The Split-Second Shot
The following column appeared in the Jamestown Gazette (November 29, 2021) and the Forest Press (December 1, 2021).
Most of the shots you hear in firearms season are shots that miss deer. Why?
With a week and a half left in the New York and Pennsylvania firearms seasons, the best advice I can give is about taking the split-second shot. Almost every shot I’ve ever taken at a deer had a very small window of opportunity. Few, if any, were slam-dunk easy. Most deer I’ve shot have been one-shot kills. The reason is in how I prepare for the shot.
My friend Steve Sherk Jr. from Bradford, PA nailed it when he said, “Sometimes we hunt all season and only get one opportunity. You have to make the best of it. Don’t take a bad shot but don’t always wait for a great shot, either!”
Often, the opening you find between avoiding a bad shot and not waiting for a great shot is slim to almost none. For me, a deer almost never walks in calmly, presents a good angle, and gives me plenty of time. I can’t think of the last time that happened in firearms season. Since I don’t hunt deer from a blind and seldom hunt from a treestand, it’s usually me, and the deer, on the ground. Most often, the deer is moving, on high alert, and partly obscured by trees and limbs. In firearms season, waiting for a great shot would usually mean no shot at all.
In my decades of experience, virtually every shot has had me worried about how much time I had. Most deer I’ve shot have not been relaxed, and I’ve seldom had more than a second or two (sometimes just a fraction of a second) to choose the shot and make it. Add a moment to evaluate a buck’s antlers, and the time for a shot gets even shorter. That puts any shooter under pressure.
Thinking back to the last five bucks I’ve taken, all five shots were split-second decisions. In every case, the first shot opportunity was probably the only opportunity. Had I not shot when I did, I doubt any of the five would have worn my tag. In two cases, I fired as quickly as possible after first seeing the deer. That comes awfully close to getting skunked.
And lest you think I’m bragging on my successes, note that during the last two seasons in both New York and Pennsylvania, I haven’t had a single shot opportunity, not even a poor one. So, I’ve been skunked enough to know what I’m talking about.
I’d like it to be different. I’d like to shoot deer that give me plenty of time to choose my shot, settle my crosshairs, and squeeze the trigger. It never happens that way for me. It probably doesn’t happen that way for most people, and that’s why most shots you hear are missed shots.
So here’s my advice. If that tiny window of opportunity at that one buck you see this season is going to be a successful one, prepare for virtually every scenario. For me, I’m getting ready before I step into the woods. Visualization helps. I recap my past hunts in my mind’s eye. I memorize every feature of the terrain I’m in and mentally rehearse the process of seeing a deer and getting the shot.
Where might he appear? Where might he disappear? This direction? That direction? Will that clump of trees be a factor? Can I see into that patch of brush? Can my eyes catch any movement? An ear? An antler? A leg? The horizontal line of his back?
Thinking about these things and more helps keep a hunter alert and expectant, and being alert and expectant is the only way to be ready when the opportunity comes.
Another buddy, John Mack, sums it up this way, “It takes only a second to change your season.” And sometimes, only a fraction of a second.
To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.
Here is the link to this column in the Jamestown Gazette: "The Split-Second Shot."