by J. Oswald
“He’s DOWN!” hailed the cry through the maze of standing corn. Hustling between rows toward the field edge marking the final bark of my partner’s .30-06, a wave of relief washed away a morning’s worth of nausea and second guesses. Had we given him enough time to lie down? Did the bullet make it through the big buck’s massive shoulder and into his vitals? Will there be enough blood to follow? None of it mattered now, and the next hail of “…AND HE’S BIG!” transformed my relief into pure exhilaration. I’d taken the buck of a lifetime, ten seasons in the making.
Even better, I had a little help from my friends in taking this stately 12 point trophy. When he completes his journey back to the wall of the new camp, we’ll remember the equal parts teamwork and good fortune that made that day as unique as the distinctive 5 by 7 rack of our shared trophy.
Reflecting on the encounter with this season’s trophy, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the effort required to put this deer down for good. Why did he run so far and require a follow-up shot? Was it the initial shot placement, or did the bullet construction let me down?
These and similar haunting questions fuel a desire to continuously improve my abilities as both a marksman and a sportsman. Taking whitetails and other game cleanly and humanely is of paramount importance to my internal rating system that files memories afield under either “Positive,” “Negative,” or “Should Have Slept in That Morning.” We owe this much to the game, a quick and humane end to a life that lends so much enjoyment to ours.
Research, preparation and practice are 3 components of an off-season training regimen hunters can employ to improve their abilities and technique. Research is an excellent place to start, and it can focus on any aspect of the experience afield. For example, reading Wayne van Zwoll’s “Hunter’s Guide to Ballistics” improved my understanding of rifle ballistics immeasurably. I came away from this book with renewed confidence. This book should be required reading for any sportsman, in fact there may not be a better way to spend a firearm purchase waiting period.
How many of us know the guy that arrives in camp having not cleaned or even uncased his rifle since last season, claiming that his rifle is still zeroed, but can’t figure out why he missed? Preparation and practice are given plenty of ink in hunting literature but an easy place to fall short. Multiple components of accuracy need to be fine tuned, however, including shot placement, overall comfort level with the weapon, as well as the simple mechanics of trigger pull and breathing. There is no better way to ensure confidence in the field than with repetitive and regular practice sessions with your firearm.
Time constraints generally derail the best laid plans to hit the range for off-season practice. Formulating a plan for improvement directly after the season is a key step in maintaining focus and commitment. Motivation can come from a missed shot, a perfect shot, or simply making a personal vow to better understand the game or the sport that you love. A well-conceived plan must begin with the research, lead to preparation and adjustments followed by ongoing practice sessions. All of us strive for improvement in our personal and professional lives, why shouldn’t this commitment extend to the sporting life as well?