Extraordinary things require an extraordinary effort. Period.
Extraordinary effort will lead you down the road of creativity, finding weird ways to find success. Pulling the trigger is the culmination of all this extraordinary effort, I would like to share some things I do that have helped me be successful on the trigger end, ultimately putting that animal from the slope to the dinner plate.
Sweat equity is the vehicle I use to build doors, not luck, doors that are built so that when opportunity knocks I will be ready. Many have told me I am lucky because I have been successful, I believe luck is earned, here's how:
Paper vs. Flesh
For me the one trip out to sight in a rifle on paper targets a year isn't going to cut it. Surgical approach to shooting, the details make all that time planning and preparing and spending count. When at the range there is hardly any variables, you are on a bench, comfortable, taking your time, shooting at a perfect target. Perfect in the sense that it is stationary, flat and unobstructed. May I suggest shooting at more flesh. People might get the misconception that I hate coyotes and want to kill them all because of my obsession in hunting them. Nothing is farther from the truth, a person really gets an appreciation for an animals abilities than by actively pursuing them. Coyotes are a target that requires extreme focus, they are constantly moving, small(only about eight inches under all that pelt), prolific with no season or bag limits, so they offer lots of opportunity. Unlike the comforts of a bench rest, hunting coyotes in the field offers you the perfect practice scenarios that you will encounter with your big game pursuits. Engaging four coyotes at a time you learn to be quick, shot placement needs to be precise as you will have running targets. Long range shooting becomes more confident as you engage coyotes at an excess of 300+ yds, shooting a coyote at 400 yds makes a deer or an elk look like a barn at those distances.
Rock chucks in the spring, can offer an extreme challenge for both the novice and seasoned hunter. Rock chucks aren't as fast paced as coyotes and offer more of a laid back approach to shooting. I suggest you practice all shooting positions when shooting at them, from prone, seated with shooting sticks, to one knee, to standing. I guarantee you won't be as mad when you miss a rock chuck at 200 yds as you would a big buck because of lack of practice, so practice, practice, practice. Other flesh that is good to practice on is through dry firing on animals. Silly I know it sounds, but being creative again, I would lay in my back room with the door open and follow my llamas several hundred yards away in the pasture in my scope and dry fire on them. Dry fire means no round in the chamber of your gun, just cycling the bolt and pulling the trigger for all of those who might be thinking I am being irresponsible. This offers great muscle memory as you learn your trigger's sear and when it breaks, and also focusing on aim small miss small. The crease behind the front shoulder, that color transition point, that white speck, or the hair swirl dead center briskett. One last thing I do that all can is I go hunting in my mind constantly and replay the shot scenarios, I focus on the scenario, what I did right and what I did wrong. I will imagine the animal in my scope and slowly feel the trigger in my mind as I apply pressure, not yanking it but slowly applying pressure till it fires. I guarantee you replay those scenarios over and over in your mind you will be more confident on the business end of that weapon. A holocaust survivor shared that he was able to make it through the hard times by playing in every detail a full round of golf. EVERY DETAIL, from the wind on his face to the angle of the shot to the amount of force on the club. When he finally was liberated he played his first round and played just over par! Why can't we do the same with taking that shot? You don't have to feel silly or save face with your mind it is a place only you can go and participate in, so use it's power to prepare.
To date I have been fortunate to have never lost a big game animal due to wounding or maiming, and I credit a lot of this to my shooting habits that I have created through countless hours of practice. That and I like to lay the hammer down when shooting, I shoot to kill whether that is with one shot or four or five. Don't stop pulling the trigger till they are down and not moving, you owe it to the animal and yourself.
