View Full Version : Shots/Hunts that taught you a lesson... (very long)

May 14, 2008, 04:25 PM
Another post reminded me of a shot I took last year during my favorite hunting season. It was a great shot; a shot I will never be able to duplicate. I will, however, never try it again.

I was curious to see what lessons others have learned over the years.

There is a summary at the bottom if you don't want to read it all.

So, let me tell you the story of the hunt:
I'm long winded, sorry.

My father, little brother, and I drew Wyoming Pronghorn Antelope doe tags last year. On the drive over from Idaho, we all joked about a 10-year prior hunt where my grandfather put a 150 grain .30 cal bronze point in the left eye of a doe at 1000+ yards. Then... Then!!! turned around 3 hours later and put the same bullet into the right ear, having it exit the left nostril, from a distance of well over 700 yards on a buck!
So, we joked that all shots that day needed to be in the left eye or right ear...

Except I wasn't joking. It's a doe. For a close shot, it's a no-brainer. (no pun intended) It's an instant kill if you can do it, and you have NO meat loss. I wasn't going to take the shot if I couldn't put it in the grey matter.

After a few hours of driving around and trying to hike "close" enough for a shot (300-400 yards) on a couple does in a nice herd, we moved on.

As soon as we moved into the next valley, we spotted a herd with grazing cattle. My Uncle (whom came along for the ride) stopped his truck and let me out, before driving ahead and pulling down into a wash to hide the vehicle.
The Antelope weren't spooked, even when my dad and brother caught up to us in their truck; so I moved ahead.
Using the hood of my uncle's truck, I had just enough clearance over the sagebrush to take the shot. Lone large doe off by herself, 200 yards, give or take, negligible wind, steady rest. Easy shot. Safety off, squeeze, bang! The bullet impacted so far away, the doe didn't even spook. What the...?

Squeeze, bang! You've got to be kidding me...!? "I can't be shooting this bad." The bullet impacted 4 feet to her right, and about 20 feet short.

Squeeze, bang! Over her head, into the field beyond... The herd took off to our left.

My brother and father ran after them, charging through the sagebrush. I took a look at my rifle. It was a new (sighted in and tested with 50 rounds) Ruger M77 mark II in .270 Win, wearing an old Burris scope we kept as a spare. The rings were tight. The scope looked good. I unloaded it. The crown looked good. The ammo looked good. "I dunno..."

Everyone there had brought a spare gun or two. I dug around in the back of the truck until I found the right case. Away went the Ruger. My back-up gun was an iron sight 8x57 Mauser; not ideal for antelope. Out came my father's spare gun. Winchester model 70 featherweight in .270 Win with a Leupold 2.5x7.

About the time I started cramming ammo into the model 70's magazine, I heard the shot. I looked up in time to see an average size doe drop. Then another shot...? Dad! Dad! It's down. It's down!

He was well over 100 yards away, and could barelly hear me. DAD!!! YOU DROPPED IT!!!
"No, it didn't drop."
Bang! He was trying to drop another doe running along a fence line.
STOP STOP STOP!! STOP Shooting!!! He had lost his sight picture, and never saw it go down.
From where my uncle and I were, we could see the white belly as the antelope was taking its last breath. Good shot, quick kill; probably a 125 yard shot. My dad, however, had a poor angle and refused to believe he actually hit it.
"I jerked it. I missed."

We proved him wrong when he stumbled over it, trying to prove US wrong.
It was a perfect shoulder shot. A bit of ruined meat... but still not bad. He broke both shoulders and liquified the heart and lungs. The bullet made a clean exit, not indicative of very much expansion. It made the 150 grain Core-Lokt 30-06 load he was using look overpowered.

"You missed the left eye, dad."
He mumbled something and said, "Well at least I hit it well."
Good point.

That's when my little brother saw them... a group of 12-15 bucks heading up over a dome, 6-8 hundred yards away.
It was time for our expirement. You see, my little brother and I were taught that it is impossible to stalk antelope. Many magazine articles and 'hunter accounts' will say the same thing. My brothers (including 2 others) and I, disagree.
We hoped to stalk close enough to smell them, and hoped they would lead us to does.

It worked. Like any stalk, it was a matter of wind, terrain, and patience. Within about 2 hours, though, I was staring into the eyes of some very curious ruminants. I used their curiosity about my head popping up and down over the ridge, and my scent to draw them in to 25 yards. When we realised there was a yearling buck in the group, with horns short enough to be legal with a doe tag... it was only a matter of time.

It has happened to everyone. The safety slipped out of my fingers as I was taking it off. 'Click!' Gone.. every single one of them. Gone, down into the next valley.

With nothing better to do, and the two vehicle drivers still screwing around where the first antelope dropped... we followed the bucks.

On the shale face of the dome, with little greenery to cover us, we had to move slow. It took at least an hour to cover 500 yards. We tried using small depressions and eroded cracks as much as possible, but there just weren't enough.

