FACT: If you hunt whitetails long enough, you will end up on a tracking mission. That’s because deer are remarkably hardy animals that are known to travel hundreds of yards even after a well-placed fatal shot. However, hunters can greatly reduce the chance of that happening—as well as those late-night tracking excursions—by following a few tips.
1. Practice Shooting in Hunting Scenarios
It is one thing to practice shooting from a bench and quite another to shoot from a sitting position in a ground blind, treestand or up against a tree. A good way to make sure you make accurate shots is to start by sighting-in on a bench, but after a bit of practice following the sight-in period, take a few shots in a hunting scenario as well to see how you do. That includes being fully dressed in your hunting gear somewhere like a treestand or in a ground blind. If nothing else, use a .22 or even an airgun to get the basic feel of shooting in such scenarios, so you know how you would have to adjust in the field.
2. Know the Anatomy of the Deer and Resist the Temptation for Poorly Angled Shots
Sometimes deer show up and we feel rushed to put the deer down and notch a tag. Perhaps the angle of the deer is not quite what it should be. Maybe the deer are moving around a lot. Or the biggest buck you have seen all season is standing there, but not quite in the best position for an “anchor” or kill shot that will quickly put it down.
The first step is to know the anatomy of a deer. Don’t make the rookie mistake of thinking every deer will give you a broadside shot. Archery hunters know that deer are not often at the premium broadside angle. Sometimes they are quartered and sometimes they are facing away or towards us.
If you know where the vitals are (heart and lungs) then you can then picture where you need to place the shot to hit those vitals. Picture a volleyball between the shoulders and keep that in mind when taking quartering shots. Without doing that, hunters can completely miss vitals when aiming at the shoulder, instead of in front of or behind, as is necessary for quartering shots. Taking shots from above means keeping the angle in mind as well.
Facing away shots should never be taken and deer facing directly at you are not going to offer much of a blood trail if you shoot them, but if you have a heavy enough bullet, a clean shot and steady aim at a reasonable range, you can put the bullet in the boiler room and drop the deer. I try to avoid those shots simply because having to track a deer means you run a risk of not finding it or not finding it before something else like a coyote, wolf or bear finds it.
3. Teach Yourself to Shoot with Both Hands
I did this a long time ago as a Marine. You never know when you might have to switch hands due to injury, or in the case of hunting, the animal comes up on the wrong side. I spent a lot of time practicing with the “off” hand and now I am 95% proficient or more with that hand. I estimate having harvested at least 40-45% of my turkeys and deer with my opposite hand. I hate to think about having 40% less meat in my freezer if I had not taught myself to shoot with both hands. Start with a .22 or airgun to save money on ammo and have fun with it. You will be amazed how many times you will get the opportunity to use that supposed “lesser” hand!
4. Make Sure Your Shooting Lane is Clear
This may sound like a no-brainer, but a lot of deer and a few turkeys have run off unscathed because I did not do this in my early years of hunting. That little branch you have 20 yards from you, but between you and the deer? Well, it may deflect a bullet enough to make a clean miss or worse, a gut shot instead of a lung shot. Brush or twigs a few feet from the deer may not deflect the round much, but any more than that are chancy.
When you sit down at your stand, scan the likely lanes of fire and note where branches are. Sometimes they are unnoticeable through a scope but visible to the eye not looking through a scope. If you’re hunting over a grassy field or bean field and deer come out at longer ranges, consider if you have a clean line of sight all the way to the vitals. Shooting through grass or beans is not the way to drop the deer on the spot and worse yet, finding the exact spot the deer was standing in a field with look-alike grass or beans 300 yards from where you shot is going to be a tall order.
5. Do Not Alert the Deer Before the Shot!
Do everything in your power to remain hidden and undetected before the shot. This may sound like common sense as well, and it is, but I have mentored a few hunters that in the last few seconds feel like it won’t matter if the deer detect movement. That leads to a rushed shot or a shot when the deer is twisting or turning to get out of the area.
Remain scentless, fully camouflaged and quiet. Wait until the deer looks away or is behind cover to put the gun up in position. If you do so, you will likely get a clean and clear shot at a relaxed animal that won’t be as unpredictable. That results in an easier shot to take and a quicker ending!
This season, follow these tips to ensure you respect the life of the animal and humanely harvest your venison for the freezer. A quick kill shot results in less time tracking, better tasting meat and less meat wasted from the bullet impact.