You can't hit what you can't see. For most of us there is more season then there is money or time. For five years this was especially the case while getting my degree at the university. I was a poor college kid inundated with projects, papers, and studying, didn't leave much time for scouting the way I wanted. Hunting usually relied on being a weekend warrior for three days and going full force, every minute from two hours before light to two hours after light we were hunting. Hunting through hours of glassing, walking marathons till game was located, using every inch of opportunity or our friend called daylight. I truly believe the mind can be trained to recognize certain features. The hunting video library I have has some two dozen DVDs that I have accumulated over the years, from coyote calling, big bucks, to big elk. Every season I watch each DVD pertaining to that species at least once, I try for twice, why you might ask? I know all the scenes and how they turn out, I've seen them over and over. Everything in the flora world grows vertically, grass, trees, bushes, you get the point. The features I was talking about before that I train my mind to recognize are horizontal lines, deer backs, top of heads, spread ears, and antler points. These are the features I look for in the videos, I don't focus on the kill but what the animal looks like in it's environment, and the deer that surround it. I figure the more I look at deer, elk, coyotes in all different scenarios and terrain the more I will be able to recognize those features through my binos and spotting scope. Last deer season I counted 410 bucks in 13 trips through my binos and spotting scope, half of those were through my spotting scope, that does not include does. So I truly credit that through the hundreds of hours of looking at videos and live deer in the wild looking for those special features.
Salmon deer hunt
I will share a quick story that illustrates how smart mature deer are.
It was the third day of our deer hunt in Salmon ID, I was in school so time was short and this would be the last day I could be on the mountain. My good friend Jared and I were desperate, we had done two marathon hikes from the last two days and were pretty tired of hunting the breaks on the river so we decided to lay all the cards on the table and do the "he-man hike". The terrain was nasty, boulder fields, extremely steep and very thick in parts, great recipe for a good mature buck. We had hiked to the top, seen some bighorn sheep, a spike elk but no deer. Around noon we perched on a rock cliff and started glassing a long steep ridge. Immediately Jared spotted a buck feeding in a small opening, good thing because the buck laid down just a few moments later and all we had was a view of his neck and head from the shoulder up. Normally we would try to get closer for a shot but it was thick and we were racing the clock, we both had to leave in about four hours. The range was 610 yds, with a 30 degree angle. I shoot a lot of long range so Jared gave me the go ahead. I aimed on his neck and touched one off, immediately that buck jumped to his feet and was looking around. Thinking I might of blown rocks into his face the way he jumped up shaking his head, I aimed higher and torched another one off and he disappeared. Not knowing if I hit him we made our way down to check. We jumped him out of his bed and heard him crash down the ridge to the draw below and it was quiet. Jared and I scoured the whole ridge he was on and where he bedded looking for blood. We were making all kinds of noise, talking, walking on loose rocks, cracking brush trying to find some evidence of a hit. Figuring I must of missed and that we had a schedule to keep we decided to head out. Jared was in front of me leaving about 40 yards, I was standing there trying to figure out what happened. Mind you the hill was extremely steep and lots of loose rocks, so Jared was making some noise walking away. This was my mind process as I looked across the draw the buck ran down into. That other ridge is a rockslide with several small pines in it. With as much noise as we are making, that buck would have made some noise running across there, but we didn't hear anything. Since big deer like to put ridges between you and him, and they hardly ever run down hill, I bet he is still here. Then I thought, if that buck hears Jared leaving over this ridge I wonder if he will move. I stood there, as soon as Jared went over the ridge, I didn't move and stood there still, I started to hear little rocks rolling down the draw. The next sight I saw I will never forget, a sight that taught me a great lesson about mature mule deer in the high country. That buck had been hiding in a little patch of trees right below where we had been talking, walking around and making all sorts of ruckus. Now that he thought danger was going over the ridge with Jared, I kid you not when I say he came out of that group of trees tip toeing like a cat does trying not to make noise. My jaw dropped as I watched him sneak up through the bottom almost crouched down slinking up through there. I hit my butt had my sticks up and the buck saw me, took off running to the top of the rockslide, but it was to late, at 250 yds the first shot was behind the shoulder, and the follow up shot put him down for good. Jared came running back and I explained what happened. We went over there and he was a nice buck, super thick neck, but ugly antlers, a 3x4 that was just an old monarch living in this little area that few people were dumb enough to hike into. We boned him out and packed him out and made it just in time to head home that night. Reflecting on the first two shots at 610, first one went high right by his ears causing him to jump and shake his head, second went higher as I aimed higher thinking I had hit low. I entered the distance into my ballistics program and I hadn't accounted for the 30 degree angle. Instead of 610 I should have aimed for 560, and he would have made peace right there in his bed. So angle does come into play especially in those long shots.
Big bucks do hold up and do not move unless they absolutely have to, think about how many deer each of us walk by each year and take that into account when hunting really bucky country, if you think they are there, they probably are. Happy Hunting!