Missing is part of the hunt. And a failure is almost always the hunter’s fault. Of course, there are rare occasions when ammo doesn’t perform as intended or a rifle scope dies between zero confirmation and this moment of truth. But most of the time, probably 99%, when we miss a deer, it’s because we’ve done something wrong. There’s a good chance that one of these things: Below are the five most common reasons why a deer is missing. The good news is, they’re all pretty easy to fix.
1. You suck at shooting
Good marksmanship, at least with the mountaineers I grew up with, is a matter of pride. If you hunt, you’re supposed to be able to shoot, and shoot well. But just because someone is a hunter doesn’t mean they’re a good shot. Most archery hunters spend countless hours training, but most rifle hunters only check their zero and then hit the wood. If you’re bad at marksmanship, it’s probably because you’re not practicing enough. Regular practice builds skill and confidence, and skills and confidence keep you from missing out on easy shots and taking pictures you shouldn’t.
2. You have too many guns
About 100 years ago, deer hunters decided that deer were getting harder to kill and changed their .30 / 30s to .270 and .30 / 06. Then, about half a century later, many traded in those rifles for Magnums. You might think you are a card holder member of the He-Man Tough Guy Club, but magnum rifles hit everyone the same no matter how macho you think you are. Brains are remarkable things; they remember when we do nasty things, and when we try to do those things again, our brain is giving us an involuntary reaction. For rifle hunters, it’s called a flinch, and when you flinch, you miss. If you hunt deer with a magnum, you are probably going backwards and not even knowing it.
3. Your reach is way too big
Variable power riflescopes are modern marvels. Some have an 8X zoom factor with a magnification range of 3.5-28X. Grandpa told you to choose a hair when shooting, but with 28X a hair is pretty much all you’re going to see. Hunters often leave their telescopes set to the highest magnification because many of these fancy reticles only work at maximum magnification, or because they believe that zooming in is equivalent to shooting better. High magnification makes deer easier to see, but also amplifies oscillations. If the deer is far enough away that you need this ballistic reticle, you will have time to increase the magnification. On the other hand, in a close encounter, time is the last thing you will have. Set the magnification of your rifle scope to maximum 5X and only increase it when you need it.
4. You were fooling around instead of paying attention
Males in heat tend to be unpredictable, appearing when you least expect it and without warning. Reading pocket westerns and playing on your smartphone is not hunting; save this for when you are in your bunk at deer camp crying your miss. You have to be ready all the time. That means with your eyes up and sweeping, no headphones in your ears, and that means your rifle is in your hands. It also means that your rifle is loaded; do not wait to see a deer to chamber a round. Successful White Tail Hunters are ready all the time.
5. You have Buck’s fever
The only acceptable excuse for missing a deer is goat fever, and that’s a wonderful thing. If you don’t understand when you see a deer that is legal to shoot, you shouldn’t be hunting. This immediate release of adrenaline into your body can cause rapid breathing, tunnel vision, and handshakes. For some, this manifests as full body spasms. It’s called the White Tail Rush for a reason. The experience of goat fever is one of the great gifts of the hunt. Hopefully, you never get rid of it completely, but rather learn to control it. Pick a rifle that doesn’t make you stupid, train out of season, keep your scope on low magnification, and stay prepared. At least when the fever hits you won’t look like a pig trying to ride a bike while you try to pull. Instead, you’ll still be excited, but you’ll take a deep breath, control your tremors for a second, and drop that money where it is.