Mule Deer Hunting photo

Well I suppose I ought to tell you about how I embarrassed myself on an Oregon mule deer hunt last week. But first, let me just get a couple of excuses out of the way:

[1] I’m a crappy long-range rifleman.

[2] I can be really, really stupid.

There. I feel so much better. Now, to the story:

I’ve been on enough western hunts and shot enough deer at longish range to know academically that hitting stuff out in the great wide open mostly boils down to getting a really good rest. On the other hand, when a good mule deer buck unexpectedly springs up and goes boinging across the cheat grass, I can quickly forget all that, which is what I did.

And so with nothing preventing a sitting or even prone shot, I knelt up high, without so much as a butt cheek on a heel, and with the gun waving around more than I’d like on a set of shooting sticks, I totally whiffed not one but two otherwise makeable shots. Then I made the long walk back to the trucks, where about a half a dozen real riflemen watched the whole pathetic scene through binoculars and spotting scopes.

All the next day, as we glassed for bucks to stalk in the early morning and then staged drives in the juniper canyons and hawthorn draws, I was like the infielder who’s made an error in a big game: I didn’t really want the ball hit to me. It ate at me that all I had to do was take the couple of seconds needed to get my gun on my pack–in short, to not be stupid–and I’d have probably tagged that buck.

But it turns out that a day of feeling like an idiot can be a useful thing. The next morning, we glassed this buck around 260 yards, and I was actually smart enough to crawl the 20 yards or so required to reach a small knob, where I could get prone, rest my gun on my pack, and make a killing shot. The other buck was bigger, but this one came with a lesson.

I know that some of you are accomplished long-range shooters, and I wouldn’t presume to offer you advice. But to any of my fellow ho-hum riflemen faced with shooting farther than you are accustomed, I’d say this: You may suspect, like I do, that there is some deep mystery behind making a bullet go exactly where you want it to beyond 200 yards, some magic you are not privy to. But here’s the key: Whatever it is, you don’t need it if you have a really good rest. The simple, all-important lesson I relearned last week, hopefully for the last time, is just this: Before you do anything else, get a good rest. If you can’t get a good rest, don’t shoot.