The slow moving finally paid off. We were within 200 yards of a herd we hadn't seen yet that day. Downhill shot, plenty of healthy does, not a single buck in the lot, and a sitting shot. It's game time! Wouldn't you know it, Murphy was there with us still. A gust of wind blew a bit of dust over us, and my brother sneezed a few times. The does skittered out to somewhere in the 400 yard range, and into a depression. I considered a shot, but had too much hot-air refraction when looking through the scope. My brother concurred.

"I'm heading back to the truck. I left my water." I whispered to my brother.
I started to stand up, as he replies, "ok, but you'll miss your shot."

The doe my dad had been trying to pick off the fence line was still there. The fence sort of wrapped around one side of the dome we had been on, then trailed off into the distance away from us, offset to our right about 75 yards, and 100 yards ahead. This time, she had company. It was a doe on each side of the fence, dancing back and forth. The old girl on the far side couldn't jump it to join the herd, we figured. It is illegal in that area to shoot over a fence, even though the other side of that particular fence is still public land and a legal area. So, I chose the smaller, younger doe, on the near side. I was about to put a 130 grain soft point into her vitals when we saw the real reason they were still there.

There was a fawn with the doe on the far side. So the moral dilema and discussion started between the two of us. Should we, shouldn't we? What if we take the wrong doe? The fawn was pretty healthy and almost full grown. It'll be alright, won't it?

No, it wouldn't be alright. It was unethical. We knew it. We let them keep doing their desperate dance.

"Seriously, I'm thirsty. Are you coming back now, or what?"
"You'll miss your shot," he says.
Deja vu? Nope. He spotted yet another very nice group of 25-30 does hiding in a gully.

I have no idea how long he had known they were there. They were, however, spooked. It must have been the same group my dad took his from.
There was no stalk possible on these edgy does. Take the shot, or go home.

The group didn't know we were there, as far as we could tell. My brother and I took probably 5 minutes to discuss what was about to happen. I still wanted a head shot. Man, what a small target at this range. There's no way. But I have to try. You'll never succeed if you don't try, right?

We judged the range at 500-550 yards. (No range finder) Again, it was a downhill shot, lots of broadside targets, the 15 knot crosswind would only effect us for the first 100-150 yards of bullet trajectory. After that, the bullet was flying below the horizon (the hill with the fence line). Wind was no more than 5 knots from horizon to target.

My brother was carrying a Browning 1885 single-shot in 30-06, with 150 gr factory ammo. (I don't remember what brand, or particular bullet.) We knew the 28" barrel, and ammunition could do it. We knew the .270 I was carrying could do it. Neither of us knew if we could properly judge the wind and trajectory for that distance.

I told him to take the first shot. It would take him longer to get his follow-up shot loaded. In the time it took him to reload, I could already have a third round sliding into the chamber of the bolt gun.

I chose the largest doe I could see broadside, all alone at the far right of the herd. She was facing to my left. I figured it might help me with the crosswind, being closer to the hill, and it was a good animal.
My brother chose a doe you could say was close to the middle of the group, but he had a clear path 40-50 feet wide behind it. No chance of wounding something with a through and through. She was facing right, perfectly broadside.

We took aim, steadied, controlled our breathing... Boom!! He took his shot. As soon as my brain registered it, I flinched. I lost sight of my doe, but as I did; I saw his go down. It made it maybe 10 steps and burried itself face first into some large, healthy sage brush. Only a fraction of a second had passed, my scope came back down on the spot my doe had been standing. She was still there! I waited for the crosshairs to hit the mark I had decided upon for windage and elevation. Come on, Come on, one and a half head lengths into the wind (~ 14-16"), three feet high. Come on. Bang!

I lost sight of both does when I took my shot. At least 10-15 more animals than we had know about came running from the area of my doe. The dust they kicked up was like a smoke screen. Impenetrable.

I stood up in time to see my brother shoulder his weapon. NO! You dropped her!
"I didn't see anything go down."
Holy crap. Deja vu all over again.

I told him I saw it drop almost instantly. He believed me, and we started walking to the kill zone.

While walking, almost to the kill zone, I started to learn.

A nice doe. Probably one of the biggest we had seen that day jumped up 40 feet from us and promptly stumbled back into a resting position literally within 15 feet of us. She was injured. One of us had missed the mark. As soon as we saw her jump up, my rifle was shouldered, but I didn't get to take the easy, lucky shot. It was a mercy killing. A bullet had entered the corner of the left eyelid, skirted the orbital bone below the eye, and exited the bridge of the nose.

I put a round through the skull, back to front, from about 10 feet. I'm sorry old girl. Sleep...

A quick glance around, and we spotted my brother's doe. Average size, deader than dead. He hit her so low in the chest; all we could figure was that bone fragments did the work the bullet should have.

It turned out to be over 650 yards from shooting position to my doe, and another 25 to my brother's.

Upon cleaning his doe, we learned that it was indeed a quick kill. Albeit, a bad shot. He told me he judged his crosshairs to be 4 feet over the back of the antelope, and it still dropped that far. That hit never should have killed the animal, but he still managed to get enough bullet and bone fragments to shred the heart. The lungs were hardly damaged. It may have helped that the bullet started expanding in the right shoulder muscles.

As for mine. Well... I got my left eye shot. I had no spoiled meat. I had the biggest animal.

Even though it is harder to skin a cold animal, we decided to let them hang in their skins that night; to keep the bugs off. (It was a rather nasty time of year.)

The next day was the point at which I truelly realised I needed to reassess what had taken place. While skinning my animal, we found a bloody, hair-covered 150 grain 30 caliber Core-Lokt lodged under the skin. It had been travelling so slowly, and already expanded so much, that it simply cut the skin and stuck in the first layer of muscle. The leg rubbing on it as she walked, caked hair all over the jacket. The uniform bullet expansion ruled out a ricochet. The fresh blood ruled out another hunter.

It was the bullet that had passed through my father's doe. Luck would have it, I took that animal. But if she had gotten away, it would have been a nasty, festering wound.

Why am I so unhappy about my shot?

1. I took a risky shot that could have very easily left an animal wounded, with no blood trail.

2. I was using a rifle I hadn't even held in over 5 years.

3. Trying to put a bullet in an antelope's head at 500 yards is tough any day of the week with your average hunting rifle.

4. I had no idea of the true range.

5. There were plenty of animals in the area, and two more days to hunt.
-I have a collection of unfilled tags where I decided not to take the shot, but many 'hunters' would have. One more in that pile wouldn't hurt me.

-Altogether, it was just a bad decision. I had too many variables to work with. There weren't enough constants and known factors to make it a good shot.

What other lessons did I learn, or reinforce on this hunt?

1. Know what is behind your target!
-My dad was sick to his stomach when we found his bullet in my animal.

2. Don't take a shot you aren't positive you can make.
-I thought I could make it, but I didn't know I could make it.

3. Use weapons familiar to you.
-Things worked out in my case, but it's a good idea to know the weapon better.

4. If a scope has been damaged; throw it away!
-The 'spare' scope on my Ruger turned out to have a loose lens. It was shifting the point of aim with every movement I made.

This has become ENTIRELLY too long. Thank you, if you read it all.

Is there a hunt or specific shot that sticks out in your mind as something you regret?

May 14, 2008, 05:34 PM
Been there done that, just don't do it again is my motto. I've taken shots that I shouldn't have and even hunted with a rifle I never zeroed. I've got away with it most of the time too, I just don't repeat the same mistake twice. Learn and grow from it and don't beat yourself up too badly about it.

I've never beleived in taking head shots at pretty much any distance. I really beleive that the rib cage is the best as it doesn't ruin much meat plus take the lungs and somtimes the heart. I really don't have a problem with the range as I've taken some game at pretty long range, and know just as many things can go wrong at close range as can happen at long range.

As far as shooting the doe with the fawn, I guess I don't have too much of a problem with that one. Growing up on a ranch I've had to wean calves as early as three months, they will survive and continue to grow but at a much slower rate. Most of the fawns by the time I hunt are 4-5 months old and fully capable to survive without their mother by that time.

chow chow
May 14, 2008, 06:59 PM
Many years ago I saw a group of hogs in the riverbed rooting. I estimated it was around 200 yds. I took a chance and was aiming for the belly broadside. This was with my .25 06 rifle with scope. Pulled the trigger . The pig was hit and it turn in circles squealing hard. The rest scattered. Then it went down and came up again and run off. Never found it.

Lesson learned, I will never aim that far again esp center of the belly. Always aim for the heart and head, behind the ear or below.

May 14, 2008, 07:39 PM
farthest shot I have taken at a deer was 550 yards with my K31 Swiss. NEVER WILL I DO THAT AGAIN THOUGH!

I was using the trusty old irons, but in a wind like that, it could've easily went off track and hit something or someone else.

May 14, 2008, 10:54 PM
Hey Sidetracked...,
Nice hunt!

You challenged yourself, and succeeded.
That's the whole point.
It wouldn't be a sport if there wasn't the risk of failure.

On that day, no second guessing, you judged everything correct, and knew what you were doing.

You were hunting.
There was no bad decision. There was... good experience learned.

I drink one to you, and pray I may experience the same thrill one day.

May 15, 2008, 11:14 AM
You did what you thought was best at the time.

The best part is you sat back afterward and evaluated what had happened. When we stop doing that, we stop learning and growing.

The guy I started hunting with (long time ago, it seems) did not learn from his experiences (in his case, mistakes) to the point I had to stop hunting with him. After so many track jobs on poorly hit animals, you start to see a pattern..:barf: