Shooting: The Real Close Ones

My heroic 15-yard shot on a Maine whitetail reminds me that despite all the b.s. about dropping animals at 400 yards plus, a lot of times they show up so close that you can smell them. And we still miss.

The reason for the first is animals get careless or unlucky, and we profit thereby, or we manage to do something right and a critter strolls right into our laps. I’ve also seen skillful calling bring them very, very close. (I’ve also seen skillful calling produce jack s**t a great many times.)

The reason we miss is because we’re not expecting to see something only a few yards away and whatever composure we have goes right out the window. Also, because it looks so big, we don’t aim at anything specific but sort of point the rifle in the general direction of the beast and yank the trigger.

In Zululand, I was hunting a rare and attractive critter called the nyala, which is a member of the bushbuck family, with a PH named Kelly Davis. We went out the first evening to take a look around, and Kelly explained that nyalas were very spooky, largely nocturnal, and that even if we did our best I would be lucky to get a look at one, and my shooting had better be up to snuff. At that precise instant, a very, very good nyala buck trotted out in front of our vehicle and stood there, posing for the cover of Safari Times. I could literally have thrown the rifle and hit him with it.

Instead, I shot him, and that was that. In West Virginia, I was on the receiving side of a deer drive, hiding behind a downed tree. Through the woods came a pair of does, running ahead of the drivers. They stopped, literally, on the other side of the tree. I was not in the doe business, so I stepped out in the open and yelled “OOGA BOOGA!” in the manner of the comedian David Steinberg. Both does leaped 10 feet straight into the air and vanished. The look on their faces was the same as that on the face of whoever handles Hillary Clinton when she announced that businesses do not create jobs.

But my favorite close-up story does not involve shooting. It involved a former member of the Field & Stream ad sales staff who, decades ago, hunted out of an upstate New York camp with a bunch of similarly-occupied cronies. In the manner of their breed, they played cards all night before opening day, and when the sun rose, they were exhausted and hung over. But out the door they went.

The hero of our tale made it only a little ways from the cabin when he fell to all fours and began, as we used to say in college, to do the Technicolor yawn, or trumpet tomatoes. In mid-puke, out stepped the biggest whitetail buck anyone had ever heard of or thought of, and stood there, feet away, watching him hurl everything he had eaten for the last week. After a while, the deer became bored and disgusted, and strolled back into the trees to seek out a higher-class source of amusement.

As I said, you have to be ready at all times.