5 Ways To Ruin Your Rifle Deer Hunt
The Black Hills rifle deer season is underway. I filled my doe tag last weekend near Nemo. The main West River opener is this Saturday for which I have two tags, and the East River opener is the following Saturday, November 18, which I have one for. Thousands of orange clad hunters will be taking to tree stands, blinds, and favorite spots. It's an exciting month for rifle hunters.
Over the years I have done some dumb things when deer hunting. And my friends, who know who they are but will remain nameless, have also done some really dumb things that ruined their hunts, or at least a part of one. Here is a four-point sampling of our stupidity.
1. Overthinking the Shot
Two years ago while walking a massive draw along Lake Oahe I kicked up the biggest whitetail buck I've ever seen in person. It happened so fast I couldn't tell you how many points there were but the antlers spanned very wide beyond the ears. He was bedded down in some thick brush and trees. Two does that were bedded with him also took off, a few yards to the bottom and then up the high side of the draw. I immediately started thinking about how massive this draw was, maybe it could be called a valley. He was on the run but because of the angle he was running up, up and mostly straight away from me, and because of how damn big he was, a shot on this monster was not out of the question.
For some reason, even though he was only 15 yards away from me when he rattled his antlers against the stubby trees as he bolted, I thought by the time I had him in my scope he had to have been at least 250 yards away. I also gave a lot of weight in my choice of aim to the fact that he was moving slightly left to right from my vantage point. I intentionally led him by 3 inches off the right of the top of his right shoulder, trying to hit him in the top of the back and into the neck. I squeezed off the shot and he lurched. I got him!
After the three deer crested the hill I slung my rifle and pulled out the range finder. It was only 119 yards to where he was when I fired. When my buddy and I got to the top of the other side of the draw to look for blood we found nothing but grass, dirt and weeds. When it became evident that I missed I replayed the shot in my mind. I immediately knew the bullet passed 3 inches off his right shoulder. The lurch was probably the deer being startled by the supersonic crack of the bullet whizzing by him. I just got stupid. What made my miss worse was that I had a point blank zero sighted in for my .308 Winchester. I should have just pointed and shot.
2. Bring the Wrong Ammunition for Your Rifle
Me and my buddy, who has hunted deer a fair amount but not for a long time, got out of the truck in the dark on opening day. We still had a good 45 minutes until shooting light so we could take our time being sneaky to get to our spots, which were a ways off. I got out of the truck, loaded my rifle and waited for him to come around to join me before walking off.
It was taking my buddy a long time to come around. He finally asks me to look at his rifle to see what the problem is. He told me he brought a "7mm magnum" which I assumed to be a 7mm Remington Magnum. When I took the very nice Kimber rifle from him I opened the bolt. Even in the sparse moonlight I already knew what the problem was. This was a short action rifle and he was trying to load the magazine with a long action cartridge. To confirm it I pulled out my flashlight and rolled the rifle over to read the caliber stamp on the other side of the barrel. It was stamped "7mm Winchester Short Magnum."
We hunted the morning. He used my backup rifle, an .223 Remington that I did have some heavier Sierra Gameking bullets loaded for. At lunchtime we ran into town and got him the proper ammo.
3. Not Verifying the Zero of your Rifle
I was hunting in the Black Hills in 2016 with a buddy who is mainly a bowhunter who also takes a rifle or muzzleloader tag when he can get one. It was our final day to hunt. I was set up behind a natural blind of evergreen bushes near a water hole on the edge of a treeline. My buddy was sitting in some trees about 60 yards off to my right. After a five minute standoff with the lead doe that wouldn't give me a clean shot, she finally moved to the left enough for me to shoot. She dropped instantly and my tag was filled.
The trailing doe was still standing 10 yards behind where the first one fell. I stayed hunkered down behind my bush knowing that my buddy was probably lining up a shot. He was and a few minutes later he did.
This doe took off running in the direction from which she came. He reloaded and emerged from his spot. We both moved forward looking for blood to track her by and we found it. But not much. We followed tiny trickles for roughly 40 yards until he spotted the deer standing on the other side of some stacked timber. He took another shot. Judging from the animal's reaction, it was a clean miss. She ran off, hopped a fence, and we never saw her again. After inspecting the location of the deer for the second shot there was no blood to be found. My buddy felt terrible that he was leaving a wounded deer that we wouldn't be able to find.
A few days after we got home he took his rifle out to check the zero. He had not zeroed it before leaving for the Black Hills but figured that since it was dead on two years ago when he last used it that it would still be dead on. It wasn't. He shot 3 rounds at a target that grouped nicely - about 8 inches straight left of the point of aim. He fixed the zero and found a couple days to go back to the hills and filled his tag with a nice buck.
4. Wearing Too Many Layers
Often times during the East River deer opener it is pretty cold. Without looking up the temps I would guess that the average shooting light temp on opening day is somewhere around 20 degrees. Twice in the last four years I have given myself a nasty case of heat exhaustion. No, really!
In the morning I usually sit where I know the deer are likely to travel. When things settle down I will go for a walk and see if I can run into one before sitting in the evening. It's been on these walks that I kept wearing all the warm layers from the morning and started sweating. So much one year I just thought the tube from my water bladder pack was just leaking onto my wrists. No, that was the sweat wicked to the end of my sleeves.
I eventually ended up with a massive headache. Because I am the embodiment of insanity, I did the same thing again the following year. I did it so I wouldn't have to carry a pack and ditch layers. Now I carry a pack and ditch layers or even go back to the truck to shed layers.