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I Missed, Now What? By Larry Weishuhn

“Clash, crash, pop, clash!” With that I pulled my rattling horns apart. Then immediately brought them back together again and started meshing tines once again, doing my best to imitate two mature bucks engaged in deadly combat.

While meshing antlers, I kicked a nearby bush, broke limbs, then dug my heels into the soft leaf-covered soil below my feet. As I pulled the horns apart to start another rattling series, I spotted a fast coming deer jumping cactus and low-growing brush, coming directly toward me. A buck…rut-swelled neck, mature, gnarly-beamed ten-point. My heart jumped into my throat. I dropped the antler in my right hand, grabbed the .44 Mag Ruger Super Blackhawk at my side, raised and pointed it at the charging buck. My movement stopped the buck in his tracks. He stared in my direction, wild-eyed and drooling.

Excitement and adrenaline over-ruled “knowing”. With the single-action pointed in the general direction of the buck I pulled the trigger without aiming. At the shot the buck wheeled and was gone. I missed.  I knew immediately I had blown a perfect opportunity, an opportunity at a monstrous South Texas Brush Country buck, truly a “muy grande”, one I really wanted!

“What happened?” asked the cameraman just behind my right shoulder.

“I missed…. Got too excited and shot before I should have.”

I hesitated a few moments, “Sometimes you hit ‘em and sometimes you miss ‘em! And this one, I missed!” Behind me I could hear my companion chuckle!

Later that morning I analyzed why I had missed. The answer indeed was simple. I had gotten overly excited and shot before I had a good sight picture, and, most likely with both my eyes closed. I knew better! Buck fever had seized me and I had “short-circuited”.

The buck was one I had heard about from the ranch hands. From what they had told me, I knew this buck was one I really wanted to take especially if I could rattle him in. Over the years I had rattled in and shot many big whitetails, including those a fair amount bigger in the antler department than this one. For some unknown reason this one got to me.

I knew what I had done wrong with my shooting. But now the question was, what could I do to prevent something similar happening in future? Mistakes happens, learning from them is what is important.

Before heading back to hunting, I headed to the ranch’s rifle range. There I set up several targets at 100 yards. For starters, I shot six Horandy 240-grain XTP loads, taking my time between shots making certain of my sight picture and controlling my breathing, from a solid rest. Prior to hunting season, I had regularly put six shots into a less than 2-inch groups.

My first two shots touched, the third was about a half inch to the right. I rushed the next shot and hit 3-inches to the right of the bullseye. My fourth and fifth shot, after I once again forced myself to concentrate hit the 100 yards distant target within an inch of each other a half inch left of the first two shots.

After walking to the target to verify shot placement, I headed back to the bench and shot six more times from a solid rest. This time I took a bit more time between each shot. All six shots hit in the center of the target, forming a solid 2-inch group.

Then I set up my crossed shooting sticks, the same ones I used when hunting, and fired six more shots. Watching through a spotting scope the ranch manager called off each shot. “One and half-inch high!” “One-inch to the right of the bull and 2-inches high!” “Two inches high!” “Dead center!” “One-inch to the left of the bull!” “Just off of the left of the one in the center!”

My return to the basics of getting a solid rest, proper breathing and trigger control had me shooting as I had done prior to my miss. I felt certain if another opportunity came my way I would be ready for the challenge.

As I unloaded the the spent cases and reloaded, “If you can shoot like at a buck or doe, you’ll certainly kill a deer!” I grinned and thought there’s a lot of difference between shooting at paper and shooting at hair!

I knew my Ruger revolvers, like my Ruger No. 1 single-shot and M77 bolt action rifles, topped with Trijicon scopes and sights, shooting proper and appropriate Hornady ammo were an extremely accurate combination. It simply came down to me doing my part.

Sometimes shooting accurately is as much mental as physical. Too, it is good to remember a bullet goes where the barrel is pointed when the trigger is pulled.

Over the years I have hunted many different big game species in a variety of habitat and terrain on six continents. I have made some extremely good shots both close and far, but occasionally slipped and missed. When I missed it was almost always a mental mistake. Those screw-ups had been brought about by being overly excited and shooting before I should have, not getting a rock solid rest where there was one available, and rushing a shot because I thought the animal was about to leave. When those mistakes happened, I knew immediately what I had done. On some occasions I was able to recover, correct my mistake and put the animal down with a quick second shot, whether shooting a single-shot or bolt action rifle.

As a youngster, who shot right-handed, I missed an opportunity at a really good buck for our area because he approached on my far right. Being right-handed I could not swing my rifle far enough to the extreme right for a shot. After that morning’s hunt I went home, grabbed my single-shot .22 rifle and taught myself to shoot left-handed. Since that time I have shot a lot of game from my left side under all sorts of circumstances. Because I normally shoot from the right I have learned shooting from the left, I tend to concentrate a bit more on making the shot even if buck fever sets in. Thus, if I catch myself getting excited in anticipation of a shot, I switch shooting from right to left.

Because of how much I hunt, I will undoubtedly miss a shot in the future. If that happens, I will as I have in the past, learn from that mistake and try to find ways to keep from repeating the same one in the future.

Did I mention in many ways hunting and shooting are a mental game?

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