shots from a variety of positions is that you have no idea what the terrain may be when you locate your animal. You may have no chance to lay prone if you are surrounded by scrub or bushes with no open shot lane. You may be able to find a sturdy tree or limb that you may brace on to gain the stability that you need. You may have to stand and brace your entire body against a tree. The point is that you need to be confident and ready before your finger gets into that trigger guard.
I was on my first cow elk hunt with a dear friend in January of 2019. It was freezing that morning at -12 degrees. When we found the herd we were standing for the first shot opportunity but they started moving away. Luckily they went near a patch of trees, and I was able to lean over the back side of the snow machine to make my shot count. This shot was much similar to the ones that come from the long range match tank traps. My cow took a good hit but continued to walk into the trees. I followed her and posted up on the limb of a small tree to make the next shot, but another tree was blocking her from a good hit. I had to make my shot from standing but was relatively close enough that it was a good shot without support. I have learned the importance of using whatever is nearby to allow yourself the best chance at making a great shot.
I will return to the moment of absolute shame on a mountain now. The one shot that should never have been made and will haunt me forever, although it pushed me to do exactly what this article is all about.
I had been sitting for a few hours and no deer had moved through at all. I got up and decided to hike for a while and see what some of the other meadows looked like from the other mountain ridges higher up the mountain. Despite all of my efforts, I found nothing. As I was walking back down to where I started my morning to pack up and go home, I looked over at the face that I was watching as the sun came up. There were 3 BUCKS just hanging out right where I was watching a few hours ago. Dang IT!
I grabbed my binos and confirmed the deer and selected the one that was giving me the best shot. He was bedded, which wasn’t a great option for me, but I ran to a good spot where I thought that I could post myself and get a great shot at 250 yards. I get to my spot and realize that it is really sloped and there is no way to get closer or more level. I scrunched myself up like Jack Skellington and put the 300 Win Mag on my tripod. The sun was just topping over the skyline of the mountain and shining RIGHT into my face. I had to use my left hand to shield my eye because I couldn’t see. I only had a beanie, and not my regular ball cap.
I tried to zoom in closer in the scope so that I could get a good shot, but quickly realized that my husband’s scope (it got replaced the next week) did not have any dial or adjustments. I was so anxious to prove to myself that I could hunt on my own, that I made a shot. OF COURSE I MISSED! The deer actually laid there and laughed at me, I swear. He did get up at a leisurely stroll and wander off to another napping spot.
The biggest takeaway from that day was that I needed to train more, train well, and not rush myself into making a piss poor shot. Luckily the deer was not hit (not even close). I learned a lot from that moment. Now that I have had more detailed instruction and much better ability to find proper support, I am confident that I will make the next shot.
Learn from my moment of absolute dumbassery. Take the time to get off of the bench rest and sitting support to really train on prone, kneeling, propped on a rock or a limb, etc. You will greatly increase the shot potential, and you will find many more shot opportunities once you have practiced utilizing all of your surroundings.