This big game season is the first time in over half a century that Sandi and I haven’t bought licenses and headed out on a hunt. Unfortunately, as I close in on 80-years old, I’m not as mobile as I used to be. That, and some of the physical challenges my military service have left me with cause problems, hunting wise, the way I had always enjoyed hunting. Also, the place where we have spent the last decade, more or less, filling our deer tags has been sold, and I refuse to become an intentional road hunter. Poor form, that.

As for antelope, which we can handle if we can find them where we can get the truck close enough for loading so that we don’t have to pack the little critters a couple of miles to transport, we didn’t even draw doe tags this year. So those are off the list. Our son and his family over in Sheridan experienced the same dearth of tags, with none being drawn for four separate people putting in. To compound our frustration, our freezer gave up the ghost a few weeks back and we lost most of the meat and other groceries we had stashed in it. It will be an expensive winter, grocery-wise. Stuff happens.

Some friends have suggested that our inability to draw tags was primarily because of my harassing Game and Fish about everything from their mismanagement of wolves to the wholesale poisoning of brook trout, compounded by my impatience with the elitist policies of some local so-called conservation organizations. I guess it’s possible, but I really don’t think so. We’ll manage. If you plant oats, you harvest oats. Don’t expect blueberries.

One of the things we used to do to occupy our spare time is to just go shooting. No, not practice shooting, but venturing into the field and hammering various targets from distant rocks to shooting at pop cans or other targets set out for just that purpose. Expertise with shooting disciplines is a perishable skill, so we like to keep our hand in, so to speak. Since I reload our cartridges and have (or had) suitable stocks available for such, we’ve not been as affected by the current government-conspired ammunition and component shortages as some.

Still, uncle Joe and Company understand that even those meager stockpiles will eventually be used up. And that’s okay too. I have a couple of long bows and a crossbow of sorts. Even a sling shot. Did you know that slingshots are illegal in South Dakota, the state with the highest percentage of CCW holders in the country. Or were last I knew. Strange, huh?  

But back to our main theme, if we have one. To quote from outdoor scribe Ross Seyfried, “When we are in the business of shooting, it is important not to overlook the obvious.” Similar to his following example in that article, there was a hunt several years ago where we had Pitchfork Ranch tags. Back when Bob Edgar ran the hunting program there and one could still hunt mule deer there. However, we were hunting antelope. An impressive buck was wandering through the sagebrush on an open mesa above Timber Creek, but Sandi couldn’t get her rifle to steady down. Genius that I am, I set up a pair of shooting sticks for her.

Trouble is, she’d never practiced off the sticks and was spending more time trying to adjust them for her height than lining up on the target. Finally she gave up on the sticks, dropped to sitting and, when the buck paused, shot it. It was a very long shot, but the girl can shoot. Especially when she’s mad at her hunting partner for trying to make her use something she’d never even tried before. Valuable lesson that.  

I prefer shooting rifles either off-hand or prone. Both of which positions were drilled into my head by some very good military instructors. Often, during all of my younger years, while wandering around the tall uncut, I practiced both along with sitting, although it’s not my favorite – especially these days. What with the extra gut I carry around cutting my breath off. It makes it difficult to get back up again.  

Jack Lee, my boyhood Cherokee mentor, taught me to use many impromptu forms of a rest. As unlikely as it seems, in terrain too rough and tumble for anything less than rice paddy prone, there’s usually some element of the terrain that can be used to stabilize your firearm. A tree or stump, and large rock or even a slight ridge in the ground. A backpack makes an excellent rest for a prone shot and a tree makes a dandy brace for your back when encountering a longer than normal shot. Seated with your back against a tree, firearm rested over the top of a backpack, makes a rest about as steady as a bench rest for a rifle or handgun.      

I particularly enjoy using a tree to brace my back when hunting with one of my large bore revolvers. Unlike the use of a rifle where the support elbow or arm must be rested or otherwise stabilized, usually the revolver’s placement of an accurate game shot relies on the ability of the shooter to use both arms to steady the piece. That takes both exercising those forearm muscles to build them up and using them in actual practice. Since I use iron sights exclusively on my handguns, there’s no scope shake or sight wandering and the sights, once settled in, stay that way. A slight brace from a support, like the inside of your knee if sitting or the side of a tree of rock if standing, is immensely helpful. Even an elbow supported on the bent knee while kneeling helps somewhat.

Regarding handguns, some shooters prefer longer barrels, reasoning that the more distance between the front and rear sights, the less room for error. I have a different theory, one I picked up from reading Elmer Keith. It seems he preferred 4-inch barrels for his excellent work, even at long distance.

As in my case, as we age our vision suffers and his old eyes weren’t all that good. Trying to focus on both sights when one sight is several inches away doesn’t work all that well. They get fuzzy. I don’t know about Mr. Keith, but I’ve been wearing progressive lenses in my frames since my mid-30s. It’s a lot easier for me to focus on the sights of a revolver with a 4-inch barrel than it is those on a 7-and-a-half inch barrel. Especially the one that matters, the front sight. Try it.

But the golden rule for ethical hunting and successful shooting, the one violated by nearly every long-range hunter I’ve ever encountered, is to be dead nuts certain that you have a killing shot before you squeeze the trigger. Hail Marys, while laudable in a football game when properly executed, are never acceptable for hunting shots.

Some people never seem to learn that simple precept.

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