The buck was coming directly in front of my hunter. I had him shoot and test his weapon. We talked about how and when to pull the trigger. Excitement was peaking as the great buck came into range. “Get Ready, safety off, shoot when the buck steps away from the tree. I will grunt to stop him, then pull the trigger.”

All went as planned until the moment of truth. The buck stopped broadside at 50 yards and looked at me. “Shoot!” Nothing happened. The buck walked off and an opportunity was lost. My hunter was so excited, he forgot to take off the safety.

Last week I helped a friend tag his bull moose here in Montana. We hunted near Cooke City in an area where Ernest Hemingway hunted. After locating a HUGE bull moose, my friend Kirk was ready to fill his tag. When we first saw the bull, he was at 1000 yards and closing. After repositioning a few times, we got the angle and range right. The bull would pass in front of us under 200 yards.

Kirk was locked and loaded. For an experienced hunter, he was as excited as if it was his first kill. The bull had seen us and was plowing through the willow thick marsh like it was an open lawn. I set up Kirk’s tripod and he was set. “Get ready to shoot. Safety off. You have an opening coming up. Almost there. SHOOT!”

The rifle went off as I watched the hair fly off the Bull’s shoulder. “Hit!” He shot a second time but missed. “He’s done and going down!’ Kirk shot a third time to make sure. The great Bull was done! I have been through this situation many times. Sometimes it ends well and other times it does not.

Even the best marksmen have trouble when over excited. They spend money, time, and energy for that one special moment and then… Not all hunters are “gamers”. Kirk’s first shot was perfect. The round went through the top of the shoulders and lung area. The last shot, was not needed, broke the spine. We found that round when we were quartering the huge moose.

We have all shot or hunted with “Great Shots”. When I hear that, my hair goes up. Shooting at a range is way different than afield. One awesome trap shooter was anxious to hunt pheasants with me. My German Shorthaired Pointer, Krieg, was the best. We hunted wild birds along a corn field in Maryland. Krieg cracked on point. Get ready and let us walk in together. This AA shooter had busted thousands of clay targets in his lifetime. 

A huge cockbird took off just feet away. The cackling bird lifted off feet in front of this great shot. 3 shots later we watched that untouched rooster sail into the next county. This happened several times that day and he never hit a bird.

Excitement in the moment has saved more big Bucks than anything else. I tell my hunters to become the “Terminator”. Focus on the shot. Put everything else out of your mind. Sure, it is exciting, but focus on pulling the trigger. Once the critter is down, you can get excited and do a little dance.

Deer hunting is especially relevant in this conversation. Lots of bucks have bee saved by over excited and inexperienced hunters. Being a great shot is one thing but being a great shot when it counts is another story. Sadly, many great deer have been lost to lousy shots.

So, when do you shoot? I believe that every shooter must make that personal decision on their own. First, trust in your ability. Know your limitations. If you are comfortable at shooting 300 yards, then know your limits. Make the range measurements and stalk into your comfortable range. Different weapons also have limitations. Understand and know what a realistic and ethical shot is.

Today’s archers can hit a target out to over 125 yards. In Montana, many bowhunters crave a tag to hunt elk along the Missouri Breaks. This vast, open area is loaded with wildlife. Most of the bulls will not answer or come to the call. Instead of trying to stalk into a reasonable distance, they shoot from too far. Because of this, the archers set up along the coulees and wait for herds to pass on their way to and from the river.

They launch their arrows at that excessive range and hit the bull’s, but the arrows lack the power to penetrate and pass through. Many of the harvested elk have several arrow wounds due to shooting too far. One friend that tagged a huge 7×7 bull found 7 other arrows in the carcass. Most of the meat was festered and unhealthy to eat. Just because you can hit a target at great range does not mean that you should.

Accuracy comes from muscle memory. The more trigger time the better. You will not have time to think about the safety, trigger, pull, breathing, rest, and calm. You need to instinctively just do it! That one perfect shot is the result of thousands of practice shots. If you do not practice, you have already missed.

Take the first best shot that you are comfortable with. If you wait for something better, good luck. Too many hunters wait for the “Perfect Shot”. The perfect shot is the shot that you can comfortably make when the moment arises. Not every shooter understands this. If you have a guide mentoring you, listen, and pay attention.

Do not hunt if you are not committed to pulling the trigger. The finale of a successful hunt is a filled tag and meat in the freezer. If you are not comfortable with this, bring a camera, not a rifle, bow, or gun. Let your guide or mentor know your intentions and limitations.

I believe that you should take the first legal and honest critter that God sends your way. Over the course of a lifetime, you will tag plenty of trophies. It is important to also know how to shoot and kill the critter. Sadly, the only way to learn this is to do it!

Only you know when to shoot. The shot is your responsibility. You cannot blame someone or something else for what your skill level and limitations are. Like John Wayne said, “A man has to know his limitations!” Sometimes, the best shot is to know when not to shoot.

Aim small, miss small!

Montana Grant